One of the more tired characterizations of the Suns over the past five or six seasons has been that the organization treats its players poorly and fails to communicate with them. While there have been several examples of such problems, most of it can be chalked up to the business of the NBA as for all other franchises. But when the Suns promoted James Jones in October to be the co-general manager of the team, it appeared one of the primary focuses of the change from Ryan McDonough to Jones was to improve communication.
In an interview this week with Suns beat writer Gina Mizell of The Athletic, communication was the biggest focus of Jones’ comments about the trade that sent Trevor Ariza to Washington, how that deal fell apart in its initial form and Phoenix’s eventual decision to waive the guard, Austin Rivers, who was the only constant in both versions of the trade.
A key section of the interview centered around what Mizell called “doing right by the player,” a theme in Jones’ moves as general manager, from buying out Tyson Chandler early in the year to giving Jamal Crawford a central role in Phoenix now to moving Ariza as quickly as possible to a more competitive situation. Here are the question and answer:
Mizell: Doing right by the player has already become a constant theme for you when it comes to making moves.
Jones: Of course. That’s who we are. That’s who we want to be. That’s who we should be. We should be a place where every party, everyone involved, feels invested and feels connected. I think we’ve started to do that with some of the moves we’ve made. And the way our guys are developing, I think you see that on the court and on the bench. When Deandre (Ayton) is in the game, Richaun Holmes is his biggest cheerleader. And when Richaun’s in the game, Deandre’s his biggest cheerleader. It just shows a connection that had been missing in the past, but I think we found it.
Look at that again: “It just shows a connection that had been missing in the past, but I think we found it.” From ruined relationships with the Morris brothers to Goran Dragic to Isaiah Thomas to Eric Bledsoe, the pattern in Phoenix clearly bothered Jones. It was likely why Jones was hired by owner Robert Sarver in the first place and its obviously a strength the former Suns player holds over McDonough, an executive and scout.
Jones is just two years removed from a prolific NBA career in which the sharpshooter won three championships. He is well-respected around the league and was a leader in the Player’s Union prior to retiring. This is what he was supposed to do but it remains to be seen if it genuinely alters the perception of the Suns around the league. For now, Jones is content with it showing up on the court.
You may have heard the Suns won three games in a row.
“Winning is addictive,” Jones told The Athletic. “The more you win, the more you realize that you’re capable of doing anything possible to win, which is sacrifice your minutes and sacrifice your voice. I think that’s the biggest thing. If you look at our guys, they’re vocal and they’re communicating.”
There’s that buzzword again: Communicating. It’s starting to become the focus of Jones’ short tenure as co-general manager right as his team appears to be putting it together on the court. It looks like a grand departure from the previous regime’s messaging, but the Suns are still behind schedule.
They cut Rivers, who appeared the initial target of negotiations with Washington. Something happened between the three teams — the Suns, Wizards and Grizzlies — negotiating for the Brookses last Friday. And the record is worse at this point in the season than it was for last year’s Suns, one of the worst squads in NBA history.
Jones’ job is just starting, but there are larger-scale changes necessary to truly flip this team over from the losing roster he was left with.