James Jones’ expert execution as GM of Suns earns him well-deserved extension
It really wasn’t that long ago when Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones was creating some cause for trepidation at the start of his tenure.
That angst for some, which we will hit on in a minute, sure looks stupid in hindsight.
Jones was given a well-deserved contract extension on Tuesday after earning Executive of the Year last season and executing a radical transformation of Phoenix the last two-plus years.
The makeover Jones has given, turning the Suns into a premium destination for players and a contender, has resulted in him not only creating an identity for the organization but forming one for himself as an executive.
What became clear less than a year in is that Jones wanted his types of players. Unselfish, smart, balanced, experienced, tough and most importantly, hard-working. Or, in just one word, winners.
For all the work he and head coach Monty Williams have done in establishing a culture, it would never have been possible without the right group. Jones brought in the majority of those players, not to mention Williams himself.
Because of this, the Suns are a “work team,” what they commonly refer to themselves as. The gym has a different tone to it than most across the league. Everyone in there is ready to do their daily part in getting better so, by default, the team does too.
This is how you generate a reputation of becoming winners, by establishing winning habits. It’s not like this is a unique concept, one many front offices have tried and failed, but Jones knew the kind of people he needed around to achieve this.
It’s no surprise he was the perfect person to do that after Jones’ nickname in the veteran stages of his playing career was “Champ.” The nickname was bestowed to Jones by LeBron James and company for Jones’ consistent, professional presence and work rate, the true conduct of a champion. He’s got three of ’em to prove it and it’s a sign of respect he’s more than earned.
Williams and Chris Paul join Jones as the 1B and 1C to usher in that type of attitude and set a precedent for what’s tolerated when you’re a member of the Suns.
The hard part is over. That mission has been accomplished.
The product of this is an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball that’s just as selfless as it is relentless. There’s a reason you see quotes every couple of months from All-Stars like Damian Lillard and Rudy Gobert gushing about the way the Suns get after it. It’s the style of play everyone wants to be a part of and the way the sport is meant to be played.
To go back to where we started, this came at a cost during Jones’ first offseason of moves in 2019.
He traded T.J. Warren and a pick to Indiana for just cash in order to clear up enough room to “overpay” Ricky Rubio. To get Josh Jackson out of Phoenix, he attached a showing-signs-after-his-rookie-year De’Anthony Melton (that is now a crucial piece for the Memphis Grizzlies) and two second-round picks to Jackson for Memphis to send back salary filler (Kyle Korver) and Jevon Carter.
He dealt a 2020 late first-round pick that became Desmond Bane (whoops!) to get a year of Aron Baynes and a late 2019 first-round pick spent on Ty Jerome (whoops!), taking advantage of Boston’s cap situation and letting free agent Richaun Holmes walk in the process. He traded back from Nos. 6 to 11 in that 2019 draft to scoop up a one-year-from-RFA Dario Saric and selected Cam Johnson (not whoops!).
All of those are moves that displayed a clear net loss in value and would go on to receive the worst of the trade grades, deservedly so at that time.
Does that matter now? Of course not! Jones knew what he was doing!
Now, Jones is not batting 1.000. Reaching 10-15 spots worked with Johnson. It did not work with Jalen Smith. Let’s wait and see how this Deandre Ayton situation unfolds. Landry Shamet is struggling.
But just as those types of criticisms begin to float to the surface, they get drowned out by reaching for Johnson in what looks to be a bad draft class, the Paul trade, getting Torrey Craig for nothing, revitalizing Cam Payne, signing Jae Crowder, bringing in Bismack Biyombo and on and on. There are undoubtedly more Ws than Ls on the transaction score sheet.
Beyond that take, though, was the real-time realization we saw the latest organizational overhaul in the summer of 2019 and it was exciting to at least see a sense of purpose behind it. The question I ended with was how high it would take them.
Boy, we’re already in the clouds we never could have imagined reaching, huh? An NBA Finals appearance and potentially more coming in the future. Crucially, there is a foundation and ecosystem in place that Jones forged for the Suns to continue this success well beyond the first couple of years.