James Jones

Suns’ James Jones Talks About Rebuilding Roster

In an interview with Duane Rankin of The Arizona RepublicSuns president of basketball operations James Jones gives himself an “eight out of 10” for how he was able to construct the team’s roster around its new Big Four. Jones was limited in the moves he could make after trading for Bradley Beal to team with Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Deandre Ayton, but he found an intriguing mix of veterans and young talent.

Eric Gordon turned down better offers and accepted a veteran’s minimum deal for the chance to win a title. Yuta Watanabe, Chimezie Metu, Drew EubanksKeita Bates-Diop and Bol Bol also agreed to sign for the minimum.

“We knew going into it who our four top players were,” Jones said. “The guys who were going to lean on heavily to reach our goals. I think that gave us more clarity and I think it gave the players more clarity around how we would play and how they could fit with our team.

“So when it comes to minimums, I think it’s that label or contract value that people look at, but I look at it more from a perspective of identifying the guys who have the attributes and skills that would complement our group and finding players that believe that this environment will increase their productivity and give them a boost for their careers going forward. This was more forward looking than backwards looking for us and for the players that we targeted.

“I think that clarity allowed us to move quickly and efficiently through the free agency process because we knew exactly who we wanted and we knew exactly who wanted us.”

Jones addresses several other topics in the discussion with Rankin:

On the decisions to re-sign Josh Okogie and trade Cameron Payne to the Spurs:

“Just balancing versatility, and I’m not just talking about from a player skill set and roster construction perspective, but it just gives us options. It gives us options from a roster perspective. It also gives us options going forward. JO is someone who had a tremendous impact on our team last year in a specific role that we think can grow and Cam was someone who had an impact on our team, but he was part of a team that was a different team that played differently. Those two moves allowed us to create balance and gave us some versatility and options to continue to build a more complete team.”

On Bol’s potential after a promising season with Orlando:

“He’s going to get a chance to compete. He fits the profile of the team we’re trying to build. Long, athletic, skilled. Has played some high-level basketball. Has dealt with high expectations and has bounced back from some tough setbacks. The mental grit, the resilience and adaptability that he’s displayed is something that I think will help improve our team and if he can play the way he envisions himself playing, it just gives us another high-level player that we can count on and rely on as we try to march toward a championship.”

On new owner Mat Ishbia’s input during his first offseason with the team:

“He talked about speed, focus and understand what it is we’re trying to accomplish and get after it. Don’t second-guess it, don’t overthink it. Trust your instincts, trust your team and then go out there, find the best options for us and then make those options work. For me, it’s clear focus. He’s given me clear direction that allows me to focus on the things I enjoy the most, which is figuring out how to maximize the environment for our players and coaches and get a win.”

Chris Paul Claims Isiah Thomas Influenced Beal Blockbuster

Chris Paul believes Hall of Famer and former NBA executive Isiah Thomas played a role in the Wizards’ unofficial blockbuster trade with the Suns. Paul repeatedly told Sopan Deb of the New York Times that Suns owner Mat Ishbia and Thomas “wanted to go in a different direction.”

Thomas is good friends with Ishbia but doesn’t have an official role with Phoenix.

Paul, mainly due to his salary, was included in the trade that sent Bradley Beal to the Suns. The Wizards are reportedly looking to involve a third team and re-route Paul to a contending club.

Paul said he learned of the trade via a text from his 14-year-old son while he was flying to New York, where he’s embarking on a promotional tour for his new book. Even though the Suns had been mulling their options regarding Paul and his partially guaranteed contract, the trade “surprised” him.

“I really haven’t had enough time to process it yet. Like seriously, because these things that happen affect more than just me,” said Paul, who had been in contact with Suns president of basketball operations James Jones the previous day.

Paul added, “Like I said, Mat and Isiah, they want to go in a different direction. But my time there has been amazing.”

Paul’s comments suggest that not only did Ishbia push to acquire Beal but that Thomas has a major influence on his thinking, with his voice counting more than anyone in the front office.

In early February, a report surfaced that Ishbia planned to hire Thomas for a prominent role in the front office. Thomas is on the board of directors of United Wholesale Mortgage, Ishbia’s company. However, the Suns soon shot down the rumor that Thomas would have an official role with the Suns.

Thomas hasn’t had an official front office position in the NBA since he was the Knicks’ president of basketball operations from 2003-08.

Coaching Notes: Vogel, Rockets, Nets, Pacers

The Suns didn’t fill their coaching vacancy until after the Sixers hired Nick Nurse, but sources tell Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic that Frank Vogel was the first choice in Phoenix all along. Nurse had an interview with the Suns and was among five finalists for the job, along with Vogel, Suns associate head coach Kevin Young, Kings assistant Jordi Fernandez and former Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers.

After dismissing Monty Williams following a second-round playoff ouster, Phoenix was interested in finding someone with championship experience, according to Rankin, which is why Vogel, Nurse and Rivers were all contacted. Vogel benefited from his reputation as a strong defensive coach, as the Suns are determined to improve on that end of the court. The final five candidates met with team owner Mat Ishbia and president of basketball operations and general manager James Jones, Rankin adds.

Vogel became the frontrunner for the job after an impressive interview, tweets John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. Reports that Devin Booker pushed for Young to get the head coaching job are “overexaggerated,” Gambadoro adds (Twitter link). Young opted to remain with the team as an assistant coach. Gambadoro also disputes a report that Phoenix offered the job to Nurse (Twitter link).

There’s more coaching news to pass along:

  • Three members of Ime Udoka‘s coaching staff with the Celtics will join him in Houston, tweets Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. The Rockets are hiring Ben Sullivan, Mike Moser and Garrett Jackson, and Scotto states that they’re considering Boston assistant Aaron Miles, who has also received interest from other teams. Scotto adds that teams have also reached out to Celtics assistant Jarrell Christian, as head coach Joe Mazzulla is expected to rebuild his staff this summer.
  • Ronnie Burrell, who was named G League Coach of the Year with the Long Island Nets, will join Jacque Vaughn’s coaching staff in Brooklyn, Scotto tweets. Burrell has been with the G League team since 2019.
  • Former Pacers player Shayne Whittington has joined Indiana’s coaching staff, tweets Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files.

Suns Considered Likely To Shop Deandre Ayton, Chris Paul

Center Deandre Ayton (ribs) and point guard Chris Paul (groin) were inactive for the final game of Phoenix’s season on Thursday night, and it’s possible they’ve played in a Suns uniform for the last time, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com.

According to MacMahon, who cites league sources, the Suns are expected to “aggressively” explore Ayton’s trade market this offseason. Sources tell ESPN that the former No. 1 overall pick would be excited by the opportunity to get a fresh start with another team.

Ayton reached restricted free agency last summer after he logged a playoff-low 17 minutes and had a sideline confrontation with head coach Monty Williams during the Suns’ final game of the postseason, a 33-point home loss to Dallas. The big man signed a four-year, maximum-salary offer sheet with the Pacers, and was said to be keen on the idea of teaming up with Tyrese Haliburton in Indiana, but the Suns quickly matched that offer in order to retain him.

Sources tell MacMahon that Williams and some Suns players have been frustrated at times with “what they perceive to be inconsistent effort and aggression” from Ayton. Sean Deveney of Heavy.com has also heard that the center will likely be on the trade block this offseason.

“It’s almost certain they will look into trading him,” one general manager told Deveney. “I think they feel like they can do all right with a mishmash of decent centers and changing their focus on getting better talent around those two star guys. That’s been true for the past couple of years, really. Deandre has butted heads with Monty. But he can be a great player, still, it just needs to be somewhere else.”

Executives who spoke to Heavy.com speculated that the Bulls, Mavericks, Trail Blazers, and Hornets could be potential Ayton suitors.

The belief is that the Suns would be targeting ball-handlers, shooters, and/or three-and-D type players in any Ayton deal, rather than another big-money center, Deveney adds. MacMahon conveys a similar sentiment, writing that Phoenix would like to lessen the burden on Kevin Durant and Devin Booker by adding role players who complement them rather than a third star.

According to MacMahon, there’s also an expectation that Paul will be shopped before the Suns have to make a decision on his contract for 2023/24. Currently, only $15.8MM of the veteran’s $30.8MM salary is guaranteed.

In addition to mentioning this possibility in his ESPN.com story, MacMahon stated in stronger terms on the Hoop Collective podcast with Brian Windhorst that he expects Paul’s name to pop up in trade rumors.

“I certainly would anticipate they aggressively shop Chris Paul before that June 28 (salary guarantee) deadline,” MacMahon said. “I think it’s pretty likely that Chris Paul is elsewhere next year.”

As for a possible head coaching change or front office shakeup in Phoenix, there’s no solid reporting yet suggesting either will happen, but sources with other teams have speculated about the idea, MacMahon writes, noting that one scout told him when the Suns were down by 30 points at halftime on Thursday, “Some heads are going to roll for this one.”

Williams and GM James Jones have strong résumés and have helped rebuild the culture in Phoenix following several years in the lottery, but the team has now had two embarrassing playoff exits in a row and has a new owner (Mat Ishbia) who may be looking to put his stamp on the franchise.

Suns Notes: Durant, Booker, Williams, CP3, More

A year after losing by 33 points to the Mavericks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals in Phoenix, the Suns exited the 2023 postseason on Thursday in a similar fashion, suffering a 25-point Game 6 home loss to Denver.

Star forward Kevin Durant, who was acquired at February’s trade deadline to help push the Suns over the top, referred to the season-ending defeat as “embarrassing,” according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Devin Booker, the team’s leading playoff scorer, had just 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting in the loss and left the arena without speaking to the media, which MacMahon suggests is an “extremely uncharacteristic move” for the superstar guard.

As disappointing as the loss was, Durant expressed some optimism that the Suns will benefit from a full offseason together, noting that the team has a strong core to build around. As Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic relays (via Twitter video), Durant acknowledged that some roster “tweaks” may be around the corner, but didn’t necessarily agree with the idea that major changes are necessary.

“We just got to be better next year,” Durant said, per MacMahon. “It’s hard right now to see what the future will hold for our team, but we got a good foundation, good infrastructure. We can build on and move on from this and learn from it and get better from it. I’m sure as the summer and offseason starts, we’ll figure that out a little bit more.”

Here’s more on the Suns as their offseason begins:

  • Given the discouraging way the season ended and the presence of a new, deep-pocketed owner (Mat Ishbia), Greg Moore of The Arizona Republic expects significant changes in Phoenix this offseason. In Moore’s view, head coach Monty Williams, general manager James Jones, and center Deandre Ayton are among those who share blame for the Suns’ disappointing finish and whose long-term futures in Phoenix aren’t assured.
  • Williams took responsibility for the Suns’ poor start on Thursday after the team fell behind by 30 points before halftime. “I take (this) personally, not having our team ready to play in the biggest game of the year,” Williams said, according to Doug Haller of The Athletic. “That’s something that I pride myself on. It just didn’t happen tonight. That’s something that I have to really take a look at, everything I’m doing to allow us be successful on these days.”
  • While the exact details of Williams’ contract with the Suns aren’t known, John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter links) believes that the deal has at least three years and $21MM left on it, so making a coaching change may not be prudent from a financial perspective even if the club wanted to consider the idea.
  • Bobby Marks of ESPN (Insider link) and Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype look ahead to the difficult offseason decisions facing the Suns. As Marks and Gozlan outline, Phoenix will be hamstrung going forward by the introduction of a second tax apron and has a decision to make on Chris Paul, whose $30.8MM salary for 2023/24 is only partially guaranteed for $15.8MM.
  • The Suns’ tentative media deal with Gray TV and streamer Kiswe, which we explained here, has been voided by a federal bankruptcy judge following a lawsuit from Diamond Sports Group, reports Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic. According to Rankin at The Arizona Republic, the Suns issued a statement indicating that they’re seeking a “fair resolution” to the dispute with the parent company of their previous broadcaster, Bally Sports Southwest.

Suns To Hire Josh Bartelstein As CEO

Pistons executive Josh Bartelstein will become the next CEO in Phoenix, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Sources tell Wojnarowski that new Suns owner Mat Ishbia targeted Bartelstein as someone he could work closely with to help rebuild the organization’s image after the scandals surrounding former owner Robert Sarver. Woj adds that Ishbia and Bartelstein will operate jointly to oversee both the business and basketball divisions of the team.

James Jones will retain his positions as president of basketball operations and general manager and will report directly to Ishbia, according to Wojnarowski’s sources.

Bartelstein will replace former CEO Jason Rowley, who was alleged by several team employees to have been part of the atmosphere of verbal abuse and intimidation that resulted in Sarver’s one-year suspension and led to his decision to sell the team.

The 33-year-old Bartelstein spent seven years in Detroit and was promoted to assistant general manager in September. Wojnarowski notes that he was involved in several high-profile projects during that time, including the Pistons’ move to a downtown arena.

Wojnarowski also points out that Bartelstein was a walk-on player in college, just like Ishbia, and served as a team captain at Michigan during the 2012/13 season. His father is Mark Bartelstein, CEO of Priority Sports and Entertainment and one of the NBA’s most powerful agents.

Suns Owner Ishbia: Durant Trade Involved “No Risk”

New Suns majority owner Mat Ishbia believes the Kevin Durant blockbuster deal wasn’t risky at all, he told Chris Mannis of Sports Illustrated.

Ishbia made a big splash and acquired of one of the league’s biggest stars right after being approved by the league’s owners to take control of the franchise.

“I don’t look at it like a risk at all. I know what the vision is,” he said. “I’m going to own this team for 50 years, so like zero [risk]. I don’t need to come in and win in the first year. But at the same time, there’s nothing in my life that I don’t want to win at. We’re going to try to win everything we do.”

The fact that Durant is in the first season of a four-year extension played into the decision to make the deal with the Nets. The Suns gave up Cameron Johnson, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and several first-rounders in the deal, which turned into a four-team swap.

“It wasn’t a tough decision. We really didn’t want to give up some of the guys, because we love those guys,” Ishbia said. “They were winners and we didn’t want to give them up. But at the end of the day the right decision was, what do we do to maximize our team for today and for the next three to four years? This is going to be what the Phoenix Suns are about.”

Ishbia touched on a number of topics with Mannix:

  • Potential luxury tax penalties didn’t factor into the decision to make the trade. Ishbia is also unfazed by any future tax issues: “The financial piece was five seconds. They know I’m ready. That doesn’t bother me.”
  • Ishbia won’t meddle with GM James Jones and head coach Monty Williams in their jobs: “James will pick the best player. And that’s his job. I’m not calling Monty Williams to ask him why we played someone. That’s not my thing. I’ll watch the game like a fan and cheer the team on. That’s what my job is to do, is to be the biggest supporter, to give Monty Williams all the support he needs, to give James Jones all the support they need, to give the players all the support they need.”
  • Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was the only owner who abstained from approving him as Phoenix’s owner. Gilbert and Ishbia both own major mortgage companies based in Michigan, but Ishbia says there’s no bad blood between them. “If I saw Dan today, we’d shake hands and say hello. We’re normal people. But we’re not giving each other advice and being friendly in the business side. I have no negativity towards him. He’s probably not one of the first owners I’ll call for advice on ticket sales or sponsorships, but I’m friendly to everybody. But I’m fine talking with him.”

Kevin Durant Trade Notes

The Suns were at the top of Kevin Durant‘s list of preferred destinations because of his close relationship with head coach Monty Williams, writes Sam Amick of The Athletic. Williams spent a year as associate head coach in Oklahoma City during Durant’s time there, and they worked together on Team USA as well.

Amick adds that credit for the early-morning mega-deal should also go to Phoenix president of basketball operations James Jones, whose image of team building was influenced by his time as a player in Miami when the Heat brought in LeBron James and Chris Bosh to team with Dwayne Wade. In 2019, Jones made the decision to hire Williams, whose connections to Chris Paul and now Durant have turned the Suns into an updated version of that Heat super-team.

Amick hears from sources that Durant spent the past few days seeking advice from confidants about the best path for his future in the wake of Kyrie Irving‘s trade to Dallas. Most league insiders believed he would wait for the offseason to seek an exit from Brooklyn, but the deal with Phoenix came together quickly late Wednesday night.

There’s more on the Durant trade:

  • Even before Durant made his request last summer, league insiders understood that he had a desire to go to Phoenix, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. The chance to play with a Hall of Fame point guard in Paul and another All-NBA player in Devin Booker was appealing, and Durant knew the Suns had enough draft assets and young talent to make a trade realistic. Sources tell Fischer that Durant didn’t give the Nets a list of preferred locations when he made his trade request last June, but there was an understanding that Phoenix was among the leaders.
  • Brooklyn issued several public denials through the media this week that Durant was being made available, but teams began to believe on Wednesday that the Nets might reconsider that stance, says Ian Begley of SNY (Video link). He states that several clubs had similar offers ready, including the Grizzlies and Pelicans, but Durant’s desire to be in Phoenix influenced Brooklyn’s decision.
  • The Nets had no intention of trading Durant when they agreed to send Irving to the Mavericks on Sunday, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN (video link). When Brooklyn obtained Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith from Dallas, they were intended to be pieces that could team with Durant and remain competitive in the Eastern Conference. The Nets’ front office spent Monday trying to move Finney-Smith and draft picks to improve the team even more, but things had changed by Tuesday. Windhorst said there was essentially a “one-team negotiation” with the Suns, and new owner Mat Ishbia was willing to offer a lot more than Robert Sarver did last summer.
  • The Durant news broke shortly before Irving addressed the media following his first game with the Mavericks, per Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. Irving indicated there was a dysfunctional situation in Brooklyn and responded, “I’m just glad that he got out of there,” when he was asked about Durant. “I think this was in the works after year one,” Irving said. “I was unsure about whether or not I wanted to be in Brooklyn because of things that were happening behind the scenes. I just did my best to put my head down and work as hard as I could.”

Pacific Notes: DiVincenzo, Garvin, Crowder, Booker, Monk

Warriors guard Donte DiVincenzo says that the Bucks and Milwaukee will always hold a special place in his heart, Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area writes. DiVincenzo won a championship with the Bucks two seasons ago before being traded to Sacramento in a deadline deal last season.

DiVincenzo, who signed a two-year contract with the Warriors as a free agent over the summer, is looking forward to tonight’s game at Milwaukee: “They opened the door to the NBA for me. I can play for every team in the NBA. No matter what, I’m still always going to have that special love for the organization, for that front office for giving me my first shot in the NBA. That goes with the fans as well.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Suns interim governor Sam Garvin is confident the front office will get a solid offer for Jae Crowder, who is sitting out while he awaits a trade.  “(GM James Jones and his staff have) had a lot of discussions with a lot of teams that are interested in Jae. As James said, there’s no magic wand of a timeline,” Garvin told Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic (subscription required). “It’s going to happen when it’s going to happen, but I think Jae is going to go somewhere and do well and I think we’re going to get value for Jae.” Garvin addresses other topics in the Q&A, including Jones’ extension and the team’s inability to sign Cameron Johnson to an extension.
  • Suns star guard Devin Booker will sit out for the second straight game on Tuesday due to left hamstring tightness, Rankin writes in a separate story. Booker also missed Phoenix’s overtime loss to New Orleans on Sunday. Booker has a history of hamstring issues, Rankin notes.
  • Malik Monk has a reputation of being a scorer but the Kings are also using him more as a play-maker, according to Spencer Davies of Basketball News. Monk is not only averaging a career-best 14.4 points per game but also 3.8 assists. His 2.9 APG with the Lakers last season represented a career high. “We’re just try to move it, move the defense as much as possible,” Monk said. “But they can’t help off me as much ’cause I can shoot. They can’t help off of (Domantas Sabonis) that much because he’s a big threat rolling. So whatever they do is going to be wrong, and I’ve just been making the right reads this year.” Monk signed a two-year, $19.4MM contract with Sacramento as a free agent.

Pacific Notes: Green, J. Jones, Lee, Sabonis, Kings

Draymond Green is on a potential expiring contract, so his NBA future beyond this season remains up in the air. However, he made it clear in a conversation with Marc J. Spears of Andscape that he doesn’t take his lengthy tenure with the Warriors for granted and appreciates that he has gotten to play alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson since entering the league.

“It’s incredible when you look at the amount of guys who’ve played for only one team,” Green said. “You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away.”

Green went on to say that, while he recognizes the NBA is business, he’d “absolutely” be interested in spending the rest of his career in Golden State. The four-time All-Star, who has a player option for 2023/24, said he’d let agent Rich Paul handle his contract situation, but added that he’d like to play for four or five more seasons before calling it a career.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • Having been promoted to president of basketball operations by the Suns, James Jones expects to step away from some of the day-to-day aspects of running the team and delegate more of those tasks as he focuses on bigger-picture goals, per Gerald Bourguet of GoPhnx.com. Jones said this week that there are no plans to hire a general manager to work under him in the front office hierarchy, but he also didn’t rule out that possibility down the road.
  • In a separate story for GoPhnx.com, Bourguet examines how offseason signee Damion Lee became such an important part of the Suns‘ second unit. Lee, who is making a career-best 49.4% of his three-point attempts so far this season, is only on a one-year contract, so he’ll return to the open market next summer.
  • Speaking to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, Kings center Domantas Sabonis said that he and point guard De’Aaron Fox are on the same page on and off the court, with the two stars determined to snap Sacramento’s 16-year playoff drought. “Fox is unselfish, I’m unselfish. I love to play in the pick-and-roll, he loves to play in the pick-and-roll. We want to show people that we can win, and win consistently, apart from everything that goes on in the NBA,” Sabonis said. “I think that’s the most important thing, is to show that we can turn this franchise around.”
  • Returning to Sacramento for the first time since being traded from the Kings to the Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield got wildly different receptions on Wednesday, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. Haliburton, who was caught off guard and upset when he was traded last season, received a standing ovation; Hield, who made it clear before being traded that he’d welcome a change of scenery, was met with boos. Hield was unfazed by the crowd’s reaction, as Dopirak relays. “I didn’t give a (expletive),” he said. “I go to sleep happy and I make a lot of money.”