We have all known that the Phoenix Suns are in a murky place when it comes to potential trade negotiations this season. The Suns have been up for sale since before the 2022-23 season started and, while a sale is pending the team will remain officially ‘on the market’ until after the February 9 midseason trade deadline.
The Ishbia brothers, Mat and Justin, would love to take over the team today but there are still some hurdles to clear. The final approval process that would result in the Ishbias taking control of the team is likely to take a couple more months rather than weeks.
That means General Manager James Jones has extra complications baked into any potential trades he wants to execute by February 9, including the need to get transactional approval from multiple places for any team-improving deadline deals.
According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN, suspended outgoing team governor Robert Sarver still has some authority over what happens to the Suns while he is still the controlling partner.
If you want the Suns to improve as a result of a Jae Crowder trade with a player or players who can perform better than Jae in the playoffs, at least one of the returning players will almost certainly be making more than Jae’s $10.1 million.
Which means James Jones will need not only interim governor Sam Garvin’s approval on any trade but also suspended governor Robert Sarver’s.
Why would the outgoing owners care, if they’re about to sell the team? For Sarver and Garvin, if the deal falls through, the sales process will have to start all over again and they will be the ones not only paying that additional salary but also the associated luxury tax which include double or triple the cost of the extra salary. The Sarver/Garvin pairing hasn’t written a luxury tax check in over 10 years.
Oh and there’s one more potential wrinkle on the ol’ luxury tax bill: A final sale could easily include terms where the outgoing owners foot any luxury tax bill incurred before the new owners take over.
This doesn’t necessarily mean Sarver or Garvin would veto a trade that makes the Suns better. Adding a few million to the luxury tax bill is relatively incidental to a $2 billion windfall on a $4 billion valuation, whenever the sale is finally done.
But it does mean that James Jones is still at least partially at the mercy of Robert Sarver’s basket-banker mind.
We all know from years past, Sarver’s transaction approvals are often heavily influenced by his own personal perception of the players in question. He once believed he could replace Amare Stoudemire with the collection of Hakim Warrick, Josh Childress and Hedo Turkoglu. He also thought trading Kurt Thomas AND two first round picks wouldn’t have a title-killing impact on his team. Same goes for the Shawn Marion/Shaquille O’Neal trade he reportedly brokered with Heat owner Micky Arison. And he likely had a heavy influence on the No. 1 pick choice in 2018, only to later be a heavy influence on Ayton’s contentious rookie extension talks.
What if Sarver doesn’t like a player on the current team? Will he quietly reject trades until that player is included, just to get a little more satisfaction on the way out the door?
And what if he, using his basketball scouting powers, really likes a player on another team? Will he reject potential deals that don’t bring back that player?
These are extreme examples, but we’ve experienced 18 years of Robert Sarver as controlling partner of the Suns ownership group. We know how he operates. I wouldn’t put it past him to influence one more big decision before he walks away with a couple bill for his trouble.
Even beyond the Sarver/Garvin issue, now consider James Jones’ trouble. He not only has to work on making the best on-court product he can, he’s also got to start thinking about the desires of the new buyers.
Every move he makes will influence the new owners decisions this summer.
If/when the Ishbias take over midseason, they will be on the hook for current-year salaries and, eventually, the luxury tax bill that’s already over $30 million. Remember, the owners have to pay the luxury tax out of their own pockets and share it with the other owners who didn’t cross that luxury tax line.
Imagine not only giving the Ishbias the current $30+ million bill to pay, but also adding to it with deadline trades that might not pan out.
For a midseason salary-adding trade to really ‘pan out’, the Suns would have to arguably go on a longer postseason run to replace the luxury tax bill with playoff profits.
Imagine Jones adding to that bill, only to see his team fail to make the playoffs or get out of the first round. While the Ishbias might appreciate the effort, they could also place more demerits against Jones’ job performance for it.
Jones is working for the best on-court product, but he’s also working for Sarver, Garvin AND the Ishbias in some form or another.
I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.