Mat Ishbia

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.”

Suns Notes: Ayton, Landale, Okogie, Craig, Warren, More

If they move Deandre Ayton this offseason, the Suns‘ preference would be to get multiple depth pieces in return rather than simply trading his contract to a cap-room team and acquiring a draft pick or two, John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 told Michael Scotto in the latest episode of the HoopsHype podcast.

As the Suns look to fill out their roster following the Bradley Beal blockbuster, they’ll also have interest in re-signing free agents like Jock Landale, Josh Okogie, and Torrey Craig, according to Gambadoro, though he says T.J. Warren is expected to be let go. Scotto confirms that Landale and the Suns have mutual interest in a new deal, with Gambadoro suggesting that the team “really” likes having the big man as its backup center.

Gambadoro and Scotto also discussed several other Suns-related topics during the podcast, including Isiah Thomas‘ unofficial role with the franchise, which Chris Paul alluded to in an interview with The New York Times.

As Gambadoro explains, Thomas isn’t going to be brought into the fold officially in a front office position, but he’s a trusted confidant for new owner Mat Ishbia, who will likely continue soliciting Thomas’ input and bouncing ideas off of him. Longtime Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo is another Ishbia confidant, Gambadoro adds.

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • During the HoopsHype podcast, Gambadoro also discussed the tension that existed between former Suns head coach Monty Williams and players like Jae Crowder and Ayton. “The Jae Crowder situation was all on Monty. He told people he was too difficult to handle and coach. Monty didn’t want Jae. It wasn’t the Suns organization. He didn’t want Jae around,” Gambadoro said. “As far as Deandre Ayton, Monty didn’t want him either. He wanted them to trade him to Indiana for Myles Turner. He didn’t like coaching Ayton. … Monty’s a good coach and a player’s coach, but he’s a player’s coach for the players he likes, but he wasn’t in on Jae and Deandre.”
  • The Suns are counting on having a second-round pick in Thursday’s draft, tweets Gambadoro. It will either be No. 52 – Phoenix’s current selection– or No. 57, if the Suns and Wizards swap late second-rounders as part of the Beal trade.
  • Ian Begley of reported that the Suns – before acquiring Beal – were among the teams to reach out to the Mavericks earlier this offseason to inquire about a possible Kyrie Irving sign-and-trade. However, Gambadoro shot down that report, tweeting that it “never happened.” Either way, with Beal in the fold, an Irving pursuit is definitely off the table.
  • Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic takes a look at what sort of traits the Suns will be looking for as they attempt to fill out their roster on the cheap. The team could use at least one more wing shooter, a big man who can stretch the floor and rebound, and a defensive stopper, writes Rankin.
  • Eugene German, a former Northern Illinois Star who spent last season playing in China, will work out for the Suns on June 28, a source tells Sean Paul of Mountain West Wire (Twitter link).

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.

Suns Notes: Beal, Paul, Ayton, Draft Picks

The Suns realized the NBA’s new second tax apron was already going to be an issue for them, so they decided not to let it stand in the way of pursuing Bradley Beal when the Wizards made him available, writes Brian Windhorst of ESPN (subscription required). Phoenix reached an agreement on Sunday to trade for Beal, adding the $208MM he’s owed over the next four years to an already expensive roster.

Suns management had been considering cost-cutting moves, according to Windhorst, including a recent meeting with Chris Paul to discuss the possibility of waiving him and saving half the cost of his $30.8MM salary for next season. They decided to reverse course when the opportunity with Beal arose and will likely guarantee Paul’s entire salary before sending him to Washington, sources tell Windhorst.

New owner Mat Ishbia appears to be committed to the super-team philosophy despite a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was designed to impose heavy sanctions against free-spending teams. The trades for Beal and Kevin Durant have created a significant jump in salary since Ishbia took over the team in February.

The Suns’ spending spree is likely to continue, according to Windhorst, who says they will try to re-sign free agents Torrey CraigJosh OkogieDamion LeeJock LandaleBismack Biyombo and Terrence Ross. Windhorst also expects Phoenix to retain Cameron Payne, who only has a $2MM guarantee on his $6.5MM salary for next season through June 29, and the Suns may add to their roster with a $5MM trade exception that doesn’t expire until February.

There’s more from Phoenix:

  • Paul was flying to New York for an appearance on “Good Morning America” when he learned about the trade, tweets Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report. “In this league, anything can happen, so you just figure out what’s next,” said Paul, who was on the morning show to promote his new book.
  • The Suns could avoid the second apron by trading Deandre Ayton for little to no salary in return, which would give them access to the mid-level exception, according to Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype. However, he believes it’s more likely that Ayton will be shopped for low-salaried role players, which would help ease the potential tax bill. According to Gozlan, Phoenix is currently looking at a payroll in excess of $190MM, which would result in a luxury tax penalty of about $90MM.
  • Once the Beal trade is complete, the Suns won’t control any of their first-round picks for the rest of the decade, tweets NBA writer Evan Sidery. The Nets own their selections in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029, along with the right to swap picks in 2028. The Wizards are expected to get pick swaps in 2024 and 2026.

Suns Rumors: Harden, Paul, Ayton, Vogel

With Chris Paul‘s future in Phoenix up in the air, the Suns may be in the market for a point guard this summer. According to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, there have whispers around the NBA in recent weeks about the possibility of the team making a run at one of the top free agents on this year’s market.

“I want you to keep your eye on James Harden,” Shelburne said during an ESPN LA Radio appearance (hat tip to HoopsHype). “I don’t want to report anything, but that was in the wind for the past month or so. Everybody thinks it’s Philly or Houston (for Harden), but I don’t know, there have been discussions in the wind.”

While the latest reporting from Shams Charania of The Athletic indicates that Harden’s decision may come down to the Sixers or Rockets, Shelburne isn’t the only reporter linking the former MVP to Phoenix. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer agrees that the Suns will be “trying to do something big” this offseason, suggesting during an appearance on FanDuel TV (Twitter video link) that Harden and Kyrie Irving may both be on the club’s radar.

As for Paul, O’Connor hears from sources that the Clippers, Lakers, and Spurs would be the teams to monitor as potential destinations for the veteran point guard if he’s waived. Although the Sixers aren’t one of the teams mentioned by O’Connor’s sources, he views Philadelphia as a possible fit for Paul too, and wonders if there’s a scenario where the Suns and 76ers essentially swap point guards.

Of course, it’s worth reiterating that Paul hasn’t been waived yet, and even if he is, he could still return to Phoenix as long as the Suns don’t stretch his remaining guaranteed money across multiple seasons. NBA analyst Isiah Thomas, who is close with Suns owner Mat Ishbia, said this week during a TV appearance not to “close the door” on the possibility of CP3 remaining in Phoenix.

Here’s more out of Phoenix:

  • In a podcast with ESPN colleague Brian Windhorst (YouTube link), Zach Lowe said he believes the Suns’ hiring of Frank Vogel as head coach increases the odds of Deandre Ayton remaining with the team by “a non-trivial amount.” Lowe adds that he has heard Ishbia is a fan of Ayton. “I think part of the reason why Frank Vogel got the job was because when he came in he had an idea of what to do with Deandre Ayton,” Windhorst said. “It does not mean it’s going to work. They obviously, as an organization, have a complicated relationship there, they did not want to pay him the max. But for the last year, he was in an adversarial relationship with his coach.”
  • For his part, Vogel told reporters this week that he’s looking forward to working with the former No. 1 overall pick, as Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports relays (via Twitter). “There’s still areas that he can grow offensively, but I’m intent on really connecting with him and restoring him to an All-Star level player,” Vogel said of Ayton.
  • Speaking to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic, Suns general manager James Jones outlined his vision for what he wants the 2023/24 Suns to look like. “A team that shoots it, off-ball movement,” Jones said. “A team that can rebound well and put pressure on the rim. I know that seems very generic, but those are the areas of the game that if you’re effective in those areas, you give yourself a chance really good chance at winning with just good players. If you can do that with great players like we have… you increase your odds and that’s all you want to do. You want to tilt the odds in your favor.”
  • Vogel has the support of Suns stars Devin Booker and Kevin Durant and has spoken to both of them since being hired by the team, Rankin writes for The Arizona Republic. Vogel said he’s looking forward to seeing what Booker and Durant will bring defensively in addition to their elite play on offense. “I really love how Kevin and Devin compete on the defensive end,” he said. “KD even hit me when we were talking, he said, ‘I can’t wait to guard in your system.’ He wants to get after it on both sides of the ball and feels like that’s something that really gets him going on the other end and I love that.”

Pacific Notes: Ishbia, Suns, Clippers, Lakers

New Suns owner Mat Ishbia‘s swift, decisive decision making thus far with Phoenix could impact how his coaching candidates view the gig, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic.

As Rankin notes, within 12 hours of Ishbia assuming control over the franchise, the team had already made a massive deal, acquiring forwards Kevin Durant and T.J. Warren from the Nets for young talents Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, along with several draft picks.

Ishbia also was quick to move on from head coach Monty Williams, who possessed a 194-115 regular season record with the club, just two years removed from an NBA Finals berth.

At present, Ishbia is something of a wild card as an owner, which could give some of the finalists for the head coaching vacancy pause.

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • The Suns and the Phoenix Mercury, the WNBA team Ishbia also purchased, have made formal bids to host future All-Star Games, Rankin writes in a separate piece. “We’re excited to partner with the city of Phoenix to engage the NBA and WNBA to bring both All-Star Games to the Valley,” Ishbia said. “Phoenix is one of the great basketball cities in the world and the perfect place to bring together the players and fans to celebrate the sport. The Phoenix Suns and Mercury want to continue finding new and important ways to partner with the city to bring real impact to our community.”
  • With one of their top front office lieutenants gone, the Clippers face several looming offseason decisions, writes Law Murray of The Athletic. Former Los Angeles GM Michael Winger departed the team to run the Wizards. As Murray notes, 2023/24 marks the final season with injury-prone stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on guaranteed deals, as both players hold options for the 2024/25 season. Murray wonders if Clippers team president Lawrence Frank will opt to extend Leonard, George, or head coach Tyronn Lue.
  • Though the Lakers could theoretically make a run for the services of Mavericks All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving in free agency or Hawks point guard Trae Young via trade, Mark Medina of The Sporting Tribune believes the club should prioritize roster continuity over splashy names.

Suns Notes: Lee, Vanderbilt, Hachimura, Williams

Damion Lee saw his playing time diminish after the trade deadline, but the Suns guard still appeared in 74 games during the regular season and posted solid offensive numbers, averaging 8.2 points in 20.4 minutes while shooting a career high 44.5% on 3-point attempts and 90.4% from the foul line.

After signing a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal with the Suns last offseason, Lee feels confident as he heads back into free agency, Dana Scott of the Arizona Republic writes.

“You guys know the numbers: essentially top five all year in NBA 3-point percentage, that’s huge on a team that finished top four in the West; and the number one 3-point percentage in the fourth quarter all year. That stuff matters,” Lee said of his year with the Suns. “That’s not something I’m saying to toot my own horn, but that stuff to me matters because it put away all doubt that he’s here for a favor, stepped out by the grace of God. A lot of people counted me out that, ‘He’ll go to Phoenix, he won’t do anything, he’ll fizzle out.'”

We have more on the Suns:

  • Phoenix was involved in trade talks for Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt, both of whom wound up in Los Angeles and helped the Lakers end their season, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic notes. The Suns tried to acquire Vanderbilt from Utah along with Bojan Bogdanovic prior to the season while attempting to deal Jae Crowder. That proposal fell through when Utah balked at trading Vanderbilt. In January, the Suns tried to work out a three-team deal involving Crowder and Hachimura.
  • Monty Williams developed a winning culture within the organization. That’s now threatened by the Suns’ dismissal of Williams last week, according to Gerald Bourguet of If new owner Mat Ishbia wants to sustain what Williams built, he and the front office will have to nail this coaching hire, Bourguet writes.
  • The Suns are casting a wide net for their head coaching opening with as many as 10 candidates on the early internal list, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated tweets. Mike Budenholzer, Nick Nurse and Suns assistant Kevin Young are among the candidates who have previously been mentioned as potential candidates.
  • In case you missed it, Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul could also head out of door as the Suns desperately search for a championship.

Bucks, Pistons, Raptors Interested In Monty Williams

After being fired by the Suns Saturday night, Monty Williams is attracting interest from the other three NBA teams with head coaching vacancies, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. Sources tell Charania that the Bucks, Pistons and Raptors all plan to pursue Williams in their coaching searches.

Charania hears that Williams will “take time to himself” after his surprising ouster in Phoenix, but opportunities will be available if he decides he wants to coach next season. Even though Detroit scheduled interviews with its three finalists last week, it appears the team will delay a decision until it finds out if Williams is interested. The Raptors, who fired Nick Nurse on April 21, and the Bucks, who dismissed Mike Budenholzer on May 4, are both in the early stages of their coaching searches.

[RELATED: 2023 NBA Head Coaching Search Tracker]

Despite an early report that new Suns owner Mat Ishbia was responsible for firing Williams, sources tell Charania that it was an organizational decision that involved “all segments of team leadership.” Charania adds that Phoenix will look for “a respected program builder” who will demand accountability from players and bring a creative approach to an offense built around Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. The Suns may interview six or seven candidates before making a decision, Charania adds.

Charania also confirms a rumor that emerged Saturday night that Phoenix considers current Clippers coach Tyronn Lue to be its “ideal No. 1 target.” However, Lue is still under contract and there hasn’t been any indication that L.A. is considering a coaching change.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM points out that if Lue does want to come to the Suns, he would have to be the one who asks the Clippers for permission to interview (Twitter link) and Phoenix would likely be required to send some form of compensation if Lue is hired.

Charania’s sources identify Nurse as another desirable target for the Suns.

The Bucks are continuing to expand their list of coaching candidates, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who tweets that the team has received permission to interview Heat assistant Chris Quinn. The Pistons reportedly interviewed Quinn early in their search, and he’s considered to be a candidate for the Raptors’ job as well.

Suns Notes: Ayton, Paul, Coaching Search, Front Office Changes

Following the end of the Suns‘ season, center Deandre Ayton, point guard Chris Paul, and head coach Monty Williams were the three names that came up most frequently in speculation about major changes, writes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic.

The Suns have already parted ways with one of those three, announcing late on Saturday that that Williams had been let go from his position. While Ayton or Paul could be next, neither player suggested during Friday’s end-of-season exit interviews with the media that he’s seeking an exit ramp out of Phoenix.

“I love Phoenix, man,” Ayton said, per Rankin. “I’m going to continue playing hard for Phoenix and keep representing. I don’t listen to the outside noise. I’m here, I’m happy. We didn’t finish how we wanted to, but there’s always next year. This summer is just more work.”

Ayton is under contract for three more seasons, but is considered a possible trade candidate. Paul has a $30.8MM salary for 2023/24, but it’s only partially guaranteed for $15.8MM.

“My contract is not up,” Paul said when asked if he expected to remain with the Suns. “Unfortunately, I’m not the GM or anything like that. We’ll see.”

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • Doug Haller of The Athletic takes a closer look at why Mat Ishbia and the Suns decided to move on from Williams, discussing the coach’s lineup and rotation decisions and his shaky relationship with Ayton, among other factors. Within his story, Haller observes that Ishbia’s involvement in the Williams’ dismissal signals that the new owner intends to be very involved in basketball operations and personnel decisions.
  • Before firing Williams, the Suns had already started to make some organizational changes, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, who reports (via Twitter) that the team fired a front office executive and a pair of scouts on Friday.
  • Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports profiles a handful of contenders to replace Williams on the Suns’ bench, including previously reported head coaching candidates like Mike Budenholzer, Nick Nurse, and Kevin Young. Bourguet thinks the team would be wise to consider Frank Vogel too, but views Tyronn Lue as the best fit if he’s attainable.

Monty Williams Out As Suns’ Head Coach

MAY 14: The Suns made it official, announcing in a press release that they’ve parted ways with Williams. Jones issued a statement accepting responsibility for the decision, despite reporting indicating that it was Ishbia’s call (as detailed below).

“Monty has been foundational to our success over the past four seasons,” Jones said in a statement. “We are filled with gratitude for everything Monty has contributed to the Suns and to the Valley community. While it was difficult for me to make this decision, I look forward to continuing the work to build a championship team.”

Williams could become a “prominent candidate” in the Raptors‘ coaching search, Wojnarowski writes in a full story.

MAY 13: The Suns have decided to make a coaching change after their second-round loss to Denver, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. The team has dismissed Monty Williams, who had served as head coach since 2019.

New owner Mat Ishbia made the decision to fire Williams, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). As first reported by John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 and confirmed by Wojnarowski, Williams still had three years and more than $20MM left on his contract.

Williams compiled a 194-115 record in his four years in Phoenix and took the team to the 2021 NBA Finals. He also earned Coach of the Year honors in 2022.

However, Ishbia opted to go in a different direction after the team was eliminated from the playoffs in embarrassing fashion in back-to-back second rounds. The Suns lost their last game of the season at home by 25 points this spring and by 33 points last year.

With Kevin Durant and Devin Booker under long-term contracts, Charania believes the Suns’ vacancy instantly becomes the most attractive in the league (Twitter link). Ishbia and general manager James Jones are focused on building a championship roster this summer, and they want to find the right leader to guide it.

The Suns will explore whether it’s possible to land current Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue, tweets Marc Stein. Lue stated that he wants to return as the team’s head coach after L.A. was knocked out of the playoffs last month, and the organization hasn’t indicated that it’s considering a change. Lue signed a five-year deal when he joined the Clippers in 2020, so he’s under contract for two more years.

One potential candidate to replace Williams is Mike Budenholzer, who was dismissed by the Bucks earlier this month after his team’s first-round loss, tweets Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports. A report on Friday from Jake Fischer indicated that Milwaukee was closely monitoring Williams’ status in Phoenix, so it’s possible that the two NBA Finals coaches from 2021 will end up exchanging teams.

Toronto and Detroit are the other franchises currently in the market for a head coach, and Williams may emerge as a candidate for those jobs as well. The Pistons reportedly scheduled interviews with their three finalists this week, but James L. Edwards of The Athletic suggests that the team may reach out to Williams before making a decision (Twitter link).