James Jones

Suns GM James Jones Talks Failed Ayton Negotiations

After not reaching a rookie scale extension agreement with center Deandre Ayton on Monday, Suns general manager James Jones tells Sam Amick of The Athletic that the team’s discussions with the former No. 1 overall pick have been mischaracterized.

According to Jones, it’s accurate that the Suns didn’t want to offer Ayton a five-year, maximum-salary extension. However, he disputes the notion that team owner Robert Sarver didn’t want to spend big money on Ayton, telling Amick that the club would’ve been happy to talk about a three- or four-year max deal.

Amick says Ayton’s agents – Bill Duffy and Nima Namakian – are adamant that no maximum-salary contract of any kind was offered, even informally, and that the message they received from the Suns was that the franchise, from Sarver on down, didn’t view the former No. 1 pick as a max player. Asked to respond to that claim, Jones said, “They know that a three- or four-year max was not an (acceptable) option for them.”

As Amick outlines, one reason the Suns were unwilling to offer a fifth year, according to Jones, was the fact that it would make Ayton the team’s second “designated rookie,” joining Devin Booker. The term is something of a misnomer, since a designated rookie isn’t a rookie at all, but rather a player who has signed a five-year rookie scale extension.

Teams are only permitted to carry up to two designated rookies, so signing Ayton to a five-year extension would have limited Phoenix’s options on the trade market, Jones pointed out. While that’s technically true, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Suns would not only be able to acquire a third designated rookie before Booker’s current contract expires, but would be able to do so without giving up Booker or Ayton.

Here are few more of Jones’ comments to Amick on the failed negotiations with Ayton:

On the perception that Sarver is being cheap:

“It’s inaccurate. If you just look at the moves we’ve made, it’s inaccurate. It’s just not (true). If you look at all the moves we’ve made, and the things we’ve done, from (upgrading) the practice facility to the roster itself to acquiring Chris Paul, going and acquiring Jae Crowder, extending the guys that we have, that’s not accurate.

“When you boil this thing down, it’s disappointing that we didn’t get a deal done. It’s disappointing that it was a five-year-rookie-max-or-bust, or nothing to talk about, and we just didn’t have real substantial conversations. And that (idea that a) lack of a deal is a signal that we aren’t committed to Deandre or interested in continuing, that we don’t believe in him, that becomes the narrative. But it’s the furthest from the truth.

On the likelihood of the Suns paying the luxury tax starting next season:

“We’re gonna pay it. I can tell you, if you look at our roster now, all of the moves we’ve made — from Chris, Mikal (Bridges), Cam Payne, Landry (Shamet). All those moves that we’ve made have been to continue to build a team — a deep team. So we’re gonna pay the tax (and) continue to build a deep team.”

On the possibility of Ayton signing a maximum-salary offer sheet next summer:

“I don’t know what the market will be next year. I’m not projecting what the market will be next year. But it’s an issue about the five-year max — the five-year, designated rooke max, you know? That’s the issue. So if it’s a four-year max deal, it could be done, right? It could be done if you entertain it or consider it. But if you don’t, then the only thing you’re talking about is a five-year max deal. So we’re not talking about whether he’s getting paid. It’s whether or not he’s getting a five-year max.”

Southwest Notes: Draft Day Trades, W. Green, Morey, Spurs

Before a Tuesday report indicated that the Rockets are trying to trade up for the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft. Kelly Iko of The Athletic, along with beat writers for other teams, took a look at some potential deals Houston could make with the No. 2 pick. Some were considered hard passes (such as a trade-down with the Kings), others were considered interesting but not good enough (including a trade with the Magic for Nos. 5 and 8, and Wendell Carter Jr.), and only a couple were deemed acceptable. The bottom line: there are deals to be made, but it won’t be easy.

Meanwhile, William Guillory of The Athletic examined four potential trades for the Pelicans with the 10th pick, with beat writers from the Kings, Magic, Cavaliers, and Wolves chiming in on the likelihood of each respective deal’s appeal.

We have more from around the Southwest Division:

  • Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Times-Picayune profiles Willie Green, who is expected to be named the next Pelicans head coach. One of the primary appeals of Green, Kushner writes, as opposed to Stan Van Gundy or Alvin Gentry, is his focus on player relationships and establishing trust, rather than instilling a rigidity and system. “The best coaches aren’t necessarily the ones that talk about Xs and Os,” Green said in an interview last year. “It’s doing everything from a place of love. People feel that.”
  • When the Rockets were sold to Tilman Fertitta, part of the agreement included guaranteed five-year extensions for GM Daryl Morey, CEO Tad Brown, and others, which had to be paid out even if those execs joined other teams before the deals expired, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. This could have helped incentivize higher-ups to step down and pursue new opportunities, Feigen notes. This report comes on the heels of Brown being named CEO of the Sixers and New Jersey Devils.
  • As two teams that have eschewed all-out tanking in order to find other ways to rebuild, the Spurs could look to Suns GM James Jones for inspiration, writes Mike Finger of The San Antonio Express-News. Jones was not without his fair share of criticism for his moves in 2019 to maintain competitiveness while retooling around star Devin Booker, Finger writes. But by following his own compass – including the surprise selection of playoff breakout Cameron Johnson with the 11th pick after trading down from No. 6 – and taking advantage of the opportunity to trade for Chris Paul, Jones has found his own way to bring the Suns to greatness. Whether the Spurs can do the same remains to be seen.

Southeast Notes: Beal, James Jones, Butler, Bjelica

Bradley Beal of the Wizards is getting a first-hand look at what a Hall-of-Fame coach looks like, and he’s loving it, writes Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington.

“(Gregg Popovich is) perfect, man,” Beal said. “He’s an awesome coach to be around and his energy, his intensity, it just trickles down to everybody. It’s contagious.”

The timing is interesting, Hughes notes, as the Wizards are currently in the midst of a coaching search. Whomever the Wizards hire will be the third head coach of Beal’s career, and now that Beal has experience playing under Popovich, it will be interesting to see what he makes of the new hire. It’s been reported that Beal will have input in the decision.

We have more notes from around the Southeast Division:

  • In his latest mailbag, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel discusses the question of whether the Heat missed an opportunity by not doing more to keep Suns GM James Jones – 2021’s Executive of the Year – in the Heat organization. It’s unlikely Jones would’ve gotten the same opportunity that he got in Phoenix as quickly in Miami, Winderman concludes.
  • Much has been made of Jimmy Butler‘s combative nature, Winderman writes, but Heat legend Chris Bosh says some of that is the nature of the NBA, and that competitive fire looks different when the team is winning versus when it’s losing. “There’ll always be reports of conflict when the season isn’t that good. The conflict is different. When they’re winning and arguing, it’s great, it’s a great thing,” Bosh said. “What I find is most important, is you have to talk about it. We’re all adults, right?”
  • Winderman also checks in with Heat free agent Nemanja Bjelica on the heels of Serbia’s elimination from the Tokyo Olympic qualifying tournament last weekend on their home floor. “Disaster, it is fair to say, failure,” Bjelica said. “We are always expected to always win. The only thing left is that we wanted to make these people happy. I can only apologize, if it means something. I will take responsibility as a player with the most experience here.”

Pacific Notes: Jones, CP3, Morris, Simmons

Suns general manager James Jones won his first NBA Executive of the Year award after just two years on the job. In a new piece, Gina Mizell of Suns.com details how Jones netted the honor.

As Mizell details, two years to the day before Jones won the award, he had his first draft as full-fledged team GM, selecting Cameron Johnson on June 20, 2019.

“[When] I was first drafted here, it was like, ‘Oh man, this team is terrible. I was a terrible pick. This team was destined for failure.’” Johnson reflected. “Then to get to this point now, going into the Western Conference Finals … (it) shows the trust and the faith and the confidence we have in one another.”

“He’s a big reason why we’re having the success, because of the team that he’s put together and the character of the players and the talent that he’s assembled,” head coach Monty Williams (a Jones hire) said of the man his NBA colleagues used to nickname “Champ.” “Just happy for him. He’s changed this thing in a short period of time.”

Among his more impactful moves for the 2020/21 season, Jones traded for All-Star point guard Chris Paul, signed starting power forward Jae Crowder, and traded for reserve swingman Torrey Craig. The Suns finished the abbreviated 2020/21 season with a 51-21 record, good for the second seed in the Western Conference.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Though Suns point guard Chris Paul will miss at least the first two games of Phoenix’s Western Conference Finals matchup against the Clippers, the 11-time All-Star has managed to remain a vocal figure even from a distance, writes Mark Medina of USA Today“We put him on FaceTime,” All-Star Suns shooting guard Devin Booker said. “We lean on him for a lot, and we know how disappointed he is and frustrated he couldn’t be out here for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, especially knowing his past history around this time. But we know we had him all the way through. We brought him in the locker room. We had him in our after-game huddle. So he’s proud of us.” Paul continues to grapple with the NBA’s coronavirus-related health and safety protocols and will miss Game 2 of the series on Tuesday.
  • Clippers forward Marcus Morris suffered a knee injury during the first half of the Clippers’ 120-114 Game 1 loss to the Suns on Sunday. Though Morris is not on the club’s official injury report ahead of Game 2 yet, L.A. coach Tyronn Lue said that he was unsure whether Morris would suit on Tuesday, tweets Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.
  • After Sixers All-Star point guard Ben Simmons underwhelmed in his club’s seven-game second-round series loss to the Hawks, James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area wonders if the Kings should consider trying to trade for the All-Defensive First-Teamer. Ham notes that Simmons will not come cheap, as the 24-year-old just completed the first season of the five-year, maximum-salary extension he signed with the team in the 2019 offseason. Though Ham asserts that Sacramento would not part with young guards De’Aaron Fox or Tyrese Haliburton, he thinks that Simmons, though not a perfect match due to his flaws as a shooter, could be worth a look.

Suns GM James Jones Named Executive Of The Year

Suns team owner Robert Sarver announced ahead of Phoenix’s first Western Conference Finals game in 11 years that general manager James Jones has won the NBA’s Executive of the Year award for the 2020/21 season, Gina Mizell of Suns.com tweets.

The award is voted on by NBA execs rather than by media members. Jones received nine first-place votes and 65 overall points, narrowly beating out Jazz executive VP Dennis Lindsey, who earned nine first-place votes and 61 points, per a press release. Nets GM Sean Marks placed third with 51 points.

“I want to thank Robert for this opportunity,” Jones said to a raucous Phoenix home crowd, per Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic (video link). “All I can say is ‘Go Suns, let’s win.'”

A 14-year NBA pro as a 6’8″ wing out of Miami, Jones won three titles with the Heat and Cavaliers. He first joined the Suns as the club’s vice president of basketball operations in 2017, before being promoted to interim GM in October 2018, and finally to full-fledged GM in 2019.

The award is well-deserved this season, as Jones helped orchestrate several key moves that elevated the promising young Suns into legitimate title contenders.

Jones hired head coach Monty Williams in the summer of 2019, helping lay the groundwork for the club’s turnaround from an extended lottery purgatory. The Suns just barely missed the NBA playoffs in the 2019/20 season, finishing with a 34-39 record and the No. 10 seed in the West during the Orlando restart “bubble”

Jones, 40, acquired 11-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul in a November 2020 trade with the Thunder ahead of the season, and signed savvy two-way forward Jae Crowder, hot off a Finals appearance as the Heat’s starting power forward, to a team-friendly three-year, $29.3MM deal in free agency. During the season, Jones also traded for athletic wing Torrey Craig to shore up the club’s bench depth.

This season, the Suns finished with a 51-21 record, good for the No. 2 seed in the crowded Western Conference. With the Jazz eliminated from contention, Phoenix will now enjoy home court advantage for the rest of the playoffs.

Led by Paul, homegrown superstar Devin Booker, plus promising third-year talents Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton (both of whom Jones had a say in selecting as VP of basketball operations), the Suns are facing the Clippers today in the first game of a best-of-seven Western Conference Finals series. Paul is currently in COVID-19 protocols, but expected to be available later in the series.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Suns Notes: Paul, Jones, Sarver, Ayton

Suns guard Chris Paul suffered a right shoulder contusion during the team’s Game 1 victory over the Lakers on Sunday, but he was able to return to the game and later expressed optimism about his status going forward.

Speaking to reporters after the game (video link via The Arizona Republic), Paul downplayed the injury, declaring that he’ll “be all right.” Asked about whether he thinks he’ll be available to play in Game 2, the veteran point guard replied, “Absolutely.”

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • In a feature for Sports Illustrated, Rohan Nadkarni takes a closer look at how Suns general manager James Jones turned a perennial lottery team into a legit contender just two years after assuming control of the team’s front office. “You know, we talk about ceilings a lot, but the first goal was to raise the floor,” Jones said of his approach to building the roster. “I wanted us to stay grounded. It was important not to get far ahead of ourselves and have our guys thinking so far in advance. You take one step at a time, and every time you take a step you raise the floor.”
  • Speaking to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic, Suns owner Robert Sarver admitted that this year’s team exceeded his expectations. Sarver said the team entered the season hoping to vie for a top-four seed in the West, which he viewed “a challenging goal, but obtainable.” Phoenix finished with the NBA’s second-best record.
  • Former No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton tells Shams Charania of The Athletic that he wants “to be certified as the best young two-way center who’s ever played the game.” However, with the Suns pushing for a title this season, Ayton – who averaged a career-low 14.4 PPG in 2020/21 – has been happy to take a step back on offense and play the role the team has asked of him. “Me playing like this, changing my play style and sacrificing certain things that I’m known for, that’s fine. Once it’s with winning, I’m perfectly fine,” Ayton said. “Everybody can eat, everybody is OK. I’m perfectly fine with it. I’m just a competitor, man, I love to compete and play with my teammates and love to be coached. Knowing what I do and what I sacrifice leads to wins, I’m happy.”

Pacific Notes: Suns Practice Facility, Kings, No. 10 Pick, Rubio

In addition to acquiring new All-NBA point guard Chris Paul, the Suns have also started to work out in the team’s brand-new $45MM practice facility, the Verizon 5G Performance Center, for the 2020/21 season, as Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic details.

The 53,000 square foot facility will be used by both the Suns and the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA. Verizon will equip the facility with “performance analytics and biometric innovations,” per Rankin, which will help the team assess its players during practices.“Verizon’s powerful 5G technology is seamlessly incorporated throughout our facility in a way that is unprecedented in the NBA and American professional sports today,” general manager James Jones commented in a statement.

“That cohesion provides our staff with unparalleled opportunities to efficiently unlock each athlete’s fullest potential,” Jones continued. The Suns, hot off an 8-0 run during the NBA’s Orlando-based seeding games, look to finally make a playoff return thanks to the expected improvement of young stars Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, plus the addition of Paul.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • There has been developing buzz that point guard Killian Hayes might fall to the Kings with the No. 12 pick, according to Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee. The 6’5″ guard has been projected as falling to Sacramento in mock drafts today from Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, Jonathan Givony of ESPN, and Sam Vecenie of The Athletic and Tankathon.
  • Were the Suns to retain their No. 10 lottery pick tonight, they could benefit from an addition across several positions, per Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. Point guards Kira Lewis Jr., Killian Hayes and Tyrell Terry could serve as solid understudies for the 35-year-old Chris Paul, while forward Aaron Nesmith might also be an intriguing fit.
  • New Thunder point guard Ricky Rubio, a key part of the Sunstrade to acquire Paul, was not expecting to be traded this offseason, according to a recent interview with Spanish outlet Marca.com recapped by Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic“It was a surprise, especially because of the communication that there has been,” Rubio said. “When [I heard] the rumors about my transfer, I called my people and they told me that my name was not on the table.” Rubio inked a three-year, $51MM contract with Phoenix last summer.

Pacific Notes: Bagley, Oubre, Warriors, Smith

Kings big man Marvin Bagley, who has been limited by various injuries throughout his first two NBA seasons, has indicated that he feels vastly improved and is ready for the season restart in Orlando, per James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area (Twitter link).

“I’m doing great,” Bagley said. “I’m 100%.” Bagley has been hampered by a broken thumb and a left foot sprain. He has logged time in only 13 games for the Kings this season.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • During a media call on Monday, Suns general manager James Jones did not rule out the prospect of Kelly Oubre Jr. to join his teammates for the league’s Orlando restart, according to Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. Oubre, the team’s starting small forward, underwent an arthroscopic surgery on his right knee for a torn meniscus on March 3 and is reportedly expected to remain sidelined through the summer.
  • Oubre, who will be an unrestricted free agent in the 2021/22 season, could be an appealing trade target for the Warriors, according to Anthony Slater of The Athletic. Slater assesses the Suns forward’s fit with Golden State. The contracts would line up nicely: Oubre is owed $14.2MM in 2020/21, and the Warriors have a $17.2MM trade exception on their books as a result of their Andre Iguodala trade last summer.
  • New Lakers wing J.R. Smith, signed to bolster the team’s depth as a replacement for Avery Bradley, notes that he struggled with depression during the 20-month interim between his last NBA job (with the Cavaliers) and this one, according to Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register. “Being somebody who has been around the league predominately for most of their adult life, when that’s kind of taken away from you, it kind of gives you that culture shock and you obviously don’t understand what you lost until it’s gone,” Smith said.

Western Notes: Spurs, Kerr, Suns, Powell

Spurs sports and entertainment chairman Peter Holt said the team’s ownership group remains “100 percent committed” to staying in San Antonio, Jeff Garcia of FoxSanAntonio.com relays. Holt’s statement was issued after a report that the Spurs were selling a minority stake in the franchise. The Holt family is the majority owner. “As an ownership group we remain 100 percent committed to the city of San Antonio. … San Antonio is home and will remain home,” Holt said.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr admits his franchise is already in offseason mode, ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes. In a Zoom conference call among Kerr, GM Bob Myers and the players last week, the conversation felt more like the team’s annual exit meeting, Kerr said. “It was just a chance to check in, but it was also a chance for Bob to update the players on his contact with the league and the latest news, but it also kind of felt like our annual team exit meeting,” Kerr said. “Our coaching staff and I have been undergoing staff evaluations, offseason plans, so we are absolutely in offseason mode right now.”
  • In an in-depth discussion between The Athletic’s Gina Mizell and John Hollinger regarding the Suns future, Hollinger indicates the biggest question regarding GM James Jones is whether owner Robert Sarver is still calling the shots on basketball decisions. In recent years, Sarver has been heavily involved in the team’s moves, including most of the ones that set back the franchise, Hollinger continued. The team may have to move forward Kelly Oubre Jr. in the coming months due to the two-year, $30MM contract he received last year, Hollinger adds.
  • Mavericks big man Dwight Powell was well prepared to stay in shape during the suspension of play, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. After rupturing his right Achilles tendon in January, Powell was unable to drive to the Mavericks practice facility, so he invested in fitness equipment. One of those machines, a Concept 2 Skier, mimics the upper body motion of cross-country skiing while standing still. “Ten seconds on that at full bore will get you up to max heart rate,” Powell said. “I’m a push-up master and mixing in that cardio, so I’m actually in great shape, considering I’m not able to run right now.”

Suns Notes: Williams, Jones, Oubre, Ayton

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated spoke with Suns GM James Jones and new head coach Monty Williams in a look at the league’s youngest team, owners of a surprisingly competent 11-16 record this season. Phoenix is currently one game behind the Kings for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

Williams addressed the tactical changes he has made since his last head coaching position with the Anthony Davis-fronted Pelicans.

“In New Orleans, I made it about me a lot of times. I was a young coach,” Williams allows. “And there was a bit of pride there that got in the way and I had to address that. I don’t want to go that route anymore… We want everybody to feel so excited and good about what we’re trying to do.”

Here’s more from Phoenix:

  • In the same conversation with Spears, Jones (who won three titles as a bench shooter for the Heat and Cavaliers) asserts that he wants to make a long-term cultural shift in Phoenix, from perennial loser to perennial title contender. “I’m so deeply focused on the process because I know there’s a process that you have to undertake to become a champion,” Jones tells Spears.
  • Kelly Oubre was unsure whether or not he would be leaving the Wizards for the Suns last season after the infamous “Brooks trade” involving Phoenix, Washington and Memphis fell apart. Then, the Suns and Wizards cut out the Grizzlies completely and proceeded to move Oubre to Phoenix. “[At] the end of the day, I want to be great,” Oubre told The Athletic’s Gina Mizell. “I want to… help this organization grow.” The team now cannot picture its rebuild without the 24 year-old small forward, who has emerged as a permanent starter.
  • Suns center Deandre Ayton double-doubled in his first game back from a 25-game drug suspension. Ayton scored 18 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in a 120-99 loss to the Clippers Tuesday. In postgame comments logged by ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk, Ayton calls testing positive for a diuretic “the biggest mistake and unintentional mistake that happened in my life.” As Youngmisuk writes, Ayton said that he did not appeal the NBA’s suspension because he did not want to be a distraction to his team.