James Jones

Suns Notes: Front Office, Price, Warren, Jackson

A recent report from ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz portrayed the situation in Phoenix as one long plagued by dysfunctional leadership, from owner Robert Sarver on down, and questioned the Suns‘ current front office structure, which features James Jones and Trevor Bukstein operating as interim co-GMs. For his part though, Jones believes he, Bukstein, and the rest of the club’s current management group has done well dealing with a challenging situation after former GM Ryan McDonough was unexpectedly fired in October.

“I think we’ve done a pretty damn good job,” Jones said, per Gina Mizell of The Athletic.

Within her look at the Suns’ front office situation, Mizell notes that, despite not fully replenishing their scouting department after some dismissals last fall, the Suns have been active when it comes to scouting college prospects, sending personnel to multiple ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, and Murray State games over the past couple of months.

“The perception is that we’re not out there,” Jones said. “We are out there.”

While they haven’t replaced all the basketball evaluators that were fired along with McDonough, the Suns did quietly hire longtime NBA guard Ronnie Price as a scout, Mizell notes, confirming a previous report from John Gambadoro of ArizonaSports.com. The franchise has also “taken steps to add offseason consulting help” for evaluating international draft-eligible players, though there are no top-tier European prospects like Luka Doncic available this year, Mizell writes.

Here’s more from out of Phoenix:

  • Suns forward T.J. Warren, who has been sidelined since January 22 with an ankle injury, remains out for tonight’s game against Utah. However, head coach Igor Kokoskov said on Tuesday that the club has yet to have any discussions about shutting down Warren for the season, tweets Mizell.
  • Although it’s clear that 2018 lottery pick Mikal Bridges will be a building block for the Suns going forward, it remains to be seen whether 2017 lottery pick Josh Jackson is still a part of that core group, according to Bob Young of The Athletic. As Young outlines, Jackson’s long-term place in Phoenix will be even more up in the air if Kelly Oubre re-ups with the team this summer.
  • Heading into Wednesday night, the Suns have won five of their last seven games, a stretch that coincides with Devin Booker being as healthy and productive as he has been all season, writes Cody Cunningham of Suns.com. While the hot streak may cost Phoenix the top spot in the 2018/19 Reverse Standings, Booker’s run is a positive sign as he prepares to enter the first season of his five-year, maximum-salary extension this summer.
  • In a separate article for Suns.com, Cunningham explores how the Suns’ young players are looking to develop leadership skills.

Suns Notes: Morant, Oubre, Warren, Bender

Suns owner Robert Sarver and many of the team’s front office executives attended the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, according to Jonathan Givony of ESPN (Twitter links).

That’s noteworthy because they were taking a closer look at Murray State sophomore guard Ja Morant. Interim GM James Jones, assistant GM Trevor Buckstein, director of player personnel Bubba Burrage and director of basketball analytics Jake Loos were also in attendance.

Phoenix currently has the second-worst record in the league behind only the Knicks. Morant is ranked third on ESPN’s Top 100 prospect list and first among point guards, a position of major need for the Suns. He scored 36 points against Belmont in the OVC title game to carry the Racers into the NCAA Tournament.

We have more on the Suns:

  • Forward Kelly Oubre Jr. reached his starter criteria and is eligible for a $4.9MM qualifying offer, ESPN’s Bobby Marks tweets. He met the criteria by averaging 2,000 minutes during the course of the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons. His cap hold of $9.6MM in the offseason remains the same, Marks adds. Oubre is averaging 16.1 PPG and 4.9 RPG in 28.8 MPG over 36 games since he was acquired from Washington.
  • It might be time for the Suns to shut down T.J. Warren, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic writes. Warren missed his 19th consecutive game on Sunday due to right ankle soreness. The injury can be more accurately characterized as a bone bruise, Rankin notes. Coach Igor Kokoskov indicated no decision had been made on Warren’s season status. “I don’t have that answer,” he said. “My approach is whoever is available to play, I’m going to try to use and incorporate in the game plan and the rotation and try to see if he can help us win games.”
  • Power forward Dragan Bender has seen his minutes uptick in Warren’s absence, Rankin points out in the same piece. Bender has averaged 16.0 MPG in five March games, though he has posted a modest stat line of 3.6 PPG and 2.8 RPG. Bender, the fourth pick of the 2016 draft, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer after the club declined his fourth-year option prior to the start of the season.

Suns Notes: Front Office, Sarver, J. Jones

In an interesting, in-depth piece for ESPN.com, Kevin Arnovitz explores the Suns‘ front office, going into detail on the messiness and dysfunction in Phoenix over the last several years. Within the story, Arnovitz makes the case that the Suns have “no discernible direction,” as the roster, front office, and coaching staff have all undergone frequent changes since the club’s last playoff berth in 2010.

Arnovitz’s report includes several notable notes and rumors on the Suns – plus a terrific story involving live goats – and is worth checking out in full, but here are a few of the highlights:

  • After speaking with nearly two dozen NBA insiders, including current and former Suns players and employees, Arnovitz suggests that there’s a general consensus on some of the factors plaguing the franchise. He describes them as follows: “An interventionist owner (Robert Sarver) with more authority than expertise, a front office marred by instability, an undermanned scouting department, and a dated facility that isolates the decision-makers from the players and coaches.”
  • While former Suns GM Ryan McDonough was described by Arnovitz’s sources as having a “deep knowledge of scouting and information-gathering,” his communication and people skills weren’t considered to be as strong. Arnovitz’s sources also believe McDonough tended to value job security over his personal convictions, and would be more likely to defer to Sarver than to forcefully argue his case on personnel matters.
  • The “final straw” for McDonough’s tenure in Phoenix was his inability to fill the point guard spot during this past offseason, sources tell Arnovitz.
  • While co-interim GM James Jones has received praise for his ability to communicate with players, he’s often not in attendance at strategy and scouting meetings, deferring to fellow co-interim GM Trevor Bukstein, who is more a cap specialist. While Jones tells Arnovitz that he doesn’t want to get in Bukstein’s way, Phoenix’s front office structure has confused rival teams, who aren’t necessarily sure whom to call when they want to do business with the Suns.
  • The Suns parted ways with several members of the scouting department when they dismissed McDonough in October, and haven’t replaced those execs and scouts, per Arnovitz. Jones has the authority to hire replacements, but has elected not to do so. “One thing to think about was whether or not the size of the scouting staff was adequate, and whether they were efficient or productive,” Jones said. “It’s more than having people flying all over the country just to say that we are visible and say we were there. If you’re utilizing more video and technology, you may not need as much manpower and man-hours.”
  • Although Arnovitz has spoken to some execs who agree with Jones’ stance on scouting, others believe it “denigrates the value of information that can be gathered on-site” at a time when lottery picks are Phoenix’s best road back to contention.

Suns Launch Search For New GM

The Suns have started the interview process to find a new general manager and plan to make changes in their basketball operations department before the draft, according to John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports.

James Jones and Trevor Bukstein, who are currently serving as co-GMs, may remain with the team even if neither gets the permanent job, Gambadoro adds. They have been sharing the role since former GM Ryan McDonough was fired in October, a week before the season began.

Sporting the league’s worst record at 12-50, Phoenix has been in turmoil for most of the season. Gambadoro notes that ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided a critical review of the organization on Tuesday, citing uneasiness in the league office about how the Suns are being managed.

“This is an organization that is in a spiral in almost every way,” Wojnarowski said. “It is a concern for the NBA. Owner Robert Sarver has not seemed to learn a lot of lessons throughout the years about his management style, his hands-on nature and his ability to put an infrastructure in place and allow it to build an organization.”

After firing McDonough, Sarver said it was time for the Suns to move beyond the rebuilding process and become competitive. Gambadoro points out that four evaluation specialists were dismissed at the same time as the GM, and the team has only hired ex-Sun Ronnie Price to take their place.

Suns’ James Jones Talks Rivers, Ariza, Oubre, PGs

League executives were puzzled by the Suns‘ decision to waive both Tyson Chandler and Austin Rivers so early in the season, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. As Windhorst observes, even though the Suns may be tanking and weren’t interested in taking on multiyear money, parting ways with Chandler and Rivers – who were both on expiring contracts – closes the door on possible trade opportunities at the deadline.

In a discussion with Gina Mizell of The Athletic, interim co-general manager James Jones indirectly addressed those criticisms, explaining that Phoenix wants to do right by players. “We should be a place where every party, everyone involved, feels invested and feels connected,” Jones said. In the case of Rivers, Jones said that the team and Rivers’ camp mutually agreed that it “would be best if he found an opportunity that fit him better.”

Jones also weighed in on a handful of other subjects during conversations with Mizell and Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic, so we’ll round up some of his most noteworthy comments here:

On whether it was true that team owner Robert Sarver wouldn’t allow Trevor Ariza to be sent to the Lakers:

“No. Throughout all of this, Robert has been adamant that his focus is on what helps the Suns grow and be the best. That was inaccurate. Actually, if something could have worked out, Robert would have been a huge proponent, just because of that investment and understanding that Trevor and his family are (based) on the West Coast. If we can do right for both parties, it should make sense. There’s no reason why you wouldn’t do something that benefits both parties.”

On what he expects Kelly Oubre to bring to the Suns:

“Exactly what he’s demonstrated in the past. He’s young, but he’s experienced. He’s played in a lot of games. He’s played in the playoffs. He’s had tremendous success against some of the best players in the Eastern Conference, some of the best players in the NBA as a whole. His athleticism, his activity, just his competitiveness is something that, as we look at building the identity of this team, those are the foundational characteristics of all the players that we target. Do they play hard? Do they compete? Are they selfless? Do they sacrifice to win? He embodies that, and that’s why we’re excited to have him.”

On what happened with last Friday’s failed three-team trade involving the Wizards and Grizzlies:

“I’ll leave it as just a miscommunication. Going forward, we’re excited to have Kelly. Through everything, we have Kelly. We have a guy we know fits with us and we’re excited about.”

On the Suns’ ongoing search for an answer at point guard:

“For us, as free agency hit (during the 2018 offseason), you talk about that tier of starting caliber point guards, they chose other destinations that were a better fit and better suited to compete right now. As far as trades, I always say it takes two to tango. That’s not something you can control.

“For us at that position, we need someone who will compete defensively, can be impactful and can play well off our other perimeters… [De’Anthony Melton]’s been doing that and we’ll keep pushing him to get better.”

Cavaliers Notes: Korver, Burks, Hill, Sexton

The Cavaliersdecision to trade Kyle Korver to the Jazz on Wednesday was made because the team wanted to move him while he was still healthy and productive, according to Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com. Korver has a history of foot issues, most recently causing him to miss two games last month. Korver has been on the market for a while and the Cavs didn’t want to take the chance of another injury derailing a deal.

Cleveland had been hoping to get a first-round pick in exchange for the 37-year-old sharpshooter, Pluto adds, and although several teams were interested in acquiring Korver, no one was willing to part with a first-rounder. Several Cavaliers teammates were upset to lose Korver, who had a 22-point game on Monday.

There’s more news today out of Cleveland:

  • Alec Burks, whom the Cavs acquired in the Korver deal, is thrilled about the chance for more playing time, relays Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Burks already has a connection to Rodney Hood and George Hill, his former teammates in Utah, and to coach Larry Drew, who played against Burks’ father. “Opportunity is everything in this league,” Burks said. “I feel like I have a great one here. Just trying to take advantage of it and help my new team win.” However, Fedor points out that Burks’ stay in Cleveland might be brief. He has an $11.5MM expiring contract that could make him attractive to a contender before the February 7 trade deadline.
  • Hill is returning to action tonight after missing more than three weeks with a sprained shoulder, tweets Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Drew confirmed that Hill is ready to go, adding that rookie Collin Sexton will remain in the starting lineup as the shooting guard.
  • The Cavaliers made a couple of housekeeping moves this week, according to the Real GM transactions page, renouncing their free-agent exception rights to Shawn Marion and James Jones. Marion retired in 2015, while Jones called it quits in 2017 and serves as interim GM of the Suns.

Pacific Notes: Chandler, Lakers, Williams, Jones

The free agent signing of Tyson Chandler paid dividends for the Lakers on Wednesday against the Timberwolves, with Chandler grabbing eight rebounds in 23 minutes — including a clutch offensive rebound to help seal the team’s 114-110 win.

“We needed the help now,” coach Luke Walton said postgame, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “And I don’t know how that all works but give [general manager] Rob [Pelinka] and [president] Magic [Johnson] credit for recognizing that and going out and getting that job done for our squad.”

Chandler reached a buyout agreement with the Suns last week, and the Los Angeles native joined the Lakers just in time for their game Wednesday. Chandler, an 18-year veteran who won a title with Dallas in 2011, provides the team with a locker room presence and ability to play center off the bench.

“I love this city the way they love me,” Chandler said when asked about the standing ovation L.A. fans gave him. “When you’re homegrown from here, go to high school and all of that, and you have these same fans that have been watching [your career] and now you represent the jersey that everyone has been cheering for their entire lives, you kind of become one.

“I’ve been on the other side and played the villain. Now it’s great to be on this side and actually rep ’em.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division:

  • A panel of ESPN writers voiced their opinions about what’s wrong with the Lakers (article link), with Kevin Arnovitz, Chris Herring and Tim Bontemps among those from the company who participated. The Lakers own a modest 5-6 record despite having LeBron James and an array of promising pieces around him.
  • Kings forward Troy Williams is making a strong bid to land a full-time roster spot with the team, James Ham of NBC Sports contends. Williams signed a two-way contract with the team in October, holding per-game averages of 8.3 points and three rebounds in four contests. “It’s what they ask of me – just to be versatile, just to be athletic, just to defend multiple people,” Williams said. “What I focus on is how I can help this team defensively before anything else.” 
  • Suns president of basketball operations James Jones did LeBron James “a solid” by reaching a buyout with Tyson Chandler and allowing him to join the Lakers this early in the season, a league source told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin“He deserves all the credit,” LeBron told ESPN of Jones. “He was very instrumental. He did right by Tyson as a veteran.” Jones and James were teammates during a four-year run in Miami and three-year run in Cleveland, which produced a total of three NBA championships.

Suns Notes: Crawford, Okobo, Jones, Anderson

Following rumors of the Suns being interested in Jamal Crawford, John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7FM has reported that the team has indeed offered the 18-year veteran a contract. Interim general manager James Jones expressed his interest in adding Crawford to the team, telling the sports radio station, “I like Jamal. I know him personally. He’s a great player, he’s a great guy.”

Crawford averaged 10.3 points and 2.3 assists per game with the Timberwolves last season and is known for being instant offense off the bench, regardless of which team he is playing for.

For the Suns, Crawford would be another veteran ball-handler the club could rely upon offensively alongside Devin Booker. However, Crawford would surely hamper the team’s defense, especially alongside players such as Booker, T.J. Warren and Ryan Anderson.

Should the Suns add Crawford, they would stand at 18 players on the roster and would then need to cut that number down to 15 by Monday afternoon.

There’s more out of Phoenix:

  • Speaking of Crawford, Ryan Anderson believes that the 38-year-old would be a good fit with the team. “Obviously having another veteran guy with his abilities – another vocal guy – who can come in and teach these young guys, especially at the guard position, would be really helpful for us,” Anderson said, per Duane Rankin of Arizona Central.
  • Rankin also points out that – while answering a question about defining success for the upcoming season – interim GM James Jones specifically mentioned Elie Okobo as part of the group of key young players of the future. Despite Okobo’s struggles in the preseason, it’s clear that Jones likes the young guard out of France.
  • Finally, Jones addressed the issue of his place in the organization following Ryan McDonough‘s ouster. As Gina Mizell reveals (Twitter link), Jones isn’t focused on earning the Suns full-time GM job, though he’s viewed as a frontrunner. “[Job] titles don’t mean anything to me,” Jones said. “The only title that matters is an NBA title.”

Suns Leaning Toward Promoting James Jones To GM

With Ryan McDonough no longer in the picture in Phoenix, former NBA forward James Jones is currently heading up the Suns‘ front office along with assistant GM Trevor Bukstein. And according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, there’s a good chance that Jones’ interim duties as co-GM will evolve into a permanent role as the club’s head of basketball operations.

[RELATED: Suns fire GM Ryan McDonough]

As Wojnarowski reports, Suns owner Robert Sarver, who is high on Jones, is leaning toward promoting him to the general manager role. Wojnarowski cautions that Sarver “has been known to change his mind” on personnel decisions, but the team’s owner has left little doubt in conversations this week that he envisions Jones as the eventual head of basketball ops. Jones has already begun to work on assembling his own scouting staff, sources tell ESPN.

According to Wojnarowski, Sarver has a reputation for poor leadership and aggressively inserting himself into roster decisions, which would make it challenging to recruit a top-tier veteran executive to replace McDonough. As Woj details, agents have told stories about having private conversations with Sarver without the front office’s knowledge, while rival executives say they could sometimes hear Sarver yelling in the background during phone calls with Phoenix’s front office.

Sarver has also never shown much enthusiasm for spending big money on a general manager, further limiting the appeal of the position to outside candidates. However, landing the role would be a big deal for Jones, whose career as an NBA player only ended in 2017. He was hired as the Suns’ VP of basketball operations last summer to help improve the front office’s relationships and communication with players.

If Jones is ultimately named the Suns’ new general manager, it will constitute a mini-trend — both Jones and Elton Brand, who was named the Sixers’ GM last month, played in the NBA within the last few years and are still in their late-30s.

Suns Fire GM Ryan McDonough

With the 2018/19 NBA regular season just eight days away, the Suns are shaking up their front office. Phoenix has fired general manager Ryan McDonough, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). Vice president of basketball operations James Jones and assistant general manager Trevor Bukstein will take over GM duties on an interim basis, Charania adds (via Twitter).

“After much thought and a long evaluation of basketball operations, I have decided to relieve Ryan McDonough of his duties as general manager of the Phoenix Suns,” team owner Robert Sarver said today in a press release confirming the move. “Our focus in the short term is to prepare for the upcoming NBA season and to continue pursuing opportunities to strengthen our roster. Over the course of the season, we will explore both internal and external options as we look to restructure our basketball front office leadership.”

The timing of the move is unusual, as teams generally make major front office changes in the spring, giving the new management group the opportunity to tackle the draft and free agency. McDonough also signed an extension last summer and had two years left on his contract, as John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 observes (via Twitter). The fact that the Suns are moving on from McDonough now suggests that ownership hasn’t necessarily been thrilled with the club’s offseason moves.

The Suns landed the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft and secured a potential franchise player in Deandre Ayton, then signed veteran forward Trevor Ariza in free agency. Phoenix also locked up Devin Booker to a long-term extension. However, the club’s efforts to acquire a starting-caliber point guard have thus far been unsuccessful, a potential source of frustration for ownership. As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski notes (via Twitter), many potential trade partners that the Suns have spoken to have held out for an unprotected first-round pick in any deal.

McDonough’s tenure with the Suns began in May of 2013. The club won 48 games in his first season as general manager, but finished below .500 for the next four years, failing to record more than 24 wins in any of the last three seasons.

McDonough’s roster moves during his time in Phoenix have been hit and miss, with solid draft picks like Booker and T.J. Warren balanced out by less impactful top-10 selections like Alex Len, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss.

The Suns have also rotated through three head coaches in the five years since McDonough was hired, going from Jeff Hornacek to Earl Watson to Igor Kokoskov. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the team’s hole at point guard might be particularly vexing for ownership since it wasn’t long ago that Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas were all on the roster.

According to Wojnarowski (via Twitter), Sarver – who has recently become more involved in the Suns’ day-to-day operations – is fond of Jones, who will become a candidate for the organization’s permanent GM job. Wojnarowski also suggests that Kevin McHale is a long-term candidate to watch, while Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated wouldn’t be surprised to see former Cavs GM David Griffin receive consideration for the Phoenix position (Twitter links).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.