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James Jones on Suns: “We’re a ways away,” doesn’t want to rely on production from young players next season

For 98.7 FM’s Newsmakers Week 2019, Co-Interim GM James Jones had a 20-minute sit-down interview.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As is the yearly tradition over on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station, Newsmakers Week with Doug & Wolf is a must-listen if you want the inside scoop on your favorite local teams. Last season, former GM Ryan McDonough appeared, and now it’s his likely full-time replacement James Jones.

Co-hosts Doug Franz and Ron Wolfley ran through a litany of topics with Jones, including the present and future of the Suns plus the latest developments from Deandre Ayton and Josh Jackson. Also, Jones mentioned why he would still take Ayton over Luka Doncic.

If you want to listen to the full interview, click this link here for the Doug & Wolf podcasts.

Q: Evaluate this team currently for us, James?

“I mean, we’re a ways away. Consistency is a problem for us, and you have to expect that under 21. But we’ve made strides when we play hard and we compete; we’re flying around, we’re disruptive and we’re pretty good. When we don’t, when we slow the game, and you force us to read concepts and make plays and react to the game we struggle mightily. Our young guys are figuring out you need to bring it or you get embarrassed.”

Q: When will the Suns be a competitive organization again?

“Well, we can’t keep waiting and saying it’ll take time. We know it will take time. That’s just the nature of this business. A player has to grow into it. But our focus has to remain on forcing our guys to take strides and grow exponentially. We just have to push them. ... We have to continue to raise the bar to see if these guys can get there. I can’t give you a definitive timeline, but I can tell you that our focus right now going forward in free agency and the draft is to add players that will allow us to play and not rely on the production of young guys.”

Q: Is this roster accepting losing?

“I think it gets tougher and tougher as the losses mount. Fight and fight for possessions. So, I believe if our guys aren’t fighting for possessions. If they’re taking possessions off, or they’re accepting losing those possessions, then it’s starting to set in and it’s unacceptable.”

Q: Is it Igor Kokoskov’s job to coach effort?

“It is, yeah, it is. That’s the coaches job. The coach has multiple responsibilities, but one is finding a way to motivate and get your guys to play hard. You can’t control whether or not they do it all the time, but we consistently talk about trying to find those buttons that we need to push. Trying to find that right mix of guys that can play and effect our team with effort and energy consistently. So, yeah it’s the coaches job and it’s the front office’s job to make sure we acquire and pursue guys that have that.”

Q: Would you still take Deandre Ayton at No. 1 overall?

“Of course, of course. We’re not looking at today, we’re looking at what Deandre will become. It’s not what he can become, it’s what he will become. Because we’re in there with him every day. We know that he wants to be great. He’s still figuring out why he’s successful. Things that he does he just does them naturally. But we won’t find a guy with his size, athleticism, touch and feel in this league very often. I think of some of the greats. We talked earlier about Hakeem Olajuwon, who I think is a great comp. He’s a guy that was more of a defensive player that evolved into an offensive player. I think Deandre is an offensive player that will evolve into a better defensive player. And when you bring those things together, three years from now we’ll be talking about Deandre possibly being the best Suns center of all time.”

Q: What have you seen lately out of Josh Jackson?

“He’s relentless. Josh is one of those guys that I say doesn’t take possessions off. He competes. If there’s a turnover, Josh will run it down. If there’s an opportunity to attack the glass and make an emphatic play that will lift our team, lift our crowd, he lives for those moments. And you’ve seen him steadily get stronger. His endurance has picked up, so he’s playing at a higher pace for longer and he’s wearing teams down. So, we’re extremely excited about the strides Josh has made, especially the last few weeks.”

  • Different topics that were bounced around during this conversation with Jones also let us know he’s mentoring this young core daily. He’s part of the team like everyone else and they’re continuing to invest in their growth.
  • As it relates to free agency and recruiting names to Phoenix, which hasn’t been a hot topic in well over a decade, Jones believes their young core led by Devin Booker and Ayton plus their renovation deal for Talking Stick Resort Arena being passed will play a factor. Jones mentioned today’s game is built around performance and great facilities are very much needed. He believes the momentum that this core will eventually have will make this a viable destination for top names on the open market.
  • Jones mentioned they explored a lot of options before the Feb. 7 trade deadline passed. Interestingly enough, the Suns’ Co-Interim GM said the Lakers-Pelicans negotiations about Anthony Davis put a lot of things on ice around the league. Could that have been related to Lonzo Ball? Possibly, because when asked directly about controlling fathers (aka LaVar Ball without saying it), Jones wasn’t phased.

“I would never be deterred by a player’s father,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, the father is not shooting jump shots.”

Will Ball be explored in the offseason by Phoenix as trade talks for Davis pick back up? We shall see.

  • Closing out the interview, Jones said to Suns fans everywhere that they are taking a targeted approach. Jones specifically mentioned point guard, power forward, and depth across the board as their plan to attack this upcoming offseason.

“It doesn’t work,” Jones said. “It hasn’t worked in the past and I doubt it’ll work in the future.”

That seems like the opposite of what McDonough was trying to build up in the Valley, so we’ll see how Jones’s plans ended up working out for this organization here soon.

On the cusp of nine straight seasons without a playoff appearance, four consecutive without even reaching 25 wins, Jones and Co. will have to hit this summer out of the park via all avenues (draft, free agency, trades) in order to reach their goal of being one of the most improved teams for 2019-20.

Remember, McDonough said at Media Day in September that this year’s roster was going to be a contender for most improved, but we’ve seen how that’s gone thus far. Let’s see how Jones handles his first go-around, assuming owner Robert Sarver takes off the interim tag and officially hires him after the regular season concludes.

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