As the Suns continue their first summer under new leadership, our eyes must move away from the man sitting opposite Monty Williams at the coach’s introductory press conference and toward the man more often standing just outside the frame.
Jeff Bower was hired soon after the end of the regular season, and it was believed the move was made to bring some semblance of order to the Suns’ front office. They had just gone through a season where they were ridiculed and beaten up on on a nightly basis. It would be Bower’s job to guide new general manager James Jones through the rigors and intricacies of running an NBA franchise.
Of course, Bower doesn’t have championship pedigree or much recent success, being that he was out of the league until joining Phoenix’s front office. His last big move was working with Stan Van Gundy to execute the Blake Griffin trade in Detroit, a move perceived as desperate at the time but which ultimately got the Pistons back to the playoffs and earned Griffin an All-NBA bid.
Bower has overseen big trades several time over the course of his career. Aside from bringing Griffin to Michigan, Bower also signed off on the deal sending Chris Paul to Los Angeles originally to play with Griffin. In total, Bower has also been part of an astounding FOUR three-team trades, which are relatively uncommon in the NBA. Small markets have led Bower to build his rosters mostly on the trade market.
When you’re as active as Bower, there will be misses. The executive notoriously dumped Spencer Dinwiddie to Chicago. He also swapped Marcus Morris, a key piece the past two seasons in Boston, for Avery Bradley, whose arrival in Detroit signaled the sudden end to his prime. Bower, a man in need of a second chance, arrived at the Suns’ doorstep, symbolizes the challenges they faced finding upgrades in the front office.
This is not to say Bower won’t be helpful. In fact, for the Suns to revitalize the roster this summer, Bower will likely have to play an important role. Gone from the Suns’ front office are most of Ryan McDonough’s hires who came from a background in scouting. The team’s pared-down scouting department, led by Bubba Burrage, will nevertheless be vital as the Suns ponder their options in next month’s draft. Prospect workouts begin this weekend for the Suns.
It’s a coin flip at this point whether the No. 6 pick is actually on the Suns’ roster next season. Given the organization’s obvious need to upgrade the roster, a mid-lottery pick might not be seen as the best way to allocate resources right now. Yet understanding their own big board and that of other teams around the league will lead to more value-driven trades. Finding a good player with the 32nd pick could still help the team in a draft loaded with valuable upperclassmen.
Reports of the Suns’ wariness regarding the draft feel in retrospect overstated. The organization retained talent evaluators from the previous regime such as Burrage, Dylan DeBusk and Jake Loos, who was let go at the end of the season. It’s hard to imagine the switch flipping so sharply from an all-out focus on tanking and rebuilding through the draft to ignoring it completely.
All of this without mentioning free agency, an equally taxing time for front offices. That’s where the expertise of Trevor Bukstein and James Jones may be more valuable, though. Draft time seemed to be the primary concern that caused leaks to ESPN and, eventually, the hiring of Bower. It’s also the time when McDonough failed most, in retrospect.
Even if we assume the Suns were scouting more diligently than those reports said, identifying good young players and successfully navigating constant trade discussions and agent requests on draft night are vastly different endeavors. Jones has experience in the first area by way of playing in the NBA for years and working in a front office for two more, but he’s never done the latter. Bower ran a war room for a decade in total between New Orleans and Detroit.
Winning in the NBA is a collective effort — one that includes not just the players in the rotation. Jones’ vision has become clear in the six weeks since the season ended and he was escalated to general manager. The rest of his front office is young, though potentially more aligned than they were under McDonough.
Bower, though, is the man who’s been here before. If his presence isn’t a positive one this time of year, then when?