Suns GM’s brother: Ryan McDonough never wanted to trade Isaiah Thomas
In terms of decision making, the Phoenix Suns have not exactly been among the NBA’s best teams over the last couple of seasons.
Since surprising all by winning 48 games in 2013-14, the organization has struggled to keep players happy and get consistent production while slipping to 39 wins in 2014-15 and then bottoming out with 23 this past season.
Much of the blame for the team’s drop has been focused on general manager Ryan McDonough. The roster has undergone a significant transformation since he took over in 2013 — by the end of 2015-16 just one player, P.J. Tucker, was around prior to his arrival — and while some moves have worked out, many others have not.
One move in particular seems to stand above all in terms of a deal that not only backfired, but did so tremendously.
On Feb. 19, 2015 — the day of the NBA’s trade deadline — McDonough, in a flurry of moves, sent point guard Isaiah Thomas to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Marcus Thornton and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 first-round pick.
At the time of the deal Thomas, who had signed a four-year, $27 million contract with Phoenix before the season, was averaging 15.2 points and 3.7 assists while playing nearly 26 minutes per game off the bench. He averaged 19 points and 5.4 assists in roughly the same amount of time with the same role for Boston that year, but this past season exploded with averages of 22.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while starting and leading the Celtics to the playoffs.
Back in February, McDonough said in retrospect, dealing Thomas “when we did was a mistake.”
“I think sometimes in the recruitment process things sound better in July (luring Thomas in free agency) than they do in November,” he added. “He wanted more, he wanted a bigger role and I understand why: He’s a talented player.
In retrospect, we should have carried him into the summer. If there’s one (decision) that stands out, if I could get a mulligan, that’d be it.”
In a lot of ways, McDonough’s words were a breath of fresh air. Rarely does a GM openly admit to making a mistake. Besides, at the time of the trade it was apparent Thomas was not fitting in with the team, and while he may have been dealt for pennies on the dollar, not many people, at least back then, viewed it as the kind of trade that deserved to be ridiculed.
Now, though, opinions have changed, and McDonough has been a target for some and frankly, his brother Sean, doesn’t like it.
A guest of Off the Edge last week, the ESPN broadcaster said it upsets him that Ryan “has taken the bullets for some of the stuff there, that with hindsight, they wish didn’t happen.”
“And the one that’s bothered me the most, in all honesty, and I hope he doesn’t get mad at me for saying this on the radio — he wasn’t the one who wanted to trade Isaiah Thomas. Jeff Hornacek wanted to trade Isaiah Thomas. For whatever reason, Jeff Hornacek just didn’t think he was a good fit, didn’t want to have him on the team.
“I don’t know if it’s basketball or his personality, although seeing I.T. here in Boston I can’t imagine it was personality-driven.”
McDonough said his brother is too good of a person to leak that kind of information, which would have been believable given that the GM had just recently signed Thomas to a cap-friendly contract only to turn around and trade him shortly thereafter.
Of course, Hornacek has since been fired by the Suns and hired by the New York Knicks, while McDonough is still around trying to rebuild the team.
“That’s the kind of person Ryan is. Marcus Morris, the same thing. I don’t think the coach wanted Marcus Morris, for reasons I understand — we both do, if you watch Marcus Morris behave the way he did — but Jeff didn’t want him; Jeff wanted him gone whether they got LaMarcus Aldridge or not,” he said. “And they were so close to getting LaMarcus Aldridge. You know, it pains me to know how close they were, and I think that would have made a huge difference.
“But now, they’re fully, I think, in future-mode now that they weren’t that close to the playoffs. I still think they’re a heck of a lot better off than they were when he got the job a few years ago. He’s done a great job drafting and I think if they stick with him and execute the plan with an eye toward the future, they’re going to win.”
McDonough added he’s not trying to say his brother has not made any mistakes, because he has, but instead is expressing confidence that he has owned up to them and grown from it all.
“I think he’s owned more than he needed to because of the kind of person he is, and ultimately it falls on him; he still didn’t have to trade them whether the coach wanted those guys or not,” he said. “But he’s a smart, hard-working person, he’s learned as he’s gone along and he’s smart enough to learn from his mistakes.”