It has been nearly five years since the Phoenix Suns hired James Jones as the Director of Player Personnel. Now entering his fourth full season as the Suns' general manager, Jones has done a tremendous job of taking a Suns franchise that seemed lost in the basement of the Western Conference and turning it into one of the top franchises in the league.
One of the most often overlooked aspects of Jones’ success is how smoothly he has transitioned from an NBA veteran to a front office executive. Jones retired at the end of the 2016-2017 season after 14 seasons. Known affectionately as “Champ” for his qualities as a leader in the locker room and overall professionalism, Jones played for the Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns, and the Portland Trail Blazers before joining the Miami Heat, where he would come to earn this nickname.
Jones won two titles with Miami in 2012 and 2014 alongside fellow Class of 2003 draftees, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, before following James to Cleveland where he won his third ring with the Cavaliers in 2016. James has previously called him “my favorite player of all time” and while the numbers suggest Jones did not have much of an impact on the court with the Cavaliers, this is merely another example of how stats don’t tell the whole story.
Much of Jones’ capabilities as a leader are attributed to his time spent in Miami under the tutelage of team president Pat Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra. Under Riley’s guiding hand, Miami has become one of the premier franchises in the NBA. ‘Heat Culture’ has become synonymous with the pinnacle of professionalism and camaraderie. In less than 35 years, the franchise has won the NBA Championship three times, tied with the Detroit Pistons and the Philadelphia 76ers as the sixth most successful franchise in the NBA, and is the youngest franchise to win multiple titles.
When Jones joined the Suns, it was not just his goal to turn the franchise around, but it was ultimately his responsibility. Lest we forget, Phoenix had missed the playoffs for the seventh-straight season, the longest playoff drought in the franchise’s 49 years of existence. While Phoenix has never won the championship, missing the playoffs is not something Suns fans are historically accustomed to, and at the time of the front offices’ addition of Jones, the end of this drought did not look in sight.
Alas, it only took three more painful seasons before the Suns returned to the playoffs and so much of their success in these past two seasons can be attributed to the moves and decisions Jones has made.
As Jones explained on Thursday after the NBA Draft, he takes immense pride in being considered a disciple of Riley and Spoelstra’s ‘Heat Culture’.
“100%, I’m a product of my environment and those that helped shape my approach and my mentality when it comes to basketball, and so I do draw on that because it’s successful,” Jones said.
“Spo and Pat, you talking about Hall of Famers. I’m a guy that’s trying to establish myself and trying to build that resume and that success for my organization. But for sure, Pat and Spo, they’ve influenced me in immeasurable ways and I’ll continue to take some of the things that they do and that they believe in and apply [them] to what we do.”
But as Jones so eloquently put it, there is still a lot more work that needs to be done before anyone can compare the work that he has done in Phoenix to that of his mentors.
“There’s a lot of symmetries here, but I’m not Miami, we’re not Miami,” Jones said bluntly. “There’s a lot more winning and success that needs to happen before I’d even say that I can emulate what they’re doing.”