Phoenix Suns: Grading James Jones’s Tenure at This Point

Phoenix Suns, James Jones (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, James Jones (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones won the NBA’s executive of the year award for good reason last spring. After engineering Phoenix’s pivot from a team with almost nothing to show for itself over the past 10 year into the promising juggernaut standing before us today, Jones deserved all the praise he attainted last year.

But those who closely follow the Suns know that the Western Conference-winning team Jones assembled took multiple years to groom, contrary his new acquired award’s title. Jones started working with the Suns over four years ago, joining Phoenix’s front office as their Vice President of Basketball Operations in 2017.

Having experienced 14-years as a player prior to that, Jones’s decision to trade in his jersey for a suit and tie came as something well-received by the NBA community. Aside from logging multiple seasons with the Suns beforehand, Jones even ran with LeBron James often during his playing career. Jones even managed to stay by King James’s side as he bounced from the Miami Heat back to the Cleveland Cavaliers, famously making seven straight NBA Finals appearances with him.

It took roughly two years after Jones moved into his vice president role with the Suns though for him to ascend into the general manager position, but nonetheless, Jones has been pulling strings for Phoenix for some time now. So with all those additional years behind his most recent—and most acclaimed one—Jones’s tenure with the Suns carries a lot to unpack.

Phoenix Suns General Manager James Jones has Accomplished a Lot  Already

Starting at the beginning, Jones’s first move as a front office member came via the trade deadline market, as he shipped off Trevor Ariza for Kelly Oubre Jr. during the 2018-19 season. Although the Suns eventually moved on from Oubre Jr., Jones knocked it out of the park with this initial swing. Oubre Jr. enjoyed his two best seasons as a pro while with Phoenix, averaging 17.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting 45.2 percent from the field.

More importantly though, the move helped the Suns get younger—a crucial element that any team looking to rebuild the right way must possess. At the time of this trade, Ariza was 33 years old, while Oubre Jr. was only 23. The exchange illustrated a clear winner, and helped Jones earn notoriety as its orchestrator.

Shortly after that, Jones and Phoenix’s front office again swapped older pieces for much younger, more applicable ones to their team. The Suns sent Ryan Anderson packing for Miami, welcoming Tyler Johnson as payment.

Both Anderson and Johnson were attached to ugly contracts at the time, with cap hits that far outweighed their on-court production. However, the trade still allowed the Suns to take on a younger player. Johnson failed to play all that well with the Suns unlike Oubre Jr., but his contract expired after soon after, no longer allowing him to hurt Phoenix from a financial standpoint.

By that season’s end, Jones was finally handed over the keys to the team, filling out the general manager’s chair. During his first few days, he came through with arguably his best move thus far.

To start off the 2019 offseason, Jones fired former head coach Igor Kokoskov. It looked like an easy decision, given Phoenix’s 19-63 record under him. But the choice to hire Monty Williams as his replacement drew some raised eyebrows and puzzled responses from those around the league.

At the time, Williams had last coached for the the New Orleans Pelicans, putting together a less desirable 173-221 record, and going un-hired at the position once the team let him go following the 2014-15 season.

As we know now though, this move became instrumental to Phoenix’s revitalization over the last year and half. Williams finished second for the NBA’s Coach of the Year Award last season, with many  even believing he whole-heartedly deserved to win it.

For a long time, nobody wanted Monty Williams, but it now seems like everyone is looking for coaches just like him. James Jones jumped ahead of the curve on this one though, and saw Williams’s potential greatness when nobody else did—making this signing his masterpiece.

But with a flurry almost equally excellent moves, Jones kept building—helping to solidify a talented roster behind his newly appointed coach.

While trading back during the 2019 NBA Draft, the Suns acquired Dario Saric, and eventually Cameron Johnson. Both players contributed heavily to Phoenix’s run to the NBA Finals last year, especially Johnson, who averaged 8.2 points per game during the postseason while shooting 44.1 percent from deep.

Jones also traded a future first rounder for Aron Baynes and a pick swap, who played well during the 2019-20 season for Phoenix, but eventually left the team. Baynes departure from Phoenix makes this move for Jones easier to forget than most, but it still holds great importance. With the pick swap, this deal allowed the Suns to select Ty Jerome with the 24th overall pick. Jerome rarely played for the Suns, but became a valuable component to the Chris Paul trade a year later.

After the draft, the Suns also signed veteran point guard Ricky Rubio. By inking a deal with Rubio, Jones gave Devin Booker a point guard that truly complimented his game for the first time in his career, helping the Suns grow as team and become more immediately competitive. With the Suns, Rubio averaged 13.0 points and 8.8 assists per game, largely supporting the Suns during their incredible “bubble” run which established the team’s winning ways.

A few months later though, the Paul exchange took place. Jones’s assertiveness to inquire about and eventually reel in CP3 also accompanies the Monty Williams hiring as one of Jones’s “greatest hits.” He recognized that the Suns finally stood ready to contend, and courageously started moving things around to capitalize on it.

Although his near-MVP play on the court made this move an obvious win for Jones and the Suns, it was Paul’s leadership and focus that really helped him click with Phoenix, as he helped eventual stars Booker and Deandre Ayton fully grow into themselves. For how Paul elevated the team, this move goes down as arguably the greatest trade ever carried out in Phoenix Suns history (sorry Charles Barkley).

Jones’s strong pursuit to re-sign Paul this summer only proved this to a further extent. He managed to re-sign Cameron Payne as well, who came as real “diamond in the rough” addition for Phoenix during the “bubble” run, and another positive notch on Jones’s resume.

With all this wrapped up and with ribbon tied around it, the Suns now look ready to compete not only for a title this coming year, but for the several soon to come.

For this reason, James Jones deserves and A+ thus far as Phoenix’s general manager. You simply cannot point to anyone who has done a better job than Jones at running an NBA team over the last few years, especially once considering where he started.

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With a recent NBA Finals loss though, it seems like Suns still need to take a few more steps before taking home their first ever Larry O’Brien trophy. But Jones makes that goal look very attainable. Stay confident Phoenix fans, you got good one calling the shots.