James Jones

Mat Ishbia Says Decision On Frank Vogel Coming Soon

A decision about the future of Suns head coach Frank Vogel will likely be made in the next few days, writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Owner Mat Ishbia refused to pledge his support for Vogel during a press conference today at Footprint Center. However, he added that rumors about Vogel, players or other team employees shouldn’t be given any weight because in-person discussions haven’t begun.

“We’re going to evaluate everything,” Ishbia told reporters. “… Everything is on the table to evaluate. We have just not started it.”

Vogel, who was hired last June, still has four seasons left on his five-year, $31MM contract so a coaching change would be an expensive move. Vogel claimed over the weekend that he has “full confidence” from Ishbia, but the Suns’ ugly performance while being swept by Minnesota may have changed the team owner’s view.

General manager James Jones, who also spoke to reporters, indicated that management understands Vogel had a challenging task in trying to mold the talents of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, who were in their first full season together.

After an up-and-down start, the Suns finished with a surge and avoided the play-in tournament with a win on the final day of the regular season. They went 49-33 and appeared to be on an upswing before crashing in the playoffs.

“I thought Frank did a great job given the circumstances,” Jones said. “I thought the staff did a great job. I thought the players did a really good job, just not good enough to reach our goals.”

Ishbia also expressed optimism about the direction of the franchise, which he believes is on a path to success despite the postseason setback. He said he can identify with the disappointment from Suns’ fans because he feels the same way.

“I feel like the narrative around [here is] the house is burning, it’s incorrect,” Ishbia said. “… Fans like to look in the future and say, ‘Hey, I really like that 2031 draft pick because maybe that seventh grader is going to be really good and we’re going to draft him and one day he’s going to be a player.'”

Ishbia pointed out that Phoenix will have a first-round pick in five of the next eight drafts, even though some of those are pick swaps. He added that two of those picks are eligible to be included in trades this offseason.

Holmes notes that the Suns already have $209MM committed for next season, which is the largest salary in the NBA and would result in a $116MM tax penalty. They will be well above the second apron for the next three seasons if the core of the team remains together.

Ishbia looked on the bright side of that situation, saying that the starting five is under contract for multiple years, providing continuity no matter what happens with the rest of the roster.

He identified the team’s major issues as injuries and the time it takes for players to get used to being together and said both are “extremely fixable.” He also defended the trades for Durant and Beal, saying both players are worth the price it took to bring them to Phoenix.

“It was never, ‘We’re going to win a championship this year or we got to blow it up,” Ishbia said. “… Championship or bust, this isn’t bust. We’re in a great position. We’re going to be in a great position next year.”

Suns Notes: Vogel, Jones, Offseason Priorities, Second Apron, Beal

The Suns will take “a hard look” at a coaching change after being swept out of the playoffs by Minnesota, sources tell Shams Charania and Doug Haller of The Athletic. If Frank Vogel is retained, management will consider making adjustments to his staff, according to the authors, who add that general manager James Jones will be kept in his current role.

Vogel still has four seasons remaining on the $31MM contract he received when he was hired last June. He was 49-33 in his first year with Phoenix and the team made a late charge to claim the sixth seed in the West, but there were concerns by the end of the season that his voice was no longer resonating with his players, Charania and Haller write.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported before Sunday’s game that Vogel’s future is in jeopardy. In a meeting with reporters before the contest, Vogel expressed confidence that he will remain the team’s coach (video link), telling reporters, “I’ve got full confidence from (owner) Mat Ishbia.”

But Charania and Haller wonder how patient Ishbia will be after spending heavily to add Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal to form a Big Three alongside Devin Booker. That approach was shaky throughout the regular season, and it fell apart completely in the playoffs against the less experienced Timberwolves.

The Suns already have to replace lead assistant Kevin Young, who was in charge of the team’s offensive game plans. Young accepted the head coaching job at BYU two weeks ago, but agreed to remain with Phoenix through the end of its playoff run.

There’s more from Phoenix:

  • The Suns plan to keep the core of the team together and build around Booker, Durant, Beal, Grayson Allen, Jusuf Nurkic and Royce O’Neale, according to Charania and Haller. Allen recently agreed to a four-year, $70MM extension, but O’Neale, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, will have to be re-signed. The team will also be on the lookout for available veterans to help build a more professional atmosphere in the locker room, sources tell the authors.
  • John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 expects a “cooling-off period” before Ishbia makes any decisions about his coaching staff (Twitter link). He also notes that finding a traditional point guard will be necessary this offseason as neither Booker or Beal appeared fully comfortable filling that role. Gambadoro also sees a need for a backup center and more size at the wing, pointing out that Phoenix was out-rebounded by a 185-130 margin during the four-game series.
  • The Suns’ offseason options will be limited because they’re now operating under full second-apron rules, tweets Keith Smith of Spotrac. Among those restrictions, the team can’t aggregate players in trades or take back more money than is sent out in any deal. The Suns won’t have access to the mid-level exception and can only sign their draft picks and add players on minimum contracts.
  • Although Beal is widely considered to be untradeable with a contract that pays him $161MM over the next three seasons, Sam Vecenie of the Athletic believes the Suns could find a market if they decide to move him (Twitter link). He sees possible interest from the Kings if they lose Malik Monk in free agency, the Bulls if they trade DeMar DeRozan, or the Sixers if they can’t land a significant free agent with their available cap space. Beal still has a no-trade clause though and would have to approve any deal.

More Details On The Three-Team Lillard Blockbuster

The Bucks were interested in acquiring Damian Lillard immediately after he made his trade request on July 1, but the deal didn’t start to come together until this past Sunday.

As Adrian Wojnarowski writes in an in-depth story for ESPN (Insider link), Bucks general manager Jon Horst told Trail Blazers GM Joe Cronin from the outset that their talks had to remain a secret or Milwaukee would withdraw from negotiations.

According to Wojnarowski, Horst didn’t want Jrue Holiday to be involved in any trade rumors, or used as leverage by Cronin with other teams to increase offers for Lillard. The Bucks didn’t want to disrupt their chemistry and hold Holiday in very high regard. That meant Cronin was unable to gauge Holiday’s market value before agreeing to the trade.

As Wojnarowski details, Horst told Cronin that the only way a deal would work is if the Blazers took their time fielding offers and eventually circled back to Milwaukee for one-on-one talks. That started Sunday evening, with both sides feeling like they had reached a breakthrough.

Cronin was determined to say patient and accept the best possible offer, per Woj, and kept details of Lillard negotiations hidden from prying eyes. Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, was determined to steer him to Miami, but Lillard didn’t have much leverage. Wojnarowski strongly suggests Cronin felt the need to keep things private from Goodwin in case he tried to tank trade talks with non-Heat teams.

One of the most fascinating and “delicate” parts of the deal was Phoenix’s involvement. According to Wojnarowski, the Blazers and Suns had the outline of a trade together for months — Deandre Ayton to Portland for Jusuf Nurkic. Cronin wanted to tie that agreement into any Lillard trade, so throughout the offseason he kept circling back to the Suns.

However, as Wojnarowski writes, due to Milwaukee’s insistence on secrecy, Cronin was unable to tell Suns CEO Josh Bartelstein the final details until the last minute. According to Woj, Phoenix knew it was getting Nurkic, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson from the Blazers in a three-team deal, but the Suns wanted another asset in return.

Cronin was unable to tell the Suns who that player was — or who he played for. Cronin did tell the Suns the mystery player’s position and gave an approximation of his salary, and Phoenix was able to deduce it was either Thunder guard Victor Oladipo or Bucks guard Grayson Allen.

Only on Wednesday afternoon — just before the trade was made public — did Cronin confirm that it was Allen, whom the Suns had reportedly been interested in for several months. According to Wojnarowski, Bartelstein, GM James Jones and owner Mat Ishbia quickly discussed and then agreed to the deal.

The Blazers were happy and relieved to have completed the deal, per Woj, and believed they did right by Lillard by sending him to a contender, even if it wasn’t his preferred destination. Shortly thereafter, Cronin was bombarded by calls inquiring about Holiday, who is now the hottest name on the trade block.

Wojnarowki’s full story is definitely worth reading in full if you subscribe to ESPN+.

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.”