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‘I’ll bet on my team’: James Jones confident in Suns’ preparations for 2021-22 season

Phoenix’s general manager said he isn’t worried about a Finals hangover

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Media Day Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Here is what Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones said during the team’s Media Day before training camp on Monday.

Expectations for the team:

“It doesn’t change. Same thing that got us to the Finals last year will be the thing we focus on this year, which is being prepared to compete every night. I think our guys know what it takes to from a physical and mental standpoint. The amount of focus it takes to navigate the entire season plus the playoffs, I thought it was a good experience for us. So I’m excited to see us continue to play, because I know deep down inside, all of our guys are disappointed with the result but they were happy with the process.”

On Suns starting shooting guard Devin Booker missing training camp with COVID-19:

“I mean, we’re a team. We’re a team with a lot of depth. We’ll get (Suns starting shooting guard) Devin (Booker) back when he comes back. But all year long, we’ve always preached being ready as a team. Next man up, so training camp is a good thing that you have when you have multiple weeks, multiple games in training camp. Just trying to build a rhythm, trying to get some consistency and conditioning, mentally and physically. Devin played a lot of basketball this summer, I’m not concerned about him being ready to play.”

On the team handling such a short offseason

“I actually think that it’s tougher in the summer to navigate long breaks. You play basketball at a high level when you’re in this team environment. So the longer you’re away from your team, the more individual you become. There’s just something about being around your teammates that push you competitively to a different level physically, mentally, emotionally. So being in a team environment helps you prepare for the season. So I think the short breaks, that’s the only way to play basketball.”

On adding more depth in Landry Shamet and JaVale McGee

“Always. You can never have too much quality depth, and the value of a deep roster is greater than just having guys that are available to play when you’re looking at injuries or fatigue. It just raises your competitive spirit, and great players want to be in competitive environments. They want to be pushed and challenged. Not just by their coaches, but by their teammates. So this affords us the ability to withstand a grueling season, an 82-game season in itself is difficult. But as the league continues to get more competitive, these players continue to grow and expand their games, it’s helpful to have a lot of depth.”

“Something different. They have different skill sets than the players that we had last year. I think JaVale gives us a great interior presence. He also gives us fearlessness on the interior, a guy that can put pressure on the rim, a guy that will attack and block shots. And he’s big. You can never have too much size in this league. And then Landry, shooting on the perimeter. I think he gives us a versatile guard/wing. He can handle it, he can shoot it, shoot it at a great clip. But more than anything, they give us experience and just competitiveness. Both of those guys, everywhere they’ve been, college, in the pros, if you ask their teammates, they’ll tell you that they bring it every night. And that’s what we need.”

If he is worried about the short offseason and resting players:

“We’re just going to compete, right? I don’t want to put a governor on a flare. I think sometimes, we are too smart for our own good, trying to prevent guys from getting to the edge. If they never get to the edge, they never improve. So we’re going to do what we did last year, which is listen to our guys, let them read their bodies, let them read their situations, and if a guy’s ready to play, he’ll play. If he feels like he can’t go and help the team, we’ll have him step aside, let someone else step up. But as far as navigating the season, we’re going to go into every single night, trying to win games. And if you can stack wins, you put yourself in a position to one, have favorable position in the postseason, if that’s where we end up. And then two, continue to raise the bar nightly for guys, knowing their expectation is to be available, be ready and to perform.”

On Booker:

“We just said indefinitely. We’re going to let it play out. He’s doing well right now but all those things, until you actually get on the floor and you start moving around, you start playing, it’s just conjecture.”

On there potentially being a hangover from making the Finals, that might hurt their focus entering this season:

“You’d have to ask them. I’d just assume knowing them and their nature and the nature of our group, it’s intoxicating. To be able to have success, the success that we had last year, if you don’t want that, something’s wrong with you.”

On the chance of not making it back to the Finals:

“I just think you need to compete on the strength of your fundamentals. That’s what got us there, that’s what will keep us in the hunt. If you look at what other teams have done, then you can discount what you can do. So we’ll go into this like every team. I’ll expect we’ll go into it this season saying, ‘Hey, if we play our game and do things that we need to do or that we do well, we’ll give ourselves a chance.” And I’ll bet on my team.”

On contract negotiations with Suns starting center Deandre Ayton:

“We’ll address that when the time comes. But for us right now, our focus is training camp and getting ready for the regular season.”

On the role Suns backup forward Jalen Smith could have this season:

“I think his performance in practice and on the floor will determine that. I don’t have any predetermined news or expectations for guys. We improved our team externally and internally. So until we get all 15 guys back in the building playing against each other, you really just don’t know with these position battles, what will happen as a result of these position battles that we’ll have.”

On Suns backup guard Elfrid Payton’s addition:

“Elfrid, a really good player. A great ball handler, a floor general, a veteran. He started on a very good New York team, underrated defender and he has tremendous size. More than anything, he loves to play the game of basketball and competes. I can say, I don’t think you can ever have too many Elfrid Payton’s on your team. Guys that have played their entire lives and just gym guys. You see him right now, he prepares the same way. He’s going to come in here and be tremendously effective for us, as you know, the way we play, we need ball handlers to run high pick-and-rolls with Deandre and JaVale. You can’t have too many high pick-and-roll players in this game.”

On what he’s most proud of, as the Suns GM:

“Just that I’ve been able to help put our guys in a position to succeed. The players do it, the coaches do it, where I’m here to help them. I consider myself a teammate. My job, my goal is to help them optimize their opportunities. And I think that I’ve been efficient, effective to some degree. But there’s areas for me to continue to improve, and that’s what this season will be about.”

On if they are stilling missing anything with the roster:

“We have an open roster spot, and that’ll be something we evaluate. I don’t think there’s one position — we have such great depth and versatility. But if there’s someone we think can help this team, we’ll try to pursue them and add him.”

On losing in the Finals:

“It should burn, it’ll probably burn forever. But last season is done. You just take the experience, and hopefully you learn a little bit about it. But you can’t take anything away from the team that beat us. They had some tremendous performances, they had some really great players. They had Olympians on that side of the ball, too. We just have to take that burn and hopefully, it translates into a little more, we learn from it. But we’re not carrying that. This is a new journey, a new season, a new path, a new opportunity to chase a title.”

On what he wants to see this season from the team:

“We’ll just bring it every night. Like for me, if we can bring it every night, I’ll be satisfied, because I trust this team, I believe in this team. If we bring it every night, we’ll be in a good spot.”

On the health status of Suns starting point guard Chris Paul:

“Chris is always a full-go. Yeah, Chris will be fine. He’ll be there Day 1, leading this team.”

More on what he needs to see this year:

“It’s easy to look at the edges and think that all you need to do is make a slight improvement and that will get you over the hump. But what I’ve learned is that the things we did well before our team, our core habits, our core behaviors, our core efforts, our core strategies, those are the things that got us there. So you go into the offseason thinking about how you can refine those things, how you can strengthen those things, and then you let the edges worry about themselves when you get there.”

On adding JaVale McGee’s shotblocking to the team:

“I think it will be infectious for the team. When your interior guys are aggressive and they don’t care about the result, they just care about the process. The process of being in the spot, the process of contesting and challenging everything. It’s a mindset you can develop. So I’m hopeful that’ll rub off on the rest of our guys. But that doesn’t mean — he’ll contest shots, he may get dunked on. He’ll contest shots, he may foul. But hopefully, it translates to our wings being there to take a charge. Our guys putting their bodies in front, knowing that you could end up on a poster. But more often than not, you get a possession for your team, you go back the other way and make something of it.”

Any other issues besides Devin Booker’s COVID and Dario’s knee rehab?

“Yeah, we’re good.”

On whether JaVale McGee brings the same kind of intensity as Patrick Beverley:

“I love Pat. Pat does a lot of extra. I think JaVale, what you see is what you get. He’s just a guy that’s going to play with passion and be respective on the time of the clock. It’ll be there, you know where to find him. And having that predictability, especially defensively, offensively as well, that predictability helps our guys play a little bit more freely.”