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Suns’ NBA Draft day could be salvaged with big free agent move

Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones speaks to the media regarding the firing of Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov, Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Suns are coming off one of their worst seasons in 51 years. Our reward for their 19-win wretchedness is Cam Johnson.

Pfffft. Who? Reach. Yuck.

No NBA team has subjected its fans to such misery for so little in return since the Pistons drafted Darko Milicic with the second overall pick. And if this is indicative of the James Jones Era, then maybe Robert Sarver needs to return to his meddling ways.

Or as NBA aficionado Bill Simmons said on Twitter:

“Can someone drive the Suns home? We had to take their car keys. Thanks.”

Of course, Jones’ first draft is incomplete. I will be the first to issue a lengthy mea culpa if his newly-acquired salary cap space is used to shock the world, validating the day he gave away Tony Buckets, passed on Coby White and selected a specialist with the No. 11 pick, even though Devin Booker, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo were all selected with later picks.

Cam Johnson?

Once upon a time, the Suns had a 14 percent chance to land Zion Williamson, who may be the most impactful rookie since LeBron James. They ended up with a questionable power forward in a trade and a college player you never noticed. In sum, two names you never considered.

Our sense of anticipation was not validated. It was obliterated.

Redemption can happen, but only if Jones lures a marquee free-agent to Phoenix with all that cash he’s accumulated, someone like Kyrie Irving, D’Angelo Russell or Malcolm Brogdon. All of Jones’ actions speak to a man who knows his big moment is still coming, a man stocking up on bit parts in advance of his master stroke.

Or maybe we’re just hoping against hope, squinting through binoculars for silver linings and pots of gold.

I’m also one of the few Valley basketball fans who was inspired by his new power forward, Dario Saric. He’s 25, can stretch the floor and is one year removed from being one of most talented young big men in the NBA. But he digressed as soon as he was traded from Philadelphia to Minnesota. No telling how he’ll feel or fit in Phoenix.

But their peddling of T.J. Warren was mystifying, especially for a player who showed great offensive growth in the past season, at least when healthy. Jones had to attach the No. 32 pick in the draft just to shed Warren’s $10.8 million salary, and that’s highly unusual.

All of this will be understandable and worthy of praise if Jones delivers a free-agent splash; if he needed to amass a large pool of money right now, even if it meant getting little in return for Warren. But at the moment, there’s a lot of anxiety on Planet Orange.

According to reports, the team wanted no part of Darius Garland. Such conviction seemed ludicrous for such a talented, coveted player. Garland has had injury issues. But so did Johnson, a player who underwent two surgeries in college, a player rated much lower on most draft boards.

There are reports the team is still not interested in Russell, an opinion that infuriates most Suns fans and surely doesn’t sit well with one of his best friends, Devin Booker. And for the second-worst team in the NBA, the Suns had a dreadful night at the draft.

They still need a point guard. They reached for Johnson, a player with one elite skill, over a freakish hometown athlete like Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke. They send shockwaves through a fan base that desperately wants to believe in the new management structure.

There is a chance Jones knows what he’s doing, eschewing the traditional route of flooding gyms with scouts and turning your back on high-ceiling prospects who are destined to disappoint.

All I know is there better be a big fish at the end of his line, happily on the hook, waiting to be reeled in when the NBA calendar allows.

Otherwise, meet the new Suns. Same as the old Suns.

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

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