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Co-interim GM: Suns no longer want to rely on youth to produce

Phoenix Suns interim GM James Jones sits during an interview with The Doug & Wolf Show on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station on Feb. 11, 2019. (Arizona Sports/Matt Layman)

Inconsistency. Spotty efforts. Whatever the reason, the Phoenix Suns haven’t been getting results.

Not with their 22-year-old star, Devin Booker, putting up All-Star-caliber numbers. Not with their rookie No. 1 overall pick, Deandre Ayton, still navigating his own natural potential.

“We’re a ways away. Consistency is a problem for us,” said Suns co-interim general manager James Jones during Doug & Wolf’s Newsmakers Week on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

“When we play hard and we compete and we’re flying around, we’re pretty disruptive and we’re pretty good. When we don’t, when we slow the game down and when you force us to read concepts and make plays and react to the game, we struggle mightily.”

In a nutshell, the Suns saw the good and bad of their roster over the last two games.

They hung with the uber-talented Warriors for an entire game, losing Friday by 10 points. On Sunday, an as-youthful Kings squad blew their doors off from the get-go.

Age and inexperience is the root of the problem, according to Jones. He said the team will take a targeted approach in its roster maneuvers this offseason. Though he’s spoken at length about the team’s approach twice since the trade deadline — once on Burns & Gambo and another time in a press conference — Jones had yet to be this specific about how Phoenix will change the narrative:

“I can’t give you a definitive timeline, but I can tell you that our focus right now going forward in free agency and the draft is to add players who will allow us to play and not rely on the production of young guys,” he said, before repeating it.

“We have to add guys that will allow us to play and allow us to win games without relying on the production of extremely young players.”

Mired in a 14-game losing skid, Jones said he and coach Igor Kokoskov speak about pushing the right buttons.

The Suns want to challenge their young players and don’t want them to use their youth as an excuse. But the reality, Jones said, is that the team must reassemble itself around players who aren’t projects.

“It doesn’t work,” he said. “It hasn’t worked in the past and I doubt it’ll work in the future.”

FREE THROWS

On how individual players’ volatility has impacted the team’s play: “For us, we have to be consistent and it’s extremely difficult to be consistent when you’re volatile, emotionally or more importantly with your effort. When you watch our games and you see us have our great runs, you can see as a team, as a collective, we’re locked in, we’re dialed in.

“It starts to go off the rails when we become volatile, when one guy gets lost into his performance or he gets lost into worrying about his stat line or his touches. And we get selfish. Once our team starts to break down and become selfish, we become volatile.”

On whether it is Kokoskov’s job to coach effort: “It is, yeah, it is. You can’t control whether or not they do it all the time but we consistently talk about trying to find those buttons that we need to push, trying to find that right mix of guys that can affect our team with effort and energy consistently.

“At some point it’ll break but we need to be … upfront and hold these guys accountable and make them understand that it’s just not acceptable to step on the floor every night and not bring it.”

On whether he would still take Ayton No. 1 overall in the 2018 draft: “We’re not looking at today. We’re looking at (what) Deandre will become — and I don’t say what he can become, it’s what he will become. We’re in there with him every day. We know he wants to be great. He’s still figuring out just why he’s successful. Some of the things he does, he does naturally. You won’t find a guy with his size, strength, athleticism, touch and feel in this league very often.”

On Josh Jackson’s recent uptick in play: “He’s relentless. Josh is one of those guys that I say doesn’t take possessions off. He competes. If there’s a loose ball, if there’s a turnover, Josh will run it down.

“You’ve seen him steadily get stronger, his endurance has picked up, so he’s playing at a higher pace for longer and he’s wearing teams down. We’re extremely excited about the strides Josh has made, especially over the last few weeks.”

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