Last week the Phoenix Suns finally found a taker for Deandre Ayton and get back a replacement center at half the cost. Just like the majority of Suns fans have wanted for months, if not years now.
But did you know the guy who brokered the deal was new CEO Josh Bartelstein, and not GM James Jones, the 2021 Executive of the Year?
James Jones is still in charge of Basketball Operations, with the dual titles of General Manager and President of Basketball Operations . He’s still got all his people in place, including Assistant General Managers Morgan Cato, Trevor Bukstein and Ryan Resch. And I know that anyone in the front office can initiate and negotiate trade terms, only taking them to the ‘boss’ when it’s closing time.
But it sure seems like Jones is no longer THE boss, and wasn’t central to closing the deals that sent out homegrown stars Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Deandre Ayton in recent months.
New owner Mat Ishbia is the BOSSBOSS, and was credited for closing the Kevin Durant trade less than 24 hours after becoming the Suns new owner. He reportedly negotiated the final terms directly with Nets owner Joe Tsai in a deal that would bust up the Suns homegrown core.
And now it appears that new CEO Josh Bartelstein — hired by Ishbia in April as the team’s Chief Executive Officer, and second to the podium on Media Day, ahead of James Jones — was the primary negotiator on the deals that swapped Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton for Bradley Beal and Jusuf Nurkic.
Is James Jones threatened by the presence of Bartelstein? If he is, the consummate professional isn’t giving anything away. He talks about his great relationship with Mat and Josh, in the same way they talk of him. To an outsider, you’d think they were all born to be together and James is absolutely in love with being third on the totem pole.
As someone who’s recently been topped by a newbie on the scene (no I’m not talking about Bright Side lol), I could learn a thing or two from Jones.
Bartelstein, just 34 years old, was hired away from the Detroit Pistons in April 2023 by Ishbia. In his 8 years with the Pistons (2015-2023), Bartelstein held the titles of Chief of Staff, Executive Vice President of Business and Basketball Operations and Assistant General Manager (since June 2022). Prior to joining the Pistons, Bartelstein was briefly a high school basketball coach after four years as a lightly used backup (including one year as team captain despite rarely playing) on a Michigan Wolverines basketball team that kinda won the national championship with future NBA players Trey Burke, Nick Stauskas, Tim Hardaway Jr., Caris LeVert and Mitch McGary. THJ and LeVert are still in the NBA 10 years later.
Josh is the son of highly successful sports agent Mark Bartelstein, who represents All-Star Bradley Beal. While no back story came out on ‘how the deal went down’ it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how the Suns came to be Beal’s chosen destination. Beal admitted in a midsummer interview he was shocked when he heard it was Phoenix, despite all of us hearing rumors throughout the process that Beal, who held the league’s only no-trade-clause, had demanded a trade and said the only place he wanted to go was Phoenix. If Beal was even the least bit surprised at the destination, you can only point to the agent as driving force on this one.
And now Josh has done it again. Adrian Wojnarowski penned another ‘behind the deal’ article on the Damian Lillard trade to the Milwaukee Bucks, where Woj includes Josh Bartelstein’s name no less than 8 times as the Suns contact all along with Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin. Bartelstein and Cronin apparently had negotiated the Suns-Blazers pieces in a deal months before, only to wait for Cronin to find a Dame destination first.
James Jones was handpicked by former owner Robert Sarver immediately upon retiring from his playing career. He needed less than three years to turn the league’s worst team into one of the most successful in franchise history, including the team’s first NBA Finals appearance in almost three decades and the most regular season and playoff wins in the league since the start of the 2020-21 season.
But new ownership wants what it wants. And Mat Ishbia wants to make his stamp on the Suns as quickly as he possibly can. In only six months, he has already made three of the biggest trades in franchise history, mortgaging the future (draft picks, young stars) for a better chance to win a championship this year or next.
If it works, he’ll be right up there with Jerry Colangelo among the greatest sports figures in valley history.
If it doesn’t, at least he’s making it fun to watch.