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ESPN’s Windhorst: Executive James Jones key to Suns coaching search

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: Brian Windhorst, ESPN NBA Insider

A hire almost nine months ago could be the key to the Phoenix Suns attracting and then hiring their next head coach.

In July of 2017, the Suns held a press conference announcing a contract extension for general manager Ryan McDonough. It also served as an introduction to James Jones, who retired and immediately took the vice president of basketball operations job in Phoenix.

Jones’ goal: He would oversee everything from player development to the front office decision-making with 14 NBA seasons and three NBA titles as a unique perspective to draw from.

But to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who visited the Bickley & Marotta show on Tuesday, Jones’ presence is also about changing the perspective from the outside looking in.

“The Suns’ ownership has a terrible reputation. That’s just the truth,” Windhorst said on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “James Jones is immensely respected in the league, and James Jones is going to be an important recruiter when it comes to the coach. That coach, whoever he is, is going to talk to James and say, ‘James why did you take this job? What are you going to do so this is different?'”

They’ll ask Jones because he developed quite the reputation as a player.

He began his career as a second-round pick, who in the waning years of Reggie Miller’s career became a shooting specialist for the Indiana Pacers. He then joined the Suns and played his best basketball of his career from 2005-07 on the Steve Nash-led team.

From 2010-2017, Jones played out the rest of his career by teaming with LeBron James and winning three titles between stints in Miami and Cleveland.

When he decided to finally retire, Jones joined Phoenix in a newly-created position where he was tasked with smoothing out the structure of the team from a big picture perspective.

“I want to win a championship as a member of the Phoenix Suns in some capacity,” Jones told Doug & Wolf in February. “That was the draw for me. Pretty much, energizes me every day. For me, (job) titles don’t mean anything to me. The only title that matters is an NBA title.”

According to McDonough, the Suns are willing to spend to hire the right coach after a failure the last time around — they named then-assistant Earl Watson their permanent coach before the 2016-17 season without formally interviewing other candidates. The pressure is on with a rebuild looking questionable and a playoff drought reaching eight seasons, all despite the promise of 21-year-old rising star Devin Booker.

Working alongside McDonough, Jones will likely be a sounding board for head coaches wary over the Suns’ future that, with a win over Dallas on Tuesday, doesn’t look promising after 21 victories this season.

“James is going to be extremely important, and frankly, they’re going to probably get more people to sit down and listen to them because of James than if they didn’t have him,” Windhorst said. “That gives them a fighting chance with some of the candidates.”

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