The record $4 billion sale of the Phoenix Suns by suspended owner Robert Sarver to mortgage lender and former collegiate basketball player Mat Ishbia should be approved by the NBA during its All-Star weekend, Feb. 17-19, in Salt Lake City, sources tell Sportico.
Until then, Sarver maintains his influence over the injured and short-handed Suns, even as the Feb. 9 trade deadline approaches.
Sarver has been separated from the day-to-day business of the team since he was suspended by the NBA on Sept. 13 for creating a toxic workplace. However, the suspension agreement gives him final right to approve any player transaction worth $10 million or more until the sale is finalized. And that has caused a problem for basketball operations president James Jones, who is trying to trade recalcitrant forward Jae Crowder.
Crowder, who is earning $10.83 million this season, has been on paid leave from the team since training camp opened, and is a pending free agent after the season. Under Sarver’s suspension agreement, any trade for a player (or players) of value comparable to or above Crowder would have to be approved or denied by Sarver, who isn’t allowed direct contact with team personnel.
Jones can still deal Crowder for a player (or players) worth less than $10 million. That might not be optimal because the Suns likely wouldn’t receive full value in the deal, but it might be the obvious resolution of the problem.
Jones declined to comment when approached last Thursday, before the Suns won 117-112 over the Brooklyn Nets at Footprint Center. The NBA didn’t respond to a query about the situation.
Ishbia attended that night’s game and was seated on the floor next to Sam Garvin, the representative of the ownership group who replaced Sarver as the team’s interim governor. Ishbia is expected to remain in Michigan where he will continue to run his mortgage company, United Wholesale Mortgage, rather than relocate to Phoenix, adding to the perceived chaos of the transition. The Suns have been under local ownership since Richard Bloch, a Beverley Hills resident, sold the team to Jerry Colangelo in 1987.
Under terms of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, any team over the salary cap can trade a player in a deal worth 125%, plus $100,000 of the departing players’ contract. In Crowder’s case, that would be about $13.1 million.
The Suns are well over the cap at $167.3 million, having exceeded it by $45.3 million. Still, the rules allow them to go further above the cap if Sarver approves any deal.
Those complications have kept the Suns from adding any significant players as most of their roster has succumbed to injuries this season. Starters Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Cam Johnson, along with reserves Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet, have all missed significant time as the Suns plummeted from 16-7, then the best record in the Western Conference, to 25-24, now seventh in the West after winning four straight.
During that entire period Jones added only one player—Saben Lee. The point guard just began his second of back-to-back 10-day contracts at the Sarver-proof rate of $105,522 per 10-day period.
In the offseason, the team matched a four-year, $132.9 million offer from the Indiana Pacers to keep center Deandre Ayton. They also gave Booker a four-year max extension worth $224.2 million, extending his current five-year, $158.3 million contract through 2028.
Crowder, an integral element to the team the last two seasons, wanted an extension, some security and a piece of that action. But even before his suspension came down, Sarver declined to extend Crowder. In addition, Jones and coach Monty Williams told Crowder that the plan was for him to come off the bench behind Johnson this season.
Jones opted to send Crowder home and pay him rather than risk locker room controversy that might carry into the regular season.
“We have a gentleman’s agreement,” Jones said in December.
Crowder was livid.
“I’ve spoken to every player that I’ve played with on that team, and they all have stressed how much they miss [me] and respect my decision, and I’m thankful for their understanding,” Crowder told Bleacher Report recently. “This move of pushing me out the door was a blindsided hit to not only me but my teammates, as you can see from speaking to them and myself and the conversations we’ve had behind closed doors.”
When Johnson tore the meniscus in his right knee during the eighth game of the season—he needed surgery and missed 37 games until his return off the bench last Thursday night—Crowder could have come back in the starting lineup with a chance to help himself and the team.
Jones just shrugged at that assessment. Williams balked at Crowder’s criticism.
“When I saw it, I just kind of shook my head,” Williams said. “No need to really even comment. The only comment I have is that I care for everybody that plays for us and has played for us.”
It’s a short-term mess, pending the trade deadline and shortly thereafter approval of the sale.