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Top questions heading into 2019-20 Phoenix Suns Media Day

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Here’s what’s on my mind heading into Monday’s media day.

As with Dave’s story from earlier today, I’m starting off with a picture that highlighted a Media Day of yesteryear to show just how much things change in the NBA, and particularly with this franchise. Just last year, media members crowded around Josh Jackson, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton to snap a shot of the trio that was supposed to lead the Suns to the promised land.

As the media descends on Talking Stick Resort Arena on Monday for this year’s event, Jackson is getting ready to begin the year with the Memphis Hustle of the G League. The Suns have a new general manager and head coach this year, and Booker and Ayton are among the only holdovers from the 2018-19 Suns roster.

Here’s what I’m watching as we all try to get a feel for how this Suns season will go in our first taste of the new-look Phoenix group:

Who is the leader in this locker room?

Quietly, though new general manager James Jones made a concerted effort to add veteran talent to this roster over the course of the offseason, he didn’t acquire the sort of past-his-prime player we all got used to seeing. There is no Tyson Chandler, Leandro Barbosa or Jamal Crawford in Phoenix this year.

Who takes their place? Ricky Rubio talked a lot in his introductory press conference in Las Vegas this year about a driving factor in his choice to come to Phoenix being the opportunity to lead young teammates again. His infectious play style will certainly help him create chemistry with teammates, so he’s certainly going to have a voice.

Successful veterans like Tyler Johnson and Aron Baynes will surely earn the respect of their peers quickly this season as well by way of their playoff experience and winning pedigree. But when it comes to Baynes, his earnestness to slide in as a leader is not certain. After winning a championship in his second season with the Spurs, he has played in the playoffs three of the last four seasons with Detroit and Boston. Teammates will want to hear what he has to say, but he was reportedly frustrated with how the Celtics handled his contract this summer. It remains to be seen how happy he will be in Phoenix, let alone be a leader.

Apart from the older players on the Suns’ roster, it will be fascinating to see whether Booker continues to ascend to his clear place as the primary leader of this team. Though this is just his age-23 season, Booker was far more vocal on the court last year than in the past and has certainly earned the respect of his teammates with his on-court performance. In the first season of his new five-year, maximum contract, Booker will be expected to take steps not only in helping the Suns win games, but becoming a leader off the court as well.

How is the James Jones-Monty Williams partnership progressing?

Developing and nurturing a cohesive cultural message is vital for a young team. Rubio and Booker will be part of embodying it, while Williams has the privilege of building it into his program on a daily basis. Jones, of course, put everyone in place and will monitor the degree to which the building of the culture is working.

The most important ingredient in the Suns’ ability to develop a culture and bring the most out of the players on the roster is the relationship between Jones and Williams. It was impressive to hear when Williams was hired how much admiration there was between the two, and now they have the chance to prove they can develop a successful working relationship. How do Trevor Bukstein and Jeff Bower fit into the mix here? How can Williams’ seemingly hand-picked coaching staff help support him? Can Jones empower his team and get the most out of the various parts of the organization in his first season at the helm?

As with every Suns season in recent memory, there are a ton of questions to be answered about how the different parts of the team interact and get along. Yet the main difference — and the reason for optimism — this time around is the preexisting closeness between Jones and Williams.

Closure on the “Ayton at the 4” silliness

In a conversation with Dave this week at Champs Sports in Scottsdale at the release of his new PUMA sneaker, Ayton said the “controversy” around his and Jones’ comments about Ayton’s position had become the subject of humor at practice. Everyone who panicked when Jones said Ayton was an option at power forward and Ayton subsequently going along with the notion breathed a sigh of relief reading Dave’s story.

Still, Ayton often revolves between brutal self-awareness and a surprising lack of it. At end-of-season media availability, Ayton said one thing he was focused on this summer was developing his ball-handling and playmaking to play more like Giannis Antetokounmpo and the other jumbo playmakers taking the league by storm. In talking with Dave, Ayton instead discussed a more logical next step for his game — developing his perimeter scoring game to become harder to defend. Williams helped bring outside scoring out of Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid in previous stops and will understand the value of Ayton shooting threes as well as improving as a passer.

What Ayton, Williams and Jones say about this whole debate will be interesting. It may seem silly, but putting a clear message on the record about a player who is super honest publicly and whom the franchise has a lot riding is what media day is all about.