Devin Booker

Suns’ James Jones Talks Ayton, Luxury Tax, Draft

Addressing reporters in his end-of-season press conference on Wednesday, Suns general manager James Jones didn’t make any guarantees about whether center Deandre Ayton will remain with the team long-term, but suggested that the club wants to bring back its top restricted free agent.

“As far as free agency and those things, we’ll address them at the proper time,” Jones said, per Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. “That happens in July, end of June, but we want to continue to keep our consistency and continuity and keep the guys that we have and continue to help those guys improve upon the things that we did this year.”

Asked during an appearance on the Burns & Gambo show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM about the Ayton situation, Jones conveyed a similar sentiment, stressing that the 23-year-old has been an important part of Phoenix’s recent success, as Jake Anderson of ArizonaSports.com relays.

“Deandre had an amazing season and he’s progressed every year and improved every year he’s been here, and so he’s a big part of what we do,” Jones said. “His future with us is something we’ll address at the proper time, which is in the future. He’s a free agent and I’ve said all along, he’s about the same things we’re about, which is winning. We’ll address it at the proper time.”

Here’s more from Jones on the Suns:

  • Although the season didn’t end the way the team wanted it to, Jones said it “was not a disappointment” on the whole and that the early playoff exit won’t change the way the front office operates or result in any major overhauls. “I’m not going to change my approach to team building, which is to create and construct a team that has a ton of depth, a ton of skill and great chemistry,” Jones said, according to Rankin. “We just need to be better and I think after a summer where our guys improve, we will be.”
  • Asked about potentially lucrative new contract extensions for Devin Booker and Cameron Johnson, Jones acknowledged that payroll increases are part of the territory for a team that has as much talent as the Suns do. “We’re focused on improving the team and those guys, they deserve the credit. They deserve the accolades and the financial rewards that come with being good players and productive players,” Jones said. “It doesn’t preclude us from doing anything. We’re not talking about a luxury tax issues or avoiding those things. That’s not something that’s going to prevent us from continuing to build this team and keep this team together.”
  • The Suns don’t have any 2022 draft picks, but Jones said, “If there’s an opportunity to get back into the draft, we will,” according to Rankin. Acquiring a late draft pick could be appealing to the Suns since rookie second-rounders have the lowest possible luxury-tax hit — they’re penalized at a lower rate than an undrafted rookie with the same salary.
  • The investigation into Suns owner Robert Sarver seems likely to be completed before next season, but Jones isn’t focused on that outcome, as Rankin relays. “It doesn’t change what we’re doing on the basketball operations,” the GM said. “Our job as execs and coaches and players is to assemble, build and lead a team to accomplish a goal of winning basketball games. That part of the job doesn’t change.”

Suns Notes: Paul, Ayton, Booker, Johnson

The Suns‘ season ended in embarrassing fashion on Sunday night in Game 7 at home vs. Dallas, falling behind by 30 points by halftime and trailing by as many as 46 in the second half before losing by a score of 123-90. After yet another Game 7 loss for Chris Paul, the 37-year-old point guard made it clear he has every intention of returning to Phoenix next season and trying to right the ship.

“You play long enough and you don’t win, every time you lose, they’re going to say it was your best chance,” Paul said, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “But I think for me, us, it’s we’ll be right back next year. I’ll tell you that much. I’m not retiring tomorrow, thank God. Hopefully, I’m healthy coming back. But I’m (going to) keep playing.”

Paul had a poor showing on Sunday, recording just 10 points and four assists and failing to score his first field goal until the Suns were down by 40 points. He played through a left quad injury that limited his mobility, sources tell ESPN’s McMenamin and Marc J. Spears (Twitter link).

In his post-game comments to reporters, Suns head coach Monty Williams took responsibility for the Suns’ sluggish performance and for the loss, but Paul said the blame should fall on his own shoulders.

“I think we just came out and just didn’t have enough,” Paul said, according to McMenamin. “I think Mont said that’s on him, but I think that’s on me, as the point guard, the leader of the team. To come out and make sure you’re getting the right shots and all that.”

Paul has a $28.4MM guaranteed salary for next season, followed by a partially guaranteed $30.8MM salary in ’23/24 and a non-guaranteed $30MM salary in ’24/25.

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • Suns center Deandre Ayton was pulled early in the third quarter on Sunday and didn’t return to the game after exchanging words with Williams on the sidelines, according to McMenamin, who notes that the former No. 1 overall pick logged just 17 minutes, the third-fewest minutes he has played in a game since entering the league.
  • Asked after the game about the reason for Ayton’s limited playing time, Williams curtly responded, “It’s internal.” It’s an ominous ending to the season for Ayton, who will be a restricted free agent this summer and will likely be seeking a maximum-salary contract or something close to it.
  • Ayton’s upcoming free agency will be the primary focus for the Suns this summer, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) details in his offseason preview. With Ayton up for a new deal and Devin Booker and Cameron Johnson both eligible for extensions, Phoenix’s roster could start to get very expensive, Marks observes.
  • In his own preview of the Suns’ offseason, Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype also examines potential new contracts for Ayton, Booker, and Johnson.
  • The Suns could have used injured forward Dario Saric in their series vs. Dallas, suggests John Hollinger of The Athletic, writing that the team was ultimately undone by its lack of perimeter lineups to counteract the Mavericks’ “space ball” approach. Dallas often employed lineups with five capable three-point shooters, reducing the defensive impact of Suns centers Ayton and JaVale McGee.

Suns Notes: Game 7, Booker, Williams, Ayton

The Suns didn’t expect to be in a Game 7 with Dallas, but now that they’re here, they’re determined to win it, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN. Both teams have captured all three games at home, several of them by wide margins, so Phoenix has confidence about playing today’s deciding contest on its home court.

It will be the first-ever seventh game for Devin Booker, who said the excitement was already evident at Saturday’s practice.

“I like coming in here with everybody locked in, top to bottom from the front office looking through the windows — you can feel their demeanor,” Booker said. “That’s why we play the sport. We thought we had something going there [in terms of pressure] during the regular season, trying to break the franchise record [for victories], and this is a whole different beast.”

There’s more from Phoenix:

  • Coach Monty Williams used the practice session as a “clean-up” to fix some of the team’s bad habits in the series, McMenamin adds. Williams emphasized protecting the basketball, as the Suns have averaged 18.7 turnovers per game in the series, and guarding the three-point line because the Mavericks are making 16.3 threes per game. Williams has also noticed the different atmosphere that Game 7 brings. “You can feel it,” he said. “From the time when we knew we were going to be in a Game 7 until now, the gym is thick with intensity. And that’s how playoff basketball should be.”
  • In an interview with Marc J. Spears of Andscape, Williams talks about the difficulties he’s had to overcome and the importance of faith in his life. The Suns’ head coach admits he spent about two weeks being severely disappointed about losing in last year’s NBA Finals until he began to fully reflect on all that’s happened. “I had a lot of time to think and pray. I became way more aware of my hypocrisy,” he said. “Here I am again, this reputation for all this stuff, and here I am internally feeling like I deserve something. It took me about a week or two to get to that point where I was like, man, I should be way more grateful and thankful than I am right now.”
  • Video games have been an important outlet for Suns center Deandre Ayton throughout his basketball career, per Maya A. Jones of ESPN“I don’t think I could live without the game and that’s real talk,” Ayton said.

Pacific Notes: James, Kuminga, Booker, Kings Draft Workout

LeBron James can sign a two-year extension this offseason and it increasingly appears he’s on board with the team’s future plans. Brian Windhorst said on ESPN’s Get Up show that James and Lakers owner Jeanie Buss are “in a good place” as the franchise tries to move on from a disastrous season (hat tip to Hoops Hype).

“From what I understand, LeBron and Jeanie are in a good place right now, despite the frustrations of this season,” Windhorst said. “LeBron believes that a few tweaks and some health can actually turn this thing around, and they can be super competitive. He is invested, wants to be there.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Jonathan Kuminga didn’t play in Game 6 against the Grizzlies but Draymond Green believes the Warriors rookie has a very bright future, as he told Marc Spears of Andscape. “He can be a perennial All-Star in this league,” Green said. “That’s up to him and the work he puts in. But he has the skills, the tools, he can see the floor, he has the opportunity if he puts the work in to be a perennial All-Star.”
  • Devin Booker finished fourth in the voting for the Most Valuable Player award but the Suns guard should be at the forefront of the conversation for next year’s award, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic writes. Along with his scoring and play-making, Booker has cut down on his turnovers and improved defensively.
  • The Kings brought in six draft prospects on Thursday, Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee tweets. That group included Will Richardson (Oregon), Jamal Bieniemy (UTEP), Lester Quinones (Memphis), Jeriah Horne (Tulsa), Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Louisiana Tech) and Efe Abogidi (Washington State).

Nikola Jokic Repeats As Most Valuable Player

Nuggets center Nikola Jokic has won his second straight Most Valuable Player Award, topping the SixersJoel Embiid and the BucksGiannis Antetokounmpo by a comfortable margin, the NBA announced in a press release.

Jokic received 65 first-place votes and 875 total points, putting him well ahead of Embiid, who finished second with 26 first-place votes and 706 points. Antetokounmpo came in third with nine first-place votes and 595 points.

Nobody else received a first-place vote, but Suns guard Devin Booker was fourth with 216 points and Mavericks guard Luka Doncic was fifth at 146 points. With 100 total voters, the balloting system awarded 10 points for a first-place vote, seven points for second, five points for third, three points for fourth and one point for fifth.

Other players receiving votes were the Celtics‘ Jayson Tatum (43 points), the GrizzliesJa Morant (10), the Warriors‘ Stephen Curry (4), the SunsChris Paul (2), the BullsDeMar DeRozan (1), the LakersLeBron James (1) and the NetsKevin Durant (1).

Jokic is the 13th player to win MVP honors in back-to-back seasons. He averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists in 74 games and helped the Nuggets earn the sixth seed in the West despite the absence of Jamal Murray and  Michael Porter Jr. Jokic was named Western Conference Player of the Month twice this season and reached the All-Star Game for the fourth straight year.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported on Monday that Jokic would win the award.

Pacific Notes: Booker, McGee, Wiggins, Moon, Ranadive

The Suns were an NBA-best 64-18 during the regular season and are currently up 2-0 in their second-round series against Dallas. After Phoenix lost to Milwaukee in the Finals last season, it would have been easy to have a letdown, but Devin Booker says he’s driven to help the Suns win their first championship.

I have shifted that energy from losing the Finals in a good way,” Booker told Marc J. Spears of Andscape. “It’s a good segue in the locker room to talk about and motivate. We talk about the details of the game. Even [the Pelicans’ series], offensive rebounding doesn’t sit with us well because it’s the reason why we lost [games]. Winning a championship is something I want more than anything in my life.

“… I dreamed about [the Finals] as a kid. But now it’s a reality and I have to make it happen.”

Here’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • Cydney Henderson of USA Today details JaVale McGee‘s evolution into a valuable role player for three championship teams — and possibly a fourth, if the Suns win the title. The backup center believes he was the missing piece to Phoenix’s championship puzzle. “They were the best team last year, they just lost in the Finals,” said McGee. “They need one more piece and I’m that piece. I feel it, this that year.”
  • Andrew Wiggins is thriving in his new role as a small-ball power forward for the Warriors, writes Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic. “I mean, it’s not easy, obviously,” Wiggins said, “because 99 percent of the time, I’m smaller. But I feel like I’m just as strong and athletic as anyone else. I love fighting with guys. I love the physicality down there. I feel like it just gets you going. You gotta wake up for this. You can’t just ease into it. If you ease into it, those guys are gonna push you under the rim and bury you.”
  • Xavier Moon, who finished the season on a two-way contract with the Clippers, said in an interview with Andrew Greif of The Los Angeles Times that he’s going to work on getting stronger this summer in an effort to stick in the NBA. “Just my body. Improving my body, getting stronger, obviously add a little weight and that will help with every aspect of my game and other than that just being a student of the game, just learning to be an NBA point guard, facilitating and knowing when and where to score,” Moon said.
  • Can Kings owner Vivek Ranadive learn from his meddling mistakes of the past and let GM Monte McNair make the final call on the team’s new head coach? James Ham of The Kings Beat explores that question and delves into Ranadive’s history of involvement in prior front office/coaching moves.

Pacific Notes: Green, Poole, Booker, Kings Job

Draymond Green picked up a Flagrant Foul 2 in the second-round opener against the Grizzlies but he’s not going to alter his style, Kendra Andrews of ESPN writes.

“I am never going to change the way I play basketball,” the Warriors forward said. “It’s gotten me this far. Gotten me three championships, four All-Stars, Defensive Player of the Year. I’m not going to change now.”

We have more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Jordan Poole‘s dramatic improvement is chronicled by Andrews in a separate story. The Warriors’ guard put in extra work during the early days of the pandemic and it has paid off. Poole’s 31-point, nine-assist game against Memphis on Sunday was the latest example of his breakthrough year. “I’ve always made people eat their words,” Poole said. “I never went to the media and said anything about anybody else. I just shut up, take it all in and let my game do the talking. It feels a lot better. Oh, my god, it feels so good.”
  • Prior to the conference semifinals matchup against Dallas on Monday night, Suns All-Star Devin Booker said the hamstring injury that cost three games in the opening round is no longer an issue, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic tweets“Feels great. Ready to go,” Booker said.
  • Among the three finalists for the coaching job, Mike Brown is the Kings’ best choice, James Ham of The Kings Beat opines. Brown checks all of the boxes, has the best résumé, and deserves another head coaching opportunity, Ham writes. Steve Clifford would be a safe choice but hasn’t enjoyed previous success like Brown, while Ham believes Mark Jackson would be a major risk.

VanVleet To Miss Game 6; Booker Returns For Suns

5:05pm: Booker will play tonight, according to coach Monty Williams, Andrew Lopez of ESPN tweets.


4:40pm: The Raptors have ruled out guard Fred VanVleet for Game 6 against the Sixers tonight, according to coach Nick Nurse, Tim Bontemps of ESPN tweets.

VanVleet had been listed as doubtful. The Raptors will be looking to stave off elimination once again and even up the series at 3-3 with a win in Toronto.

VanVleet suffered a left hip flexor strain in Game 4 on Saturday. Toronto emerged with a 103-88 win in Game 5 without him as Nurse used an unconventional rotation without a true point guard.

Meanwhile, the Suns will look to close out their series with the Pelicans with their leading scorer back in action. Devin Booker is expected to play in Game 6 tonight, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets.

Booker will test out his strained hamstring in pregame warmups, and assuming all goes well, he’ll be back on the floor after missing the past three games.

Phoenix has gone 2-1 without Booker, who is officially listed as questionable.

Devin Booker May Be Back For Game 6

The Suns could have Devin Booker available as they try to close out their first-round series Thursday at New Orleans, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Booker, who has missed the past three games with a strained right hamstring, is making significant progress and could return in Game 6 or possibly Game 7 if the Pelicans extend the series, Woj adds. Booker is expected to be listed as out for Thursday in the team’s first injury report, but his status could change if he continues to improve.

Booker suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain that knocked him out of Game 2 midway through the third quarter. There were fears that he might be sidelined for two to three weeks, but his recovery appears to be far ahead of schedule.

Booker led Phoenix to a victory in Game 1 with a 25-point performance, then had 31 points in the first half of Game 2 before being injured. His return could help make the difference in helping the top-seeded Suns eliminate a tougher-than-expected New Orleans team.

Injury Updates: Doncic, Booker, Barnes, Simmons

Asked on Friday if he’s optimistic about Luka Doncic‘s odds of returning from his left calf strain in Game 4 of the team’s series vs. Utah on Saturday, Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd replied, “Optimistic? That’s a good word. … He’s going in the right direction.”

As Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News writes, neither Doncic nor Kidd would guarantee that the All-NBA guard would be active on Saturday, preferring to emphasize caution. Doncic said he’ll do some more 5-on-5 work in practice today before any decisions are made about his status, but it sounds like it will once again be a game-time call.

The possibility of aggravating the injury will be an important consideration for the Mavericks and Doncic as they determine whether he’s ready to return. Doncic said today that it would have been “too much” risk to play in Game 3 on Thursday for that reason (Twitter link via Marc Stein). As it turned out, the Mavs didn’t need him, as Jalen Brunson led the team to a crucial win in Utah to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • Following up on Brian Windhorst’s report that Suns guard Devin Booker could miss two or three weeks due to his right hamstring strain, ESPN’s Zach Lowe (video link) said he has heard optimism that Booker’s timeline should be much closer to two weeks than three.
  • Raptors head coach Nick Nurse spoke after Wednesday’s Game 3 loss as if he expected rookie Scottie Barnes (left ankle sprain) to return for Game 4, but he tempered expectations on Barnes today, telling reporters that the forward is making progress but is doubtful to play on Saturday (Twitter link via Tim Bontemps of ESPN). Nurse added that the series score isn’t a factor in determining Barnes’ availability — the team wants to get him more playoff experience, so if he’s ready to play, he’ll play (Twitter link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca).
  • It appears Ben Simmons won’t be ready to play in Game 3 of the Nets‘ series vs. Boston on Saturday, but he told reporters today he’s “very hopeful” about returning soon and confirmed that Monday’s Game 4 looks like a “reasonable” target to make his Brooklyn debut, per Peter Botte of The New York Post. Shams Charania reported on Thursday that Simmons plans to play in Game 4.