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Suns VP of basketball ops James Jones sees a fluid timeline

Phoenix Suns vice president of basketball operations James Jones does an interview with The Doug & Wolf Show on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (Matt Layman/Arizona Sports)
LISTEN: James Jones, Suns VP of Basketball Operations

By 2020, the Phoenix Suns hope they’ll be in playoff contention. That goal set by owner Robert Sarver was about targeting that 2020 free agent class to spend.

It doesn’t mean the team won’t pursue free agents prior to the 2020 season. Guard Devin Booker’s continual improvement has a lot to do with it, and because of it, the front office has pulled back from discussing extreme patience.

“It’s not set in stone. It’s more of a — I want to say more of a plan, and plans change,” Suns vice president of basketball operations James Jones told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “Right now, the timeline for us is, ‘When can we win? How fast? And what are our options?’

“Everything’s on the table from the way we strategize, the way we plan, the way we view the game analytically from a player standpoint, from a talent standpoint. What can we do to speed it up?”

Related: TNT analysts rip Suns’ reaction to Warriors’ player-run huddles

This season, the Suns (18-40) have lost 11 of their last 12 and seem ready to crumble. A handful of games missed by Booker has partially led to the slide, but even if he returns, one of the most difficult post-All-Star break schedules in the NBA awaits them.

Phoenix looks primed to be among the worst teams. After they select — likely very high — in the 2018 NBA Draft lottery, the patience from its fans is expected to near its end.

The Suns already have lottery picks like Booker, T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender in the fold. Add one more piece, and it’s time to make a push.

James admits Phoenix will look at outside options to improve, but the fact is the future is hinging on the development of the players at hand.

Even Sarver, speaking with 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo last October, said two of the Suns’ lottery picks must become All-Stars for the team’s plan to take form.

“You have to win. We’re a ways away, but it can turn overnight,” Jones said Wednesday. “It’s really about when it clicks for players. There’s really no road map, you can’t predict it. Artificial deadlines don’t really help. You wake up one day and it changes.”

Heading into a Wednesday night pre-All-Star finale against the Utah Jazz, Jackson has scored in double-figures in five of the six games so far in February. Bender has four of his 11 double-figure scoring games this season in six February games as well.

Combine that with Booker’s ascension into an All-Star caliber talent, and the timeline toward contention continues to adjust.

At some point, though, the current young players have to take steps forward as a group.

“When you stack those types of developments together, day in, day out, week over week, month over month, you look up one day and you watch the NBA kind of like implode, where free agents leave and guys get hurt and coaches leave, you look up and you’re the last one standing,” Jones said. “You have to grow internally.”

QUOTABLE

On if he can recruit LeBron James to Phoenix in free agency: “I mean, I think he’s coming in next time to play us. I do understand … all those players that people would want here, when they recognize a winner and they become free agents, it’s a reality. Right now, we have to get to this level.”

On why he joined the Suns: “I want to win a championship as a member of the Phoenix Suns in some capacity. That was the draw for me. Pretty much, energizes me every day. For me, titles don’t mean anything to me. The only title that matters is an NBA title.”

On Bender: “He has a tremendous feel for the game. I think his versatility allows him to have an advantage. He’s young. You can’t forget that when you’re talking to these guys because a lot of the situations they’re seeing, they’re seeing it for the first time. You mistake it for a lack of desire, and a lot of times, it’s a lack of knowledge.”

On Chriss: “He struggled. Early in the year, he wasn’t in prime condition. If you’re a step slow, that sets you back tremendously. It’s on him and he understands that.”

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