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Dan Bickley

In Chandler buyout, Suns’ James Jones may be thinking in grandiose terms

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) points to a teammate after a basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Suns have three victories in 14 games. Their rare triumphs spawn absurd optimism. That’s how badly we want to believe.

But something might’ve changed in the past six quarters.

The Suns outscored the Thunder and Spurs 177-150 in that span. Deandre Ayton posterized an opponent, rolling hard to the basket, admitting he was tired of hearing about his passivity. Devin Booker called out his team and then fed his team, posting a career-high in assists against the Spurs.

Somewhere in between, the team’s interim general manager did a strange thing.

He bought out Tyson Chandler’s contract less than one month into the season, allowing him to join the struggling Lakers. He did so reportedly at the behest of his good friend, LeBron James. Too many anonymous voices confirm this scenario, implying that James has done more for our bitter rivals than whatever he’s accomplished in Phoenix.

And yet:

To date, Jones’ only import is 38-year old Jamal Crawford. But in the past six quarters, the veteran scorer has emerged as positive force off the bench, providing a glimmer of hope that Jones might have the kind of team-building skills Ryan McDonough never possessed.

It’s clear that Ryan Anderson won’t be playing basketball here much longer. Trevor Ariza is rumored to be heading back to the Rockets. Mikal Bridges only gets better with playing time. And Josh Jackson just made a cameo appearance.

And what of that favor Jones might’ve done for James instead of attempting to peddle Chandler at the trade deadline? Does it get him in the fast lane with Kevin Durant, a private audience with a much-maligned superstar who is a free agent after the season?

Scoff all you want, but Jones better be thinking in grandiose terms. Why else would he do “a solid” for James at this point of the season? Why else is Jones a better option than McDonough going forward, especially when there’s still no real point guard in Phoenix?

Durant is clearly a source of friction in Golden State. It could be that teammates sense he’ll join James in Los Angeles before the start of next season, prematurely committing to an enemy and not their cause. James must be up to something, an icon who will not play out the string without another championship run, having already lost out on Paul George and Kawhi Leonard (for now).

But it’s also clear that Durant is less than comfortable with his NBA legacy. He left Oklahoma City for a Golden State team coming off a 73-win season. If he jumps next to the coattail of James, his perception problem only gets worse.

That leaves New York, a rumored frontrunner. Or possibly Phoenix.

Durant has spoken fondly of the Valley as a destination city. He bonded with Booker during their summer exploits with Team USA. Leading Phoenix to their first NBA championship in over 50 years isn’t a bad alternative to resuscitating the Knicks. And if Jones is capable of serving as full-time general manager, he should be capable of winning this game.

Until then, the Suns have much smaller goals. They need to find the right rotation, the right energy and the right motivation, the kind that doesn’t flow from a head coach. They need Booker to unleash his ruthless nature on teammates as well as defenders, just like Michael Jordan once did.

Those in uniform can surrender to a toxic culture. Or they can refuse to be victims, the true defenders of our legacy. And somewhere along the way, maybe Jones will pull an ace out of his sleeve, proving he’s more than just another bad idea.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier