Over the past few days, Suns fans have considered the possibility of adding more Love to our lives. Some of us love Love. Some of us hate Love. Some think Love is worth the cost and potential for heart break, while others who have been burned before don’t want anything to do with Love.
According to a Bright Side poll the other day, 81 percent of you hate the idea of adding some more Love to this Suns team.
Well, you can count James Jones in that group as well.
“No, we’re not talking about deals,” General Manager James Jones said Burns and Gambo’s radio show on 98.7 FM. “We are not looking externally. The only thing we are focused on is our team.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers have made five-time All-Star power forward Kevin Love available for trades, but it appears that the Phoenix Suns will not go fishing for Love any time soon.
“I think where our team is right now, we still haven’t gotten Deandre back, so we still don’t know who we are,” Jones said. “I’m more concerned with figuring out what this group’s capacity is. And then we’ll talk about if we need to go externally to improve the team.”
The Suns (11-12) are still without their youngest star, Deandre Ayton, who was suspended for 25 games after debuting this season with a line of 18 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in a season-opening 29-point win over the fully healthy Sacramento Kings. That was the last time the Suns were at full strength.
So don’t blame James Jones for hunkering down instead of making a big trade days before Ayton returns. Ayton is set to return next Tuesday in a road game against the vaunted Clippers.
“That’s way too far for us to talk about,” Jones said of making trades. “Because we are literally sitting here 23 games into the season without arguably our second-best player.”
This doesn’t mean that Jones won’t consider trades this season at all. A year ago, he traded an underperforming (to be kind) Trevor Ariza for sparkplug Kelly Oubre Jr. in December, and then traded an underperforming (to be kind) Ryan Anderson for glue guy Tyler Johnson.
Once those trade acquisitions settled in, that ragtag Suns team won six of 10 games — including wins over Conference-leading Bucks and Warriors — before the injury bug knocked both out for the remainder of the season.
And then in the summer, Jones went with his gut over national approval and made trades to acquire Dario Saric, Cameron Johnson, Aron Baynes and Ty Jerome while creating the cap room to bring back Oubre and sign Ricky Rubio.
All of those players, except Tyler Johnson lately, are big parts of the first playoff-positioned Suns team in half a decade.
So don’t worry. Jones isn’t shy about making deals. He just wants to know what he’s got with a fully healthy roster first.
“There is no magic number,” Jones said. “But I’ve always felt that a 15-game sample gives you a good chance to see where you are. Any time you can put a group together for a month-plus, I think you see the potential, you know, your strengths or your weaknesses.”
Once Ayton returns to the lineup on Dec. 17, the Suns will have about 1.5 months to see their strengths and weaknesses for a playoff push.
The Suns potential weaknesses — which include power forward depth, backup point guard consistency and all-around defense — will evolve over those six weeks. We don’t know yet what this team will look like in late January because of the injury and suspension situations so far. Will one of Ty Jerome, Elie Okobo, Jevon Carter or even Tyler Johnson become a consistent nightly playmaker? Will Frank Kaminsky look better in his more natural role as a stretch four? Will the rise of Mikal Bridges and the presence of true centers mitigate the team’s current defensive shortcomings? We don’t know, but there’s six weeks to find out.
For now, the big huge acquisition will be 7’0” center Deandre Ayton, beginning next Tuesday. Hopefully, the Suns will be at or above .500 when he returns.
“Initially it was shock, but now he’s excited,” Jones said of Ayton. “It’s like being drafted all over again.”
We have seen the excited Ayton before. It’s quite probable that he will look incredible in his first game, kind of like opening night against the Kings. He might fumble a pass or two in the opening quarter, but will likely have made a big impact by the time the night is over.
Side note on Ayton’s return game: That’s the biggest “schedule loss” of the year, folks. When the Suns face the streaking Clippers on Tuesday night, it will be traveling all the way to Mexico City for their Saturday game, dealing with that hoopla, flying six hours back on Sunday, playing the Trailblazers at home on Monday and the flying immediately to LA for the Clippers on a back-to-back. Don’t expect the guys around Ayton to have their legs by that time so the game might not be pretty.
James Jones DOES have love for Bright Siders, at least! He has committed to giving our biggest early donors another 30 minutes of his time for an exclusive Q and A before Suns-Kings on Jan. 7 on Bright Side Night 2020. That will be the 5th year in a row we’ve had Ryan McDonough or Jones in this capacity and we couldn’t be prouder.