If it had been simply about statistics, it should have been simple for the Kings to re-sign Isaiah Thomas.
But it was never simply about statistics. The Kings believe they need to change their playing style, and to do that, it meant parting with the man who’d started at point guard for most of the last three seasons.
That became official Friday when the Kings agreed to a sign-and-trade with Phoenix for a $7 million trade exception and the draft rights to Alex Oriakhi, a 2013 second-round draft pick who played in the NBA Development League last season.
The deal was confirmed by NBA sources who spoke under the condition of anonymity because the deal had not been formally announced.
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Thomas signed a four-year deal worth $27 million.
The trade exception allows the Kings to acquire more salary in a trade than they send out. Sacramento has one year to use the exception to acquire a player.
The exception is key for the Kings, who are already above the NBA salary cap of $63.065 million by more than $5 million before signing Thomas’ replacement, Darren Collison.
That deal would put the Kings at nearly $74 million in salary. The luxury tax level is $76.829 million.
The Suns planned to sign Thomas, a restricted free agent, to a front-loaded offer sheet to discourage Sacramento from matching the offer that would have made the Kings a tax-paying team.
Thomas averaged career highs of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists in his third NBA season with the Kings, but Sacramento was intent on finding a more defensive-minded point guard who might be more of a facilitator.
That led the Kings to reach an agreement on a three-year, $16 million deal with Collison last week.
The Kings had no intention of paying Thomas the kind of salary he received from Phoenix.
Sacramento would have preferred to use Thomas off the bench as a scorer.
Thomas will be a third guard for Phoenix. The Suns have All-NBA third-team guard Goran Dragic, who also won the 2014 NBA Most Improved Player award.
They also have highly regarded Eric Bledsoe, a restricted free agent whom the Suns intend to retain.
Thomas might not start for Phoenix, but he feels wanted, which he hadn’t in Sacramento for quite some time.
He knew the Kings planned to sign or draft a point guard. New management had tried to replace him with Greivis Vasquez before dealing Vasquez in the trade for Rudy Gay.
The Suns hosted Thomas for a visit Thursday and Friday.
Thomas had looked at the Los Angeles Lakers, but their desire to avoid tying up salary cap space on a four-year deal and their acquisition of Jeremy Lin made Phoenix the obvious choice.
Thomas already had changed his Twitter avatar to a photo of himself in a Suns jersey. He thanked the Kings and the fans for his three seasons and mentioned his relationship with Mayor Kevin Johnson.
“God is great!!! I’m excited for what the future holds here in Phoenix. Proud 2 be apart of the @ Suns organization!” Thomas tweeted.
Thomas, only 5-foot-9, was the last pick of the 2011 NBA draft (60th overall).
The Kings had that pick thanks to a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee for Jon Brockman.
Thomas was the best player of the Kings’ draft class, beating out first-round pick Jimmer Fredette for playing time and becoming a starter as a rookie.
Over the next two seasons, the Kings brought in players to start ahead of Thomas, who eventually beat them out.
Thomas averaged 15.3 points and 4.8 assists in 216 games (153 starts) with Sacramento.