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Suns offseason outlook, Part 1; Changes at the top could start really soon

If the Phoenix Suns are going to move on from their GM and/or coach, it’s likely to happen quickly.

Phoenix Suns Open Practice Photo by Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images

Changes have already begun at the top for the Phoenix Suns, whose season ended on Thursday in a blowout loss at home in the second round of the playoffs for the second straight year.

New owner Mat Ishbia promised on his first day he would value winning over profits, and reiterated that stance to fans via twitter on Friday.

Suns Fans:

Thank you for an unbelievable few months and a very special start to my experience as team owner/steward. You welcomed me and my family and have been awesome every step of the way. You are the absolute greatest fans in all of basketball.

While we have a lot to be proud of this year, we did not reach the level of success all of us want, which is a championship. We won’t win a championship every season, but it will always be the goal. The @Suns will never stop working to be great both on and off the court, and we are just getting started.

Look forward to being with all of you at @PhoenixMercury

games this summer and thank you again for an incredible first season!

Since new owner Mat Ishbia paid almost $2 billion of his own cash the day before the trade deadline on February 9, 2023 to purchase the Phoenix Suns on a league-record $4 billion valuation, he’s brought in a new superstar player, a new Assistant GM and a new Chief Executive Officer.

The Suns partnership of decision-making owners now includes Ishbia as Controlling Owner and Governor, along with minority owners Justin Ishbia, Sam Garvin and Jahm Najafi as Alternate Governors. Brother Justin bought in with Mat, while Garvin and Najafi retained their shares and positions.

Less than 24 hours after transmitting the money and taking over the team, he famously finalized the Kevin Durant trade in a one-on-one negotiation with Nets owner Joe Tsai. As part of the deal, Ishbia relented on every Nets asking point to acquire the first team All-NBA forward many believed the team needed to better contend for a championship this year and next. You’ll see in Part 2 what that means for down the road.

Three weeks later, on March 15, the Suns quietly hired a new Assistant GM in Gerald Madkins. Madkins had previously worked in the Clippers and Knicks front offices but had been out of the NBA since 2020. Madkins reports directly to James Jones. No public connection was made between Ishbia and Madkins, but teams rarely add someone midseason that was available all along.

A month after that, Ishbia hired a new Chief Executive Officer in Josh Bartelstein, to whom James Jones now directly reports. Bartelstein has held various jobs in basketball, including as Assistant GM in Detroit. Now he’s James Jones’ boss, overseeing the entire Suns operation from business to basketball.

Looks like an Ishbia sandwich around Jones to me.

A day after the season ended, though, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports and TNT reported that the Suns have fired a front office executive and a pair of scouts. No word yet who exactly was fired, but you’d think if it was a big name (Trevor Bukstein, Morgan Cato, Ryan Resch) we’d have heard about it. Interestingly enough, all the new Suns names are listed on the team’s directory today, May 13, except for Gerald Madkins. The page was last edited on May 10, the day before the Suns final game. That would be weird if Madkins was hired and then fired within two months wouldn’t it?

No matter what, changes are afoot.

Since the Suns surprised the league in 2021 and made the NBA Finals, they have flamed out two straight years in the second round. And these aren’t just hard-fought, nail biters. They each ended with the team embarrassing itself in front of the world with 25+ point blowout losses AT HOME despite being favored to win.

The only Suns player who started in both blowout embarrassments is superstar Devin Booker, who scored just 11 and 12 points in the losses. GM James Jones retooled the roster almost entirely year over year, but the grim outcome remained the same.

Now the Suns enter an offseason with a pair of superstars in Devin Booker and Kevin Durant surrounded by a whole lot of question marks.

Who knows what will happen to Jones, who has orchestrated all the good and bad Suns moves since 2018, but no matter what he will be financially okay. Outgoing owner Robert Sarver and minority owner / interim Governor Sam Garvin recently gave Jones a promotion to President of Basketball Operations and a lucrative contract extension. If Jones is fired, he’ll get all that guaranteed money anyway.

The Jones issue is complicated. He is responsible for turning the laughingstock of the league into a perennial contender that won more playoff games (27) than any of the 29 other teams over the past three years. But those perennial contenders only got past the second round once. And again, this isn’t fringe contenders losing nail-biting series. This is ‘best odds in the West’ going out in embarrassing fashion less than halfway to the finish line.

No franchise in the history of basketball has TWICE been down 30 points at halftime of an elimination game at home, and the Suns have done it in consecutive years on James Jones’ watch.

That’s the apex of good and bad.

We continue that theme with the Suns coach. Williams won Coach of the Year from his NBA head coaching peers in 2021 and from the Basketball Writers Association’s voting members in 2022. But he also now owns the distinction of coaching the first team in history to twice get down 30 at halftime of an elimination game.

It’s hard to wrap my head around this.

All I can conclude is that a new owner intent on putting winning above all costs will be okay with paying off Jones and/or Williams, who reportedly got an extension of his own last summer, if he wants to bring in his own people to run the program.

We don’t know what Ishbia will do, but you can expect he won’t drag his feet deciding. If he’s going to move on from Jones and/Williams it’s going to happen really fast.

Watch your social feeds. If anything’s going to happen, I think it will happen in the next week or two.

Within the next six weeks, the Suns have to decide whether to retain Chris Paul ($30.8 million guaranteed on June 30, only $15.8 owed if released before that), Cam Payne ($6 million guaranteed at end of June, only $2 million if released before that) and Darius Bazley’s restricted free agency, not to mention laying out a roadmap to fill out the Suns roster starting July 1.

Depending on the way they go, the Suns could have their full mid level exception, a half-sized one or an even smaller one.

The only multi-year guaranteed contracts on the Suns roster belong to Devin Booker (5 more years), Kevin Durant (3 more years) and Deandre Ayton (3 more years). No one else has money guaranteed beyond next season.

I’ll dive deep into the cap tomorrow, but the point here is that planning for a title contender around Devin Booker and Kevin Durant starts NOW, not weeks from now.

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