Wednesday was a big day, in terms of the long-term direction the Phoenix Suns are heading. After announcing an extension for general manager Ryan McDonough through the 2019-2020 season, James Jones was also introduced as Vice President of Basketball Operations.
Jones, who officially has retired with this move after being a part of seven straight finals appearances in Miami and Cleveland has decided to return to Phoenix, where he played from 2005-2007. The 36-year-old Jones, who is only a year younger than McDonough, sensed the opportunity to fulfill the next step of his career on the other side when Phoenix wanted him to return.
And with the young nucleus in tow already, Jones imagines a similar Run-n-Gun style returning more to the Valley after himself, Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, and Amar’e Stoudemire set it in motion a decade ago. Jones is back in the saddle with Phoenix, with all sides ecstatic for his return, this time helping build a title contender from the ground up.
“This is kind of like a destiny fulfilled for me,” Jones said. “I’ve been apart of some great teams. I’ve been apart of some amazing championship runs. That’s really the hardest thing in professional sports, just to win a title. When the opportunity presented itself to be part of the Suns family again because when I came here back in the Run-n-Gun days with Steve Nash, Amar’e (Stoudemire), and Shawn Marion, that was my first introduction to West Coast basketball. It’s a thrilling style of basketball, and it’s an exciting style of basketball. Phoenix has always held a place in my heart.”
Jones’ role within the organization was further explained by McDonough. Jones joins the Suns’ main brain-trust alongside assistant general managers Pat Connelly and Trevor Bukstein. The former Suns player will now be involved with every personnel decision that occurs on this roster.
“He’ll be assisting Robert and I on all basketball matters,” McDonough said. “Whether that be evaluating potential trades, looking at free agent signings, evaluating players from the draft, and also working with our coaching staff, our training staff, to put the best team possible on the floor. It’s a new position we created, titled as Vice President of Basketball Operations. The way we look at it, he’s in our top group alongside Pat Connelly and Trevor Bukstein and working with Robert and I making the big basketball decisions.”
Even though Jones is now heading to the opposite end of the spectrum, in terms of year-in, year-out success on the floor immediately, he sees this as his next challenge and opportunity to build something special.
McDonough and Sarver both mentioned Wednesday that they have been trying to get Jones on board the last three to four seasons via trade, but now since his playing days are officially over, the time was right for the three-time champion to come home and start anew.
“If you’re on the outside, you may wonder why,” Jones said. “Why forego an opportunity to compete for championships, but I see this as an opportunity to compete for championships. I like where the organization is, and more importantly, I get to be apart of something special. To be able to help build something, to be the ultimate teammate. So, that’s why this opportunity was unique and why I felt it was important to really assess it. After I did that, after speaking with Robert out in Vegas and sitting with Ryan, they reflected my relationship here. .. I just knew it was the right time to come back home, and I consider Phoenix home.”
After seemingly going all-in on The Timeline to contention, Sarver is looking for consistency to get back into contention. He’s made his share of mistakes after the Nash era ended, but now he’s ready to give his roster full of players mostly under 23 the chance to grow together for many years to come. Sarver also mentioned how the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) had an effect on how McDonough and himself are building towards contention and how quick they planned to do so. After LeBron James left for Miami in 2010 and Kevin Durant to Golden State in 2016, it gives “small-market” teams more incentive to build through the draft rather than shell out boatloads of money each summer on the open market.
And if your team is already there and missing just the one superstar piece for a dynasty-type run (cough, Golden State, cough), that makes the destination from a player’s perspective all that more attractive. By 2019 or 2020, the Suns could very well be in that position if their core four of Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss continue to make steady jumps in their developments season-by-season.
“I think consistency is important, I learned that over my last 14 years, and I think the consistency with Ryan here and following through on our plan we put in place a few years ago, in terms of how best to compete for a championship. I think that consistency is important,” Sarver said. “I think James can also be a really good mentor with some of our younger players. Unless you’re on some elite teams with elite players and elite coaches who have been through that process of winning championships, I don’t think you have all the answers. Bringing in other components that can help mentor some of our younger players and really help them understand what it takes to be at the highest level. Part of my job is to make sure I’m surrounding the people who play for this organization with the most mentorship, the most coaching. Whether it’s training, nutrition, whether it’s sleep, all aspects of the game I want to give them as many tools as possible for him to be successful, and we’ve done that in a number of ways. James I think will be a key piece to that. I think it’s going to help, especially given the youth of our team. The CBA has been changed a couple times, and during those changes, it’s created more value and importance on the draft. The first time, when LeBron left Cleveland and then with Kevin Durant going to Golden State, changes were made to give existing teams kind of more arrows in their quiver to keep really outstanding players for longer periods of time.”
Now, with ownership and management seemingly on the same page, the fans will have to buy in on the notion of not competing for the next two to three seasons, possibly. It may be a tough pill to swallow for some, but like Oklahoma City and Golden State (who McDonough has extensively studied during their youth movements of success), this is the most logical step towards a consistent title contender.
“Doing what we’re trying to do and what I think we’re on the path to doing requires some patience, it does for sure,” McDonough said. “It’s hard to win with young players in this league, we all understand that, but Robert touched on it a little bit, building a championship team is not easy and there’s no perfect way to do it. At the end of the day, what you need are elite players in their prime, you need several of them playing well and playing together. To me, other things as well. You need great coaching, great role players, you need a lot of health, you need a lot of luck. So, what we’re trying to do, Robert again touched on the importance of the draft. We’re trying to primarily bring players in through the draft, not only through the draft but primarily through it and develop them together and grow the core of the team together. .. There are going to be some growing pains along the way, and we know that. When you hear Robert speak and especially James coming in with a fresh set of eyes to the situation, you kind of see the excitement and the opportunity that presents itself.”
Even Sarver, who has never extended a general manager during his tenure as owner, has decided upon a direction for the franchise.
Phoenix is putting all of their eggs into the youth movement’s basket, but, with adding Jones and allowing McDonough to see his vision through, it could be a situation that reaps its benefits by the 2020 deadline of playoff contention, which Sarver and McDonough have previously mentioned on separate occasions.
“I’m a very patient man,” Sarver joked. “No, I’m not a patient person, to be honest with you, but I want more to try to win a championship for this city than I want to worry about being impatient. To me, I’ve learned a lot over the last 13 years. I’ve learned through some things that went well and learned through some of my mistakes, and right now I just think I have a clear vision of what we want to do and how we want to get there. So, I have no choice but to be patient.”