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Report: Suns ‘leaning toward’ making James Jones new GM

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)

Led by the decision-making of owner Robert Sarver, the Phoenix Suns are “leaning toward the eventual hiring” of James Jones to replace fired general manager Ryan McDonough, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Sources from across the league have told Wojnarowski that Sarver has left “little, if any, doubt” that Jones will be leading the Suns beyond his interim appointment.

Jones currently holds the position of vice president of basketball operations. He and assistant GM Trevor Bukstein took on duties vacated by McDonough on an interim basis following McDonough’s firing Monday.

The report of Sarver’s pending decision comes just a day after the owner said the team would take the year to evaluate general manager candidates inside and outside the organization.

“Over the course of the season, we will explore both internal and external options as we look to restructure our basketball front office leadership,” read the owner’s statement that announced the news of McDonough’s firing.

Sarver also told Burns & Gambo on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station on Monday that he was not going to rush a new hire.

Wojnarowski reports that it was Jones who on Monday fired McDonough-hired executives Pat Connelly, an assistant GM. Director of scouting Courtney Witte, director of international scouting Emilio Kovacic and G League GM Louis Lehman were also let go by Jones, who was already working on hiring new staffers.

Jones was hired by the Suns on July 19, 2017, when the team also extended McDonough’s contract through the 2019-20 season.

Jones also played for the Suns from 2005-07.

Having won three titles and gone to the NBA Finals seven years in a row as a teammate of LeBron James with Miami and Cleveland from 2011-17, Jones brings extensive salary cap knowledge having helped the league’s players’ association negotiate the current collective bargaining agreement as the NBPA treasurer.

“(Jones) has overseen a multiple number of improvements we’ve put in our basketball operations, including his involvement in hiring Coach Kokoskov, the further build-out of our training staff, advancement in some of our analysts,” Sarver told Burns & Gambo on Monday. “He’s really done a tremendous job.”

Two years removed from his 14-year NBA playing career, Jones was brought on to improve relations between the front office and Phoenix’s players after notable disagreements with past players such as Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris, all of whom left following public signs of unhappiness with the organization.

Jones will be charged with turning that narrative around despite the team’s reputation for Sarver meddling in decision-making.

Wojnarowski reported that Sarver’s involvement in the team’s operations have been “harder for coaches and front office staff to manage in the past two years,” citing beratings, demands for on-court changes and Sarver’s involvement in trade calls.

Rival executives could sometimes hear Sarver yelling in the background on negotiation calls with the Suns’ front office.

On Burns & Gambo, Sarver dispelled the perception of his involvement in the team’s day-to-day decisions on Monday.

“The reality is my job is to set out some goals for the people who work for me and to try to hold them accountable and to encourage them. I’m not in the office making day-to-day decisions,” the owner said. “I’m not in the office drawing up plays or deciding who we’re going to draft and things like that. I guess it’s the perception out there and as I talk to people on an individual basis, I guess I have to explain how I envision things working.

“I would say probably some of (the perception) was deserved at some point in time, but I think that’s something coaches and GMs like to put at the fault of owners in many cases,” Sarver said. “At the end of the day, when you own a business and you run a business, you’re responsible for it. That’s kind of just what it comes down to. In terms of, am I a micro-manager? No. Am I involved in what’s going on? Yeah. Do I try to figure out if I can add the proper resources and the right tools in place for the people who work for me to be successful? Yes.”

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