How quickly things change. After the whirlwind first 30 games of the Suns’ season, featuring a 7-4 start, a 25-game suspension for Deandre Ayton and numerous injuries, the expectation became that general manager James Jones would be aggressive improving the roster ahead of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
So after Jones opted not to stir the pot at all, fans were inevitably disappointed. In the aftermath of the deadline, Jones, who spoke to media at shootaround Friday morning, reiterated that his goal — as it’s been all along — is to see what he has in this group.
“We just tried to see where we stand, and we got a good sense of where our group is when healthy, and that was exciting for us, that was reassuring,” Jones said. “When we’re a healthy team, we play well, so our focus now will be trying to get healthy and heal throughout the All-Star break and then come back and try to finish the last 30-something games playing at a high level.”
In an interview on The Doug & Wolf Show early Friday morning, head coach Monty Williams elaborated on Jones’ point, noting that it was exciting to hear that opposing teams valued players on the Suns’ roster. Perhaps that bit of positivity encouraged them to stay the same path.
Reading between the lines, Jones’ emphasis on health says to me that perhaps the interest around the league was there, but the price came down in offers from opposing teams because the players they wanted are hurt right now. All three of the Suns’ main trade assets — Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Tyler Johnson — have missed at least three games each. Baynes in particular had been the subject of the most conversation but has not played since Jan. 18.
The other thing Williams and Jones both emphasized in separate interviews on Friday was how important continuity was to their culture-building.
“We’re trying to build something here that takes time,” Jones said. “It didn’t happen over night, we didn’t get to the point where we are right now in a matter of six months, and we’re not going to dig out of it in six months. We’ll continue to be disciplined and diligent and intentional in everything that we do and focus on our guys getting better nightly.”
As much as the improvement from young players on the roster has been cause for optimism, the Suns have been cautious about accelerating the timeline at all. The focus has been on month-by-month improvement from the start, so it would be sort of fraudulent to back off the patience simply to get mildly better for the remainder of this season.
That said, I did expect the Suns to search for bench help in some way, even in a small deal just to get one or two more capable NBA players on the roster for the rest of the year. It seems such a deal just wasn’t out there, as not many backup play-makers changed hands on deadline day.
Reaction to Oubre’s name surfacing
One of the bigger surprises in the lead-up to the trade deadline was reporting from Marc Stein of the New York Times about Kelly Oubre Jr.’s involvement in trade discussions.
A question about those reports was the only time Jones’ emotions showed through his typically stoic demeanor.
“We love Kelly. At this point in time, names are thrown around (frequently), but I do know — and our guys know — that we don’t talk about our players,” Jones said. “So anything that people put out, that’s external. We can’t control what happens externally, but I do know, when you look at what we’ve done, this team is together, that means we believe in this team.”
Jones became understandably defensive when he felt he had to prove his commitment to a player he just chose not to trade simply because of a report that came out. And Jones has earned the benefit of the doubt in terms of rumors not leaking out of Suns HQ nearly as often as they did under the previous front office.
Here’s what Oubre had to say about the ordeal:
Kelly Oubre Jr on hearing his name come up before the trade deadline in reports from the New York Times: “I didn’t expect to hear my name come out, but’s that’s the business.” pic.twitter.com/2bm9NY4B8o— Brendon Kleen (@BrendonKleen14) February 7, 2020
By the time the deadline passed, Oubre was having some fun with it as well, tweeting out an ominous emoji in clear jest:
— Tsunami Papi (@KELLYOUBREJR) February 6, 2020
While this doesn’t prove Oubre will finish out his contract with the Suns, it shows that no trade was likely ever close this week, and Oubre will be part of the ongoing evaluation process as the Suns close out the season.