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McDonough: Suns will work to keep Mike James long-term

Phoenix Suns guard Mike James, right, handles the ball as Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. The Trail Blazers won 114-107. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)
LISTEN: Ryan McDonough, Suns general manager

A long infatuation with point guard Mike James finally went somewhere.

Two years ago, the Phoenix Suns invited him to Summer League, where he stood out as the starting point guard alongside then-rookie Devin Booker. It parlayed into the Eastern Arizona College and Lamar University product playing in Spain and then for Greek power Panathinaikos, which won the Greek League, Greek Cup and was one of final eight teams in the EuroLeague playoffs.

And so James returned to Phoenix, signing a two-way deal with the expectation and agreement he would remain with the NBA team the entire time rather than go in and out of the G League affiliate.

Little did people know he would be the starting point guard by the fourth game of the season.

By the seventh, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is talking about signing him for a long-term deal beyond the 45 days allotted on his two-way contract — and beyond the 2017-18 season.

“We’d certainly like to keep Mike, not only for this season but long-term,” McDonough told Burns & Gambo on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “We have about a month or so to make that decision.

“It won’t be a decision of whether we want to keep him or not,” McDonough added. “The decision will be whether we can agree on a contract that is acceptable to us and to Mike and his agent. I think we’ll get there.”

Through four starts and seven games, the 27-year-old rookie is averaging 13 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game.

He scored a career-high 24 to go with five assists and four steals Tuesday in Brooklyn, moving the Suns to a 3-1 mark as a starting point guard.

Of course, James wouldn’t be put in this position without disgruntled former starter Eric Bledsoe’s sudden exit from the picture.

While that came shockingly, it’s been more surprising that James, in step with interim coach Jay Triano, has steadied Phoenix on the court. He owns a 107.4 offensive rating, 102.8 defensive rating and a team-best +1.7 plus-minus (granted, it helps in this small sample size that he didn’t play more than 11 minutes of garbage time in a 48-point season-opening loss).

James has been a rock in running the offense and picking his spots to score and play-make. He has a 1.86 assist-to-turnover and is shooting 44 percent overall and 48 percent from three.

“He’s certainly proven that he’s not only an NBA player — that’s he’s a good NBA player, that he’s a rotational NBA player,” McDonough said, adding credit for the James signing goes to assistant GM Pat Connelly and international scout Emilio Kovacic.


McDonough said that he is looking over his options in the Bledsoe trade sweepstakes.

ESPN’s Mike Wise reported that the Suns had one offer on the table from the Nuggets that had Denver sending Phoenix point guard Emmanuel Mudiay.

He also cited a Bucks offer including point guard Matthew Dellavedova, a draft pick and one of Greg Monroe or John Henson; and a deal with the Pistons involving point guard Reggie Jackson.

“Our stance is kind of the same,” McDonough said Wednesday. “We’re willing to do a deal whenever the best offer presents. What we’re analyzing now: Are the offers on the board the best offers? Some of them are close. We have to debate that. As you guys know, our preference would be to trade Eric sooner rather than later.”

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