We have entered that time of the season in which we truly learn how general managers perceive their basketball teams. With a month left until the trade deadline, which occurs on Thursday, February 9, the buyers and the sellers will make themselves known. We are all anxiously awaiting to see what the 20-20 Phoenix Suns will do.
It has been a topsy-turvy season thus far for the majority of NBA teams. The standings are constantly in flux, and given the fact that 10 of 14 teams in each conference make the postseason (playoffs or play-in), we’ve yet to see very many transactions.
The play-in tournament has changed the way the trade deadline has been conducted. General managers are having a harder time determining whether or not they are buyers or sellers in this market. It’s hard to cash in your chips and attempt to reset when you are the 11th seed sitting in a game and a half out of the play-in game.
One question I’m consistently considering is whether or not James Jones is simply going to let it ride this season. A Jae Crowder transaction surely must be in the future. He is an expiring contract, which has its appeal, as well as a veteran leader with physicality. To this point, however, that hasn’t been valuable enough for teams to offer a trade that pleases what James Jones perceives his value to be.
The franchise has been sold but the signatures are not yet on paper. Robert Sarver can still veto any trade. It feels as if there are too many variables that are preventing the Suns from being active buyers.
James Jones’ history with the Deadline
I know it’s frustrating to see the Suns sit on their hands. So much opportunity exists to improve this team. A secondary shot creator. A true power forward. Backcourt depth.
If James Jones could make one addition to this @Suns roster, what should he acquire?— Suns JAM Session Podcast (@SunsJAM) January 6, 2023
History tells us that James Jones isn’t very active at the deadline. Here are the moves that he has made since assuming full GM control around the trade deadline:
- 2020 (Suns 12th in West): Nothing.
- 2021 (Suns 2nd in West): Traded cash to the Milwaukee Bucks for Torrey Craig
- 2022 (Suns 1st in West): Traded Jalen Smith and a 2022 2nd round pick to the Indiana Pacers for Torrey Craig; traded cash to the Washington Wizards for Aaron Holiday
Torrey Craig is currently on the Suns roster, so it’s going to be impossible for James Jones to acquire him via trade for the third consecutive year.
The fact is that Champ has displayed a history of someone who does rock the boat at the deadline. The question as to why continually befuddles the fanbase. In 2021, the team needed a backup big and plenty were on the market at the time. In 2022, a shot creator for the bench unit (Eric Gordon*) was needed. Neither of these needs were met.
*Eric Gordon, to be fair, is still on the Rockets to this day and word is they are still demanding an unprotected first round pick in exchange for him
When it comes to Jones, while I find myself frustrated in the short term, I always try to see what he is doing through the lens of the long term health of the franchise. Is that what he is doing again? Is he looking at this year as playing with house money?
Benefits of Letting Ride
Perhaps that is what it is. Perhaps Jones is looking at this season as an opportunity to win a championship next season. Breathe. I know it’s hard to digest. No one wants to hear that their team is focused on the future rather than the present. Although the Arizona Diamondbacks have been in that state of operation since 208.
It might be best for the long-term success of the franchise to stick with the roster as is (minus a Jae Crowder trade, of course). And maybe the short term success as well.
Jones can keep his roster together, let it get healthy, and have a late-season surge that could lead to playoff success because the Western Conference seems to be quite open.
We all know what it’s like to peak too early, right? Remember last season? The 64-win Suns didn’t get out of the second round. Injuries and fatigue hit them right when it counted the most. Conversely, the Golden State Warriors – a team that struggled with injuries throughout the 2021-22 regular season – hit the stride when it mattered most.
Remember their trade deadline deal? No? GM Bob Myers didn’t make one.
While I’m not vouching for this tactic, it might be one that Jones is considering. Could the Suns look at this season and simply accept it as is? What is the point of putting numerous assets together to acquire a mid-level player if the end result is an early exit in the postseason?
Let’s explore that last question.
The Suns have numerous players on expiring contracts at the end of this season. Jae Crowder ($10.3M), Dario Saric ($9.2M), Torrey Craig ($5.1M), Bismack Biyombo ($1.8M), Damion Lee ($1.8M), and Josh Okogie ($1.8M) are all unrestricted free agents this summer.
Combined, that is $30M coming off of the books. Next season is also the last season before Devin Booker’s super-max goes into effect ($36M in 2023-24, $50M in 2024-25). $15.8M of Chris Paul’s contract is guaranteed.
Traditional thinking is to trade some of those assets in an effort to garner a return rather than simply letting them walk. We are thinking that is what James Jones should do. Stack contracts in an effort to bring help to the team.
James Jones never does what we think he should.
What is the point of putting numerous assets together to acquire a mid-level player if the end result is an early exit in the postseason? He may be trying to avoid handcuffing himself in future years by stacking a Crowder/Saric trade ($19.5M outgoing) for an asset that is worth $19.5M but has a longer contract. And let’s be serious, the only appeal for Dario is the fact his contract expires at the end of the year. He’s a league minimum guy for the rest of his career.
It’s worth arguing that Phoenix and James Jones have accepted that they are who they are this season. If that equates to a deep playoff run, fantastic. If not, James could be saving his assets, and rather than burning them off and garnering new contracts, he could be waiting to push all his money and take a deep run at the free-agent market.
Who is available in the unrestricted market next season? Kyrie Irving. D-Lo. Jerami Grant. Myles Turner. Caris LeVert. Will Barton. Josh Richardson. Reggie Jackson. Christian Wood. The list goes on and on…
Devin Booker is in his prime. Deandre Ayton is approaching his. Chris Paul has a foot out the door. The time to win isn’t necessarily now. It’s the next five years. Jones may be preparing to have this franchise as financially flexible as possible.
Do I agree with letting it ride? Hell no. It’s the Kevin Durant situation all over again. We’re waiting…and waiting…and waiting…for nothing.
I’m tired of watching and waiting to see what Jones is going to do. I’m tired of wondering if he has some long term master plan for this franchise instead of acting in the “now”. I’m tired of not having a championship in Phoenix.
That is where we are. Tired. The fanbase is tiring of James Jones’ lack of roster improvement. It’s getting to the point that people are constantly reminding us of every draft pick he’s missed on. He could quiet those nay-sayers by bringing Kyle Kuzma to the Valley.
That Suns 2023 1st round pick is gaining more value every day— John Voita (@DarthVoita) January 7, 2023
James isn’t sitting around watching the Suns get worse simply to increase the value of their 2023 first round pick, is he? He isn’t letting it ride in hopes that the Suns have a percentile chance at French stud Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson? Now that’s some 4D chess.
As per usual, we’ll continue to wait and see. The trade deadline is nearing. Based on his activity, we’ll see if #InJamesJonesWeTrust.