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Quotes from our exclusive interview with Suns GM James Jones

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On January 8, before the Suns took on the Kings in Phoenix at Talking Stick Resort Arena, some of our Bright Side community got a chance to talk exclusively with Phoenix Suns General Manager James Jones.

More than 20 of our readers, plus Brendon Kleen and myself, were able to talk to Jones privately thanks to the whole event that is Bright Side Night. The first 30 readers who donated at least 10 tickets were invited to join us at the presser, and then as many as 40 of us got a group picture on the court before the players came out. We had a great time, and I want to thank everyone for participating!

Back to the interview.

Jones was supremely gracious and covered a wide range of topics over about a 30 minute period, including taking every question from the audience. Normally, I would supplement these quotes with data and reasoning and such to add color, but today I think I will just share the transcript with you of nearly all the interview (some small parts were not recorded for unintended reasons).

Jones covers the new starting lineup, modern NBA basketball vs. old style mid-range shots, what the Suns need at the trade deadline and a lot of other topics.

A year ago, James used this same forum to portend the acquisition of a veteran point guard to help the Suns grow rather than draft another 19-year old (later signed Rubio), how he likes experienced college players over one-and-dones (later drafted Cameron Johnson and Ty Jerome), and overall how he wanted more winning experience on the team the next year.

So, maybe he will do it again and tell us in advance what he’s really going to do over these next six months.

Here are the straight quotes.

Opening remarks on Suns current record

“If you were to ask me at the beginning of the season if we would be in a situation where we were a game or two out of the 8th spot, I could realistically say that’s not what I expected. Because I expected us to struggle a little bit more early. But we came out of the gates tremendously and then we got hit with injuries.”

“At 14-22, I think we’re in a good spot, but we’re three or four plays away from being a 17-win team (17-19) which would really be ahead of what I expecting at this point. And if you couple that with Deandre’s suspension, the fact that we’re 14-22 is pretty special.”

“But at full health, I’m excited about the second half of the season. Because I know that the more time these guys spend together, the more time they spend with coach, the better our execution will become. And we play hard enough, we play well enough, for a good portion of the game where that execution can help us win those games that we lost earlier. So we’ll see.”

Trade deadline thoughts

“I always think it’s funny when people are like ‘do you go all in’. The thought process is we’re always going all in. We come in every day thinking about, how can we get better internally. And if we reach a point where we feel like we can’t get better internally, you try to find external options. Knowing that the team that you assemble during the summer is the team that most likely has to carry you all the way.”

“Because this isn’t something we can just magically flip a switch, acquire a guy or acquire some guys that other teams value a lot for less than you’re capable of giving them. It takes something to get something.”

“So we’re never done building. But we also are realistic, understanding that the components of this team, the guys on this team, are more likely to get us across the finish line than a pipe dream scenario where you acquire another team’s best player or top five player.”

“[Trade talk] usually heats up around the trade deadline. The last two weeks prior to the trade deadline you get every type of call. Because time pressure sets in. Deadlines. Nothing happens until there’s a deadline.”

On three point shooting from Deandre Ayton

“It’s not about who shoots threes. It’s about making threes. If Baynes is taking 10 threes a game and missing every one, everyone would say why is Baynes shooting threes? You have to make them.”

“No one has limited Deandre. If he has a trail three and it’s a good shot and he makes them all the time, he just has to take them. At some point, internally, if he has the confidence to take them and make them he will. Until he gets there, we can just encourage him to take it. And encourage him to take those opportunities and make the most of them.”

“We’re not stopping him from shooting threes. Every NBA player shoots threes. It’s just whether or not they have the confidence to shoot them in games.”

What’s this year’s target position to improve

“Everything. We still have the youngest team in the NBA. This summer we were extremely lucky and blessed we were able to convince Ricky Rubio to sign with us. So that shored up our point guard position. [Backup point guard, with three young players] is a position for us that still needs internal growth, so that’s an area of need for us.”

“Backup shooting guard. For the last few years, Devin’s been tremendous but he’s dominated that position to the point where he’s playing 38 minutes a night and there hasn’t been an opportunity for guys to develop behind Devin, because there aren’t a lot of minutes there.”

“Every position. Just not the second level but the third level. I always tell people we are never done building, we are never done growing. But point guard is still a position that we are waiting for someone to take the reins, for someone to seize that opportunity. My hope is that it will happen soon, but if not we’ll just have to continue to try to figure that out.”

On Deandre Ayton starting next to Aron Baynes

“We struggle at times defending teams early. We thought that Deandre, with his defensive versatility, with his athleticism, his skill, that he’d be able to help us anchor our defense early. The first four minutes of a game are important. Just be a better defensive team early (before teams can establish their rhythm). It’s really about putting a big defensive lineup on the floor.”

“And then come off our bench with Dario, who can help our young second unit thrive. Because that’s the challenge, you’ve got a huge drop from your starters to your reserves you can’t build any continuity. So rather than looking at it like who’s our starting five, who’s our second five, we said what’s our best combination of 8 or 9 guys and how do you get the minutes that balance each other.”

On three-point shooting vs. midrange

“It’s all about balance. I’m biased, I’m a guy that shot all threes. So you know I love three point shots. I would love every guy to make and take and be prolific from behind the three point line. But the reality is that everyone can’t shoot it. And so we talk about balance. We want our guys to shoot open threes. We want them to shoot good shots. We don’t want them settling for bad threes. And what we found is that if you limit a guy and say don’t take midrange shot, even if it’s a paint two... if a guy can’t finish at the rim and can’t shoot threes, if you tell him he has to take more threes and he’s a 20% three point shooter, you’re playing into the defense’s hand.”

“We want our guys to take open three point shots, and that hasn’t happened the last few games. And teams are trying to take Devin away. Believe me, I want Devin to take as many three point shots as possible. But they’re not giving him threes and if he can take and make a midrange shot, he has to take it.”

“But we have to do a better job as a team creating higher quality threes. Because that’s our issue. We’re taking them. We’re taking uncontested threes and we’re missing them. So we have to either start making shots or we have to get our teammates better shots. Ball movement should do that.” (he talked about the Memphis game being their second-lowest pass total game of the season)

“If we can get more [open] threes [off ball movement] I’m all for it. But to say that we should shoot more threes for the sake of forcing threes, it plays right into the opponents hand.”

Worst piece of advice as GM

“Listen to the radio talking heads.”

Could he win the three-point contest even today

“Yes.”

Where do you keep your championship rings?

“At home, locked in a safe.”

How much is the phone ringing right now for trade talk?

“Hardly at all.”

Up next

In the coming days, the staff and I will do some analysis on Jones’ comments and/or simply provide our takes on it.

My initial takeaways are:

  • There aren’t any panic trades coming. Jones is thinking more long-term with the team and won’t make big changes this year at the trade deadline just to try for a playoff spot. He’s trying to build a program, not a one-year wonder.
  • No one is happy with the current state of the backup point guard position, but they’re more interested in internal growth for now among Elie Okobo, Jevon Carter and Ty Jerome
  • Neither Jones nor Monty Williams is interested in telling guys the kind of shots they HAVE to take (i.e. bad threes over good twos). Suggestions are good, but the player gets to decide his shot selection based on what’s going on in the game with the defense
  • Jones likes opening with a more defense-oriented, big lineup with Ayton and Baynes together to set the tone for the game. But neither he nor the coach think that has to be a whole-game thing.