Phoenix Suns: James Jones’ win-now move could prove a nightmare

Phoenix Suns Robert Sarver (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns Robert Sarver (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones has done a terrific job building a championship contender in recent seasons, but that hasn’t left his track record completely unblemished.

James Jones’ decision to trade Jalen Smith for Torrey Craig could prove a nightmare for the Phoenix Suns across the next few seasons.

After initially drafting Smith with the tenth overall pick in the 2020 draft, Jones had seen enough of the big man less than two years into his Suns career. Playing behind the likes of Deandre Ayton, Javale McGee and Bismack Biyombo, Jones sought to balance the roster by adding another wing. He achieved that in a win-now move that saw Smith and a second-round pick head to the Indiana Pacers for Torrey Craig.

Craig had played a minor but impactful role for Phoenix in their 2021 playoff run, averaging 12 minutes per game as the franchise came awfully close to a maiden NBA championship. He then left for Indiana in free agency, before the Suns re-acquired him in the Smith trade.

While Craig did offer some production during the regular season, his offensive liabilities and a slight injury resulted in him playing less than eight minutes per game during the 2022 playoffs. It was a move that failed to pay immediate dividends, particularly when it doubled as an admission that drafting Smith was a mistake in the first place.

Phoenix Suns, Trade Deadline
Jalen Smith and Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images) /

On the other hand, Smith showed some promising signs in a re-building Pacers lineup towards the end of last season. He averaged 13.4 points and 7.6 rebounds in 24.7 minutes, earning the opportunity to demonstrate some of the potential that warranted a top ten pick.

The major issue is now looking ahead to this season, one where Smith could have genuinely been a part of the Suns rotation. There was clearly capacity to use him as an effective pick-and-roll partner for Chris Paul, providing an upgrade on Biyombo and lessening the need of a trade for Jock Landale.

Meanwhile, there’s a good chance Craig averages less than 15 minutes per game depending on injuries and a resolution to the Jae Crowder situation. Phoenix went and signed a similar type in Josh Okogie during free agency, putting Craig’s role further in doubt depending on Okogie’s return from a slight hamstring issue.

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The entire Smith process appears destined to be the stain of the Jones era as general manager, with the chance that it gets exponentially worse as the years progress. Sometimes trusting your original judgement is worth the patience, particularly when the trade return is someone who was never going to be a major difference-maker to the team’s title hopes.