James Jones

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: Jones, Ayton, Sarver Investigation, Booker

Suns GM James Jones received a multiyear extension this week and the team’s head coach and players voiced their approval, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic reports.

“I’m so happy for him, he deserves it,” said Chris Paul, who served on the NBPA’s executive committee with Jones when the GM was a player. “I’ve got a different relationship than everybody else because I know him personally. Been through labor negotiations with him. James is like part of my family. I think he deserves it, I’m happy for him and he should be in this league a long time for whatever executive position he wants.”

“I’m happy for him,” coach Monty Williams said. “Anytime you can hang around as long as he has, that’s a huge accomplishment. He’s earned it for sure.”

We have more on the Suns:

  • Deandre Ayton is expected to return to action against San Antonio on Sunday barring any setbacks, 98.7 FM radio talk show host John Gambadoro tweets. Ayton hasn’t played since Jan. 16 due to an ankle injury suffered against Detroit. He’ll be a restricted free agent after the season.
  • With the league investigation into owner Robert Sarver’s behavior still ongoing, the team is seeking to create a confidential internal hotline for employees to file complaints, Baxter Holmes of ESPN writes. The internal hotline is being created because employees haven’t been using the NBA hotline for fear of being revealed as a source.
  • Devin Booker ranked fifth in the latest All-Star fan voting results among Western Conference guards and Williams calls it “laughable,” Rankin relays in a separate story. “I kind of laugh at the voting numbers when I see it at the bottom of the ticker and so many guys are getting so many more votes than him,” Williams said. “It’s laughable. When you look at what he’s done, not just of late, but all season long and the wins we have, he should be a starter on the All-Star team.”

Suns Sign GM James Jones To Contract Extension

The Suns have signed general manager James Jones to a contract extension, he confirmed to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. Terms of Jones’ new contract aren’t known — Spears described it only as a multiyear deal.

Jones initially became the Suns’ interim co-GM – alongside Trevor Bukstein – following Ryan McDonough‘s dismissal in 2018. He was given sole control of the position on a permanent basis in 2019, just two years after his retirement as a player. Since then, Jones has presided over one of the NBA’s most drastic turnarounds.

The Suns had a 19-63 record in 2018/19, but went 34-39 and then 51-21 in the league’s two COVID-shortened seasons, earning a spot in the NBA Finals in 2021 — and earning Jones an Executive of the Year award. Although they lost in six games to Milwaukee, the Suns appear well-positioned to make another run at a title this season. They currently own a league-best 37-9 record.

Several of the most important players in the Suns’ lineup – including Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges – were acquired by the previous front office regime. However, Jones has made a handful of key moves since taking the reins, including hiring Monty Williams as the club’s head coach.

Jones was also responsible for the 2020 trade that sent Chris Paul to the Suns, as well as the team’s signings of free agents like Cameron Payne and Jae Crowder. One of his first roster moves in 2019 was trading No. 6 overall pick Jarrett Culver to Minnesota for Dario Saric and No. 11 pick Cameron Johnson. The selection of Johnson was viewed by draft experts at the time as a reach, but both he and Saric became regular rotation players in Phoenix, while Culver lasted just two seasons with the Wolves.

Suns owner Robert Sarver is still under investigation following allegations that he created a toxic and hostile workplace. Jones, who suggested in the fall that he hadn’t witnessed the abusive behavior described in ESPN’s report, told Spears that the investigation into Sarver “didn’t give me pause” in accepting the extension offer from the team.

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.