EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns co-interim GM James Jones says team is focusing less on NBA Draft

Dec 6, 2018, 4:50 PM | Updated: 5:48 pm
(Matt Layman/Arizona Sports)...
(Matt Layman/Arizona Sports)
(Matt Layman/Arizona Sports)

The Phoenix Suns are 4-20. Entering Thursday’s action, that is the worst record in the NBA.

If the Suns end the season in that position, they will be guaranteed a top-5 selection in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Either way, the team is in a position where a high-end lottery pick is the most likely outcome.

They are off to the worst start in franchise history, so if anything should be a priority for the front office right now, it’s evaluating the potential prospects in the upcoming draft.

Vice president of basketball operations and co-interim general manager James Jones, though, says that’s not the case.

“Yeah, we have to worry about what happens in the draft but our primary focus is on this team currently and what we can do,” he told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo on Wednesday. “We have a bunch of young players in this draft. We’ve been deep in the draft, we’ve drafted a lot of players over the years and our focus has shifted more to development of these players and looking at NBA players that we possibly can add to this team.”

The question has to be asked if this is due to a lack of staffing for Jones and the front office as a whole.

As Arizona Sports’ Kevin Zimmerman noted Tuesday, the Suns cleaned house when former general manager Ryan McDonough was fired nine days before the start of the season.

Assistant GM Pat Connelly, director of scouting Courtney Witte, director of international scouting Emilio Kovacic and Northern Arizona Suns GM Louis Lehman were all fired, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

There has been no word from the Suns as to the filling of those positions, and their staff directory has only two people with the word “scout” in their titles: Jason Hervey, an advance scout, and John Shumate, a scout. They held those same positions a year ago when the Suns also had Witte and Kovacic employed.

On top of that, McDonough’s background from his decade with the Boston Celtics was in scouting and Connelly also specialized in similar departments.

Jones was hired in July of 2017, his first front office job in the NBA and his partner co-interim general manager Trevor Bukstein is known for his expertise with the collective bargaining agreement and salary management.

“We shifted focus,” Jones said. “I think in the past our primary focus — a great amount of our time was spent turning over every stone as it relates to players and college players, but college players don’t win NBA games. NBA players do, so that’s where our focus is now.”

Jones’ mentality makes sense, but the bottom line is one his most valuable assets is that the upcoming first-round pick, along with Milwaukee’s protected first-round pick.

That mentality reflects a front office that wants to improve the team in-season, and Jones highlighted the date free agents signed this past offseason become eligible to be traded as the real beginning of trade talks.

“December 15 is approaching,” he said, noting it’s the plan of the front office to improve the team around that date. “That’s when the league opens for business and like we’ve always done, we’ll explore every option to try and improve our team.”

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