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Suns GM James Jones on trade with Nets, contact with Chris Paul and future role of Jalen Smith

Jones tackled several topics after the conclusion of the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft on Thursday night

NBA: Finals-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Here is what Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones said about his team’s trade with the Brooklyn Nets, which reportedly involves Landry Shamet and Jevon Carter, among other assets, and its outlook for an offseason that followed its berth in the 2021 NBA Finals.

On what led to the Suns completing a trade with the Nets on Thursday, which reportedly involves Carter being exchanged for Shamet:

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Brooklyn Nets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

“We were just monitoring how things were shaking out in the draft and seeing there was an opportunity for us to get back in, be opportunistic, find a player that matches the profile of the players that would drive you. So we went into today thinking, ‘How can we continue to build a team, add some more experience and at the same time, add a little bit more size?’ So we took the day going through those options and we ended up doing something that I think will benefit us in the long run.”

His thoughts on the 2021 NBA Draft:

“We value experience and capacity. And there’s a lot of excitement around the prospects in this draft, there’s some really good players. A lot of guys went and fell farther than they probably expected. Just their talent didn’t really match where they were drafted. But for us, it’s coming out of the draft with a player that can contribute, and I feel like we did that in a roundabout way.”

On the emotions of the Suns losing in the 2021 NBA Finals:

“It’s tough. Fortunately for me, I had been in that situation before, being in the Finals, feeling that extreme low of defeat. But I keep it in perspective. If you asked me at the beginning of the year, would I be satisfied with losing in the Finals? I’d say, ‘No.’ I’d be realistic and say that I felt good about where we were. So after you get past the initial hurt, you move right back to work mode. The last couple of weeks have really been good for us. You realize, you analyze everything that you could have done better and the things that you want to improve. And you look around the room and you find out the guys want to feel the same way. So we’re working towards improving, and we know we have a tough task in front of us. But our goal is always to win a title, and to do the things necessary to put ourselves in that position, we did it this past year. Now, we’ll have to take it up a notch and do it again next year.”

On what he learned about the Suns during their playoff run that can inform his decision-making as he looks to construct their roster moving forward:

“I mean, we have enough. We have enough to compete at a high level, and every guy in this building, (Suns) coach (Monty Williams), myself included, we need to improve. We need to get better, we need to find a way to come back better this year than we were this past year. And our players, they fight. They’re team-first guys and they’re always willing and able to step up. We just have to be better, and I think we will do that. But now we’re a team that everyone knows is dangerous, but our guys embrace that challenge. I think everybody on this team was crushed that we lost but a day or two later, our gym was popping again and guys were in here talking about how we can get better. That’s refreshing, because I think our guys tasted the Finals and I think that’s a kind of thirst I don’t think will be quenched until we get back there and win it.”

On the development of Suns forward Jalen Smith and if he sees him factoring into the rotation next season:

NBA: Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

“Of course I do. Jalen, like every guy on this team, took steps forward this year. For a rookie to step into this situation, it’s extremely difficult. You go from a team that’s building to a team that’s built. And now, we’re playing playoff basketball 82 games a night. And for him, it’s been a great trajectory. I hope we get a chance to see him play well in summer league just to continue his development. But across the board at every position, we just need to get stronger, we need to mature. And that comes with time. But as far as size, with (Suns backup forward) Dario (Saric) going down (with a torn right ACL in Game 1 of the Finals), we’ll have to address that position. But I’ve always said, I think in terms of building a team like an index card. We need three-by-five. So I need to make sure that all of our positions are filled with guys that can contribute, and that will be our focus going forward.”

On his approach with trying to retain Suns starting point guard Chris Paul:

NBA: Finals-Phoenix Suns at Milwaukee Bucks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“I think (Suns owner) Robert (Sarver) talked about it earlier this week. Chris has a (player) option to pick up or decline. We’ll cover that when we get there. That starts on Monday, free agency, Monday the second (of August), we’ll have a chance to talk with him. We’ll know what his decision is at that point in time. But I think what we have is enticing, I think he likes being here, we like having him here. So I’m confident that we’ll be able to have a conversation, hopefully, in the coming days that will make everyone happy.”

On Paul’s impact this past season and if he feels like that will positively impact the Suns’ chances to have him on next year’s team:

“I love everything Chris is about, as a competitor, as a player, as a team leader, as a — just as a leader. The way he approaches the game, the way he builds his teammates up, the way he cares about his group. He genuinely cares about every guy improving. So it’s been great for the program, it’s been great for me to watch him and see the impact he’s had on our younger guys. It’s immeasurable. You can’t put it into words. That’s why he’s one of the best or arguably the best point guard to ever play the game.”

On the progress of Suns backup guard Cameron Payne this past season and the team’s

NBA: Finals-Phoenix Suns at Milwaukee Bucks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

potential of re-signing him as he enters unrestricted free agency:

“First, I would always say, I’m extremely sensitive to it. When I talk about our guys, I try to avoid saying ‘piece.’ These guys are team members, and so as far as being a team member, the way he played this year was phenomenal. I couldn’t be happier for Cam and I know the team, we all enjoyed his success. He’s a kid that has played his way back into a position he should be in, which is a really good, quality, rotation NBA player. So we’re excited with what he’s done. Looking forward to talking to him soon to keep him with us, because we know how valuable he was for us. And I still believe there’s a lot more growth to his game that coach can unlock.”

On what he has learned as a general manager and how his approach possibly feels different than it did a few years ago:

“I’m fully invested in the team. When you come in the front office, you hear coaches, you hear performance staff, you here all these silos. You try to filter information level-by-level, but what I’ve learned is you have to hear all groups. You have to hear the coaches, you have to hear the players, you have to hear the staff, and then you have to make decisions that benefit the team as a whole. So that’s been my focus. You come in, evidently, people love to talk about the Draft. That was a big focal point for us when I started, because we were a team that was drafting early in the lottery. But our young guys that we’ve had faith in and we invested in, they’ve come out and they’ve played extremely well. And they’ve established themselves as legitimate pros. So we raised our floor, we raised our level. And when you do that, you have to continue to figure out how you can improve the team. So you just have to engage in all avenues, in our player development, strength development, our draft, our trades, acquisitions. All those avenues, you have to explore them, but you have to make decisions that benefit the team. Even if they don’t benefit my reputation or coach’s reputation, it’s really all about the team and continuing to build a program that allows you to have sustained success. That part of my focus hasn’t changed, it’s just how I go about living that out on a daily basis.”

On seeing his vision as an executive continue to lead to success:

“When I took this job, I said that my goal was to help these guys, this organization, these players reach their potential and achieve the ultimate goal of winning a title. So to see them have success, that’s what I live for. Nothing makes me happier than seeing our guys have success, and that’s been my goal from Day 1, that’ll continue to be my goal. I’m always thinking about how I can continue to better position these guys to win, because that’s what we want to do. That’s the only thing I care about, the only thing I think about, is how I can help our guys win. So I’ll continue to do that with their help, because without coach, without the players, without Robert, without the fans really, without this core group of people in this building, the fans and the community, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

On how things have fallen into place for the Suns in his tenure:

“I’d say I’m pleased but not satisfied. I’m my worst, harshest critic, and I see great potential from this group. To see us come together the way we have, it just gives me confidence. It gives the guys confidence that if we continue to operate this way, we’ll continue to improve and continue to reach our goals. It’s been a pleasure to work with these guys, and I’m just excited about what the future holds, the flexibility that we created. And more importantly, the continuity that we’re building.”

On what he’s observed from the Suns’ players following their Finals loss and how he expects them to respond to it:

“I can see the burn, I can see the sting, I can see the pain. When you get past the initial, ‘Hello,’ the initial greeting, you can still see that it burns underneath, knowing that we were so close. And that’s to a man, I see that with our players and our coaches. So for me, that’s refreshing, because that means they’re not satisfied, we’re not satisfied. And as long as that’s our mentality and our approach, I know that we’ll walk into this gym every day and guys will be working to get better. Guys will be yearning, dying to get better. Like Chris and (Suns starting shooting guard) Devin (Booker) and the rest of those guys say, we’ll continue to be a work group.”

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