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Dan Bickley

When is Suns GM James Jones going to take his big swing?

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)

James Jones has three championship rings. He made the playoffs in 12 of his 13 NBA seasons. He never endured a losing season. You think he’d know what a good team looks like.

So when is our payoff? When is our reward?

The question swirls with the fast-approaching NBA trade deadline. Jones is reportedly in trade negotiations for Detroit’s Luke Kennard, a sharpshooter with bad knees, yet another baby step, a deck chair on a cruise ship.

Jones’ track record as a player commands respect and patience. His track record as general manager of the Suns is not nearly as impressive. He’s had good maneuvers (Monty Williams), happy accidents (Kelly Oubre) and daffy doings (T.J. Warren). He doesn’t sweat the small stuff, but he doesn’t maximize assets, either. He’s not great at forecaster, either, acquiring Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes after they logged heavy summer minutes in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

To be fair, the progress on Planet Orange is undeniable. The organization has worked diligently to grow Deandre Ayton, and it’s working, even if the results are slow and erratic. They posted 20 wins by the end of January, more than all of last season. His preference for established veterans over draft picks is a refreshing change in philosophy. And I’m sure they all believe free agents will flood the Valley once an off-site practice facility is completed.

It’s far too plodding for my tastes, especially for a franchise threatening to go a full decade without a playoff berth. Now is the time for a bold stroke. A major acquisition. A heavy financial risk. The kind of move that seems to bring this franchise to its knees in fear.

So what exactly is Jones’ plan? When is it feasible to expect a championship banner and not just a competitive team?

If Jones is waiting for Ayton to become a superstar under the tutelage of Williams, well, that’s clearly going to take a while. Ayton is nowhere near Luka Doncic, Ja Morant or Trae Young. He’s a tantalizing prospect but a mistake for the No. 1 overall pick. And the Doomsday Clock is ticking.

After his All-Star snub, Devin Booker spoke in haunting terms. He sounded like he was falling out of love with basketball, at least when it comes to his NBA experience in Phoenix. And if you think that’s hyperbole, here’s the direct quote:

“It just reproves the point that the NBA is different than the game that I fell in love with at the beginning — of all the best players in the All-Star game — growing up watching that. And now it’s an entertainment-, drama-, political-filled league.”

Booker’s frustration is growing. You can see it on his face during Monday’s loss in Brooklyn, when he almost threw the ball into the stands out of anger. And on Tuesday, he was asked by the media what he would do to change the All-Star system.

His response was shockingly curt:

“I’m not speaking on that situation anymore,” Booker said.

Will the addition of Kennard suddenly make the Suns a playoff contender, in a year when the Western Conference is more vulnerable than it has been in years? Is it going to pacify Booker?

Meanwhile, the Timberwolves are attempting to move metaphoric mountains in order to acquire D’Angelo Russell, just so they can brighten the mood of their disgruntled star, Karl-Anthony Towns?

The contrast in urgency is striking. And appalling.

Maybe Booker is a true stoic, hardcore to his soul, unyielding in his commitment to Phoenix. Maybe that makes him more of a star than Towns will ever be. But on the surface, it appears Minnesota is far more concerned about the mindset of their franchise player than Jones is about Booker. And judging by Booker’s recent comments, I’d be more than a bit concerned.

After all, Russell has been on the trade market twice in the past seven months. He might not be a great fit, but he would certainly be an upgrade in talent. He’s also one of Booker’s closest friends, in a league where chemistry means everything.

So why is Jones so apprehensive? Especially when the pairing of Russell and Booker would give the Suns an inside track on Towns, thus completing the next NBA super team in the making?

You might not prefer that particular trio. It’s not exactly Garnett-Pierce-Allen. Or Curry-Thompson-Green, for that matter.

But it’s better than what we have now. It’s better than a team breaking down physically and emotionally, with no real bench, with a waning commitment on defense and teamwork.

And it’s a lot better than missing the playoffs for 10 years running.

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


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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