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James Jones gets a D for the summer

Phoenix Suns General Manager has made no moves to the playoff-level rotation

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

We’re less than a month away from training camp, and the Phoenix Suns’ roster looks more or less set. For the most part, it looks nearly identical to what they had last year when they had a league and franchise best record of 64 and 18. The only rotation player who left in the offseason was JaVale McGee, who accepted a 3-year, $17.3 million dollar contract offer from Dallas. In turn, they’re getting back 28-year old Croatian PF/C Dario Saric. On paper, it would sound like the Suns did the smart thing by running it back.

Let me emphasize: on paper.

In reality, the offseason was a failure of epic proportions, and the blame mostly falls on General Manager James Jones.

After the Suns’ struggled to beat 8th seed New Orleans in the first round, the Suns’ were obliterated in one of the most humiliating defeats in NBA playoff history by the Dallas Mavericks in games 6 and 7 of the second round. That series highlighted all the Suns biggest weaknesses, including:

  • Lack of rebounding
  • Lack of size at power forward to guard Luka Doncic
  • Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, and Cam Johnson’s inability to create their own offense
  • Deandre Ayton’s inability to be a 3rd scoring option
  • The offense imploding when teams hound Devin Booker and grind down the aging Chris Paul
  • Cam Payne’s failure as a back-up PG
  • Overall lack of offense from bench players (Payne, Landry Shamet, Johnson, Torrey Craig)

After devastating blow-out losses where the teams’ weaknesses were laid bare to the world, you would think the Suns would have addressed at least one of these issues. They are literally a roadmap for how to crush the team in the playoffs. They are also a 100-foot-tall neon sign that says to Jones, “You’re not going to win a championship without some changes.” It’s even worse when you ask the question, “why would you go deep into the luxury tax with a team that clearly has no chance to make it past the second round of the playoffs?”

The west has gotten much nastier at the top in the offseason. The Clippers have added all-stars Kawhi Leonard and John Wall. Dallas added Christian Wood at power forward, significantly upgrading their weakest position. The Golden State Warriors are the reigning champions and still managed a slight upgrade signing Donte DiVincenzo.

Perhaps Jones can be forgiven for being paralyzed by the fruitless pursuit of Kevin Durant. But it’s been weeks since Durant and the Nets reconciled, and there’s been no moves to address what are obvious fatal weaknesses in the roster. Instead, Jones’ moves in the offseason have either been no-brainers, or signings that will have zero on-court impact.

Let’s review the offseason move, shall we?

None of these signings address the core issues preventing the Suns from advancing in the playoffs. They still don’t have a starting caliber power forward (Crowder is a defensive ace against smaller forwards, but his shooting is inconsistent, he’s too small, he doesn’t rebound, and he’s zero threat inside the three-point arc). They still don’t have a good back up to Chris Paul, leaving him vulnerable to injury and exhaustion in the playoffs. They still don’t have a third scoring option after Ayton who was a no-show vs. Dallas, and seems to lack the aggression, dedication, and drive to be “that guy.”

Beyond Ayton, Biyombo is a competent back up, nothing more. Landale is strictly third string. Damion Lee is wildly inconsistent at both ends of the court and isn’t a measurable improvement over Landry Shamet (who was just bad most of the season). Okogie is more likely to kill the popcorn guy in the third row with his shots than see them go through the hoop. Wainwright and Washington are borderline G-League. Perhaps the best thing that can be said for the Suns’ offseason is that Elfrid Payton won’t be back.

It is not as if the Suns don’t have tradable assets. Tanking teams love expiring contracts, and Phoenix has over 40 million dollars’ worth. Saric, Crowder, and Craig are fully expiring, while Payne and Shamet are only partially guaranteed after the 22-23 season. The Suns also have up to four first round picks and three swaps to offer. And it’s not as if the team actually uses first round picks for anything besides trade bait: Jones’ seems to believe that if a guy can’t contribute right away, he has no value. Very few late first round selections meet these criteria.

It’s not as if many of these players have much value after this season either: every dollar the Suns spend on their Bird rights incurs a massive luxury tax penalty. You cannot replace them with mid-level exceptions either: there’s simply too many players and too much money needed. The fact of the matter is that the value of Phoenix’s expiring contracts only goes down over time.

There are potential trade partners as well. Utah and Houston are in the middle of a fire sale. Players like Jordan Clarkson, Jared Vanderbilt, and Eric Gordon are obtainable. Each of them would be an upgrade at positions where the Suns are hurting.

Similarly, there are still free agents out there with, shall we say, prickly reputations. Dennis Schroder had his best season playing behind CP3 a few seasons ago. Montrezl Harrell had a scrape with the law over marijuana, but it was reduced to a misdemeanor. Both of them were recent sixth-man of the year award winners. The Suns have both the over-the-cap exception and the bi-annual exception left that could be used to sign these players, who would directly address the teams most pressing needs at point guard and power forward / back-up center.

If you had to grade Jones offseason the way you would a student taking a test, he’d get a D. He managed to put his name and the date at the top of the paper, answer a couple easy questions, and turn it in with all the moderate and difficult questions left blank. For a student to get a C, they’d need to at least try to get a few of the moderate difficulty questions right.

Jones didn’t even attempt to get a right answer.

I take it back. He doesn’t deserve a D.

It’s more like a D-, and a note from the teacher saying, “You didn’t even try.”


Poll

What grade would you give Jones for the offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    A
    (27 votes)
  • 10%
    B
    (67 votes)
  • 32%
    C
    (216 votes)
  • 21%
    D
    (144 votes)
  • 32%
    D- or F
    (215 votes)
669 votes total Vote Now