Marc J. Spears: The Suns say Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Jeff Bower is moving on from the organization. Bower joined the Suns in April 2019 when James Jones was officially named general manager, and assisted Jones and Managing Partner Robert Sarver in the team’s transition.
JD Shaw: Full voting results for Executive of the Year, which was won by the Suns’ James Jones: pic.twitter.com/9MThciRJlM
Ohm Youngmisuk: James Jones receives Executive of the Year award before a huge ovation pic.twitter.com/8hD1EDZUZH
Jones, however, is reticent to take any credit during the boom times, particularly after experiencing the criticism that came earlier in his tenure. “I know how the pendulum swings,” Jones says. “You make a decision, you’re the best ever. You make a decision, you’re the worst ever. But the people outside don’t determine how successful we are. I’m big on our people, they determine our future. As long as they trust and believe what we’re doing, I’m good.”
As for how he gets the right people—like the veterans who’ve enhanced Phoenix’s core stars this season—in the door, Jones says he doesn’t have to put on his salesman hat. “When people looked at us, we weren’t trying to sell them on anything. Not saying we will compete at some point or if you give us time. No, rather than sell you, we’re telling you that we’re competing.”
The floor raisers, the guys Jones brought in to make Phoenix a serious organization again, also shined. Cam Payne helped keep the team afloat after Paul hurt his shoulder, and then pumped up the crowd after he was ejected. Crowder took the defensive assignment against James. Saric had a huge block on Kyle Kuzma. And Johnson hit two threes off the bench. “James Jones, wherever you are, take a bow,” ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy exclaimed during the Game 1 broadcast. “You’ve surrounded your star players with what they need.”
"Seriously, I'm looking forward to it. And I'm not even playing. ... It's the type of stuff you talk about for years to come. Because I plan on being in this industry for a long time, and I know he does too." If his early returns on the job are any indication, he will be. Jones took over a Suns team that went 21-61 in 2017-18, earning them the No. 1 pick.
Despite team owner Robert Sarver's reputation being spotty at best, Jones, who played with Phoenix from 2005 to 2007, relished the opportunity to be elevated to the position and saw a different side to Sarver. "I was a finance major in college, banking would have been my path," Jones said. "And Robert was a banker and a guy who knew finance. So there was a baseline interest on my part to understand what he did and understand who he is."
Gerald Bourguet: Devin Booker praised James Jones for the "deep" roster he put together. Even with the shortened training camp, he's noticed that depth and help he's had despite the injuries
Free agency and the draft will be a different creature, having to deal with the pandemic. But first James gives his overall reaction to the results of the lottery and how he approached the night going into the draft. “Our approach to the draft hasn't changed, going into the night we expected to get the 10th pick and we ended up with the 10th pick,” Jones said. “It would have been good to move up in the lottery, but given where we are, we will be able to find a really good player at 10. Someone that can add to this team’s capacity and help us continue our strides forward.”
With mock drafts flowing like the wind and every player dissected, the spot at #10 can really go a lot of ways. For James, he takes things as they come and looks to trust his process in finding the right fit. “Controlling what we can control right now.” James continues. “We had to just rely on what we see. We have to go back to the game film and we watched a lot of it to kind of parse out what these guys can bring to our team and what they can add to our team. I’m confident as we get closer to the draft, there will be ways for us as an organization or teams as a whole to get closer to the players. It may not be draft workouts, but watching individual workouts. Chopping down most recent game footage. It will be a challenge and you'll just have to rely on what you see and worry less about what you project a guy will be able to do.”
What preconceived notions did you have about Robert Sarver and what has it been like getting to know him? Jones: Like it or not, right or wrong, Robert’s direct and that’s the way I was raised. That’s the way I operate. And so I didn’t have any preconceived notions because I knew exactly who he was and exactly what he was about. So when he asked me to entertain coming and working for Phoenix, it wasn’t Robert or fear of Robert or fear of the situation as much as it was the timing and location right for my family. Because I knew what I was getting in. He’s passionate. He’s direct. And more importantly when you get to know him, he’s a really good guy. He wants to succeed. Sometimes so much so he believes he wants it more than you do.
Williams: For me, it was like, he didn’t lie. When we had direct conversations about our past, not one time did he buckle. He told me straight up like whatever it was, and I did the same. And I felt this somewhat of a kinship. As an African American, I know that I’m not going to be afforded a ton of opportunities to be a head coach. And for me it was like, I can’t mess this up. And I felt he felt the same way and we basically expressed that to each other. … He wasn’t trying to be rude. He just told me like straight up, we both have regrets about some things we have done in our past. For me, I can vibe with a cat like that.
You two are now the only black GM-coach duo in the league. What are your thoughts on that? Jones: For me, I know that I’m a role model and I’m blessed to be in this position. And I know that a lot of people look at my opportunity and my success as kind of a light, a positive sign that there is a lot of balance and diversity at every level in the NBA. Not just coaches and players, but also to management. So I’m prideful. I have a lot of pride in the fact that I have accomplished it, but I really don’t think about it much. I think about the team and our unique situation more than the global perspective.
Duane Rankin: What I'm noticing about this is that Monty Williams and James Jones are going to be joined at the hip on this rebuilding. Williams has repeatedly mentioned Jones in terms of what #Suns will do.
Gerald Bourguet: James Jones on what Bower has brought to the Suns so far: "He's done a lot of work with rebuilding franchises....his perspective and his views on what really changes a culture, what really impacts a player's mentality"
Gerald Bourguet: Jones on the next head coach: We want a leader, someone that will challenge them, someone that will force them to thrive in a competitive environment. Wants the players to earn the right to wear that Suns jersey
James Jones was recently named general manager after holding the interim tag this year, and sources around the league haven’t exactly been impressed by the Suns’ scouting presence. Communication within the organization has also come under scrutiny.
Gina Mizell: Official: #Suns promote James Jones to general manager, hire Jeff Bower as senior VP of basketball operations and retain cap guru Trevor Bukstein as assistant GM. Bower and Bukstein will report to Jones. pic.twitter.com/l3dflgvrWO
The Phoenix Suns are expected to hire former Hornets and Pistons executive Jeff Bower to a long-term deal as the team’s senior vice president of basketball operations in the next 24-48 hours, reports 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s John Gambadoro. Bower will come to the Suns with 11 years of experience as a general manager, most recently with Detroit.
Bower’s hiring would not mean the end of the road in Phoenix for interim GM James Jones. Jones was part of the interview process. So too was Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Jones and former assistant general manager Trevor Bukstein led the Suns’ front office this season as co-interim GMs after Phoenix owner Robert Sarver fired GM Ryan McDonough on Oct. 8, 2018, nine days before the 2018-19 regular season started.
Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver has become focused on the candidacy of former Detroit and New Orleans GM Jeff Bower to assume a high-ranking front office role with the Suns, league sources tell ESPN. Sarver has begun to inform other serious candidates that he's retreating from them and toward a hiring that could be complete early next week, league sources tell ESPN.
Sarver has discussed with prospective job candidates a senior advising role that will allow interim GM James Jones to continue in a lead front office capacity with decision-making power, league sources said. Jones had sat in on interviews, along with Arizona Cardinals All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald, league sources said.
Marc Stein: In the early stages of the Suns' GM search, Phoenix has spoken to TNT's Kevin McHale (former Wolves GM & coach + former Rockets coach) and likewise has interest in Bulls consultant Jim Paxson (former Cavs GM), league sources say
Former Suns GM Ryan McDonough on the goats anecdote: “I feel bad for (Suns owner) Robert (Sarver) with how that part of the story at least is being portrayed. It was funny. It was a funny thing. He thought it was funny. I thought it was funny. Everybody who was in the building that day thought it was funny… It was not malicious. It was not mean spirited. It was a fraternity house prank and everybody in the building had a good laugh when it happened.”
Now, that’s a direct blast at Jones and the Suns. So, the usually calm and reserved Jones went right back at Wojnarowski during a radio interview. “I don’t talk to Woj,” Jones said. “He doesn’t know what goes on inside the building. That’s his opinion, but it’s totally inaccurate. We do have 10-plus scouts and our guys were on the road this week. Kentucky. Virginia. Murray State. Carolina. ACC schools. (Pac-12) schools. We’ve placed a major emphasis on practices, on video scouting, live game scouting, because this a very important draft.”
Sarver says the Suns will soon begin a search for his next head of basketball operations. The team of James Jones and Trevor Bukstein, who assumed the role of interim co-general managers last October, will be among the candidates. "We will cast a net around some highly capable and experienced people who can help our organization move forward," Sarver says.
One longtime former player remembers the owner barging into the locker room following a loss to officiously instruct big men on how to set better screens. A former assistant coach was floored when Sarver confronted his boss on the way from the court to the coaches' office immediately after the buzzer to berate him on his substitution patterns. Another former coach was taken aback when Sarver marched into the head coach's office at halftime and insisted the team run a trap at an opposing point guard who had abused the Suns' defense.
Sarver certainly isn't the first owner to preside over his franchise with a heavy hand and heated emotions. And several sources say that in moments of calm, Sarver can be genuinely warm on a personal level. Even those who have been on the receiving end of outbursts say Sarver, at other times, took a sincere interest in their families, or offered thoughtful financial advice.
FOUR YEARS AFTER naming McDonough general manager, Sarver acquired some live goats from a Diana Taurasi event at Talking Stick Resort Arena and planted them upstairs in McDonough's office. The stunt was both a practical joke and an inspirational message -- the Suns should find a GOAT of their own, one who dominates like Taurasi. The goats, unaware of their metaphorical connotation, proceeded to defecate all over McDonough's office.
But just as troubling as invading the work spaces of his players and coaches, say those who have worked for Sarver, is his meddling in personnel decisions. An individual who has worked in the Suns' front office says Sarver, in his best moments, poses challenging questions that can help frame a conversation. But often, process can get derailed by impulse.
McDonough was regarded as less capable at communication, people skills and fostering relationships with players. There's a strong sense that McDonough, in a characterization that was made by several sources, prioritized job security ahead of personal conviction. Though Sarver had a tendency to meddle, sources say McDonough's struggles to forcefully make his case on strategy and personnel matters demonstrated his ultimate failing as a GM: an inability to manage an owner.
Jones' detractors concede he has fulfilled his role as front-office emissary to the locker room, where players genuinely respect him and have responded to his counsel. But many of those who have observed Jones say that, on his best days, he functions more like a consultant or junior exec in charge of player programs, and less like a commanding general manager, which is his current title.
"There's a perception of what a GM is and what a GM does, that you have to log the hours and open up the laptop. I've never purported to be that guy," Jones says. "I think it would diminish what Trevor does. He's a star when it comes to the cap, scenario planning, contracts and negotiations. And he's been really good the whole time he's been here. We have different responsibilities. My primary focus has been to manage and improve the performance and relationships within our different units: our coaching, performance team, development. The players -- that has been my focus."
Jones is universally regarded as bright, but there's a collective sense that he lacks the curiosity or hunger that a relative novice in such a position should display. Former players such as Elton Brand, Malik Rose and Sean Marks throw themselves into every facet of basketball operations, from the G League to cap strategy. In contrast, sources say, Jones seems content to defer to Bukstein. Jones also relies a great deal on another young front-office associate who was initially hired as a liaison between former coach Earl Watson's staff and the analytics department, but has less than two seasons' experience in the NBA. Sources say that much of the Suns' front office finds this confounding.
Wojnarowski touched on a number of topics about the struggling franchise, but saying “there’s not a lot of scouting going on in Phoenix” was a direct criticism of the team’s current front office leader. “I can’t control when people try to take shots. But I don’t talk to Woj. He doesn’t know what goes on inside the building,” Jones told Burns & Gambo Wednesday on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “That’s his opinion but it’s totally inaccurate.
The Phoenix Suns have begun the process of interviewing candidates for their general manager job, 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s John Gambadoro has learned. The possibility remains open for co-interim general managers James Jones and Trevor Bukstein to remain with the team, either as a general manager or in another capacity.
Jones and Bukstein have shared the co-interim GM title ever since the previous general manager, Ryan McDonough, was relieved of his duties on Oct. 8, just days before the start of the regular season. Gambadoro also reports that the team will have new faces in its basketball operations department prior to the upcoming NBA Draft.
Duane Rankin: #Suns having open session for season ticket holders after having practice on the practice court. Looks like everybody is out here except TJ Warren. Played last night, but stepped on someone's foot during the previous practice and left it early.
Duane Rankin: #Suns interim GM James Jones' final words to season ticket holders. Better team next month, than this month. Be better next year than this year. Wants fans to remain critical, but be supportive. #Suns
Jones was involved with the negotiation of multiple collective bargaining agreements, including during the 2011 lockout. That’s when he realized the NBA was a global “behemoth.” And that experience helped Jones develop a “great” relationship with Sarver, who built his career in banking. “We always had a connection,” Jones said. “He mentioned that there may be an opportunity for me to continue my basketball career, but just in a different vein. It piqued some interest.”
His reserved exterior is deceiving. Internally, James Jones has a furiously competitive edge. So all that talk about him helping his close friend LeBron James when Phoenix bought out Tyson Chandler last month didn’t sit well with him for two main reasons. One: He wants to beat James just as bad as anyone, if not more. Two: It suggests he’s not a professional and loyal to the Suns.
“I would never do anything to compromise the integrity to jeopardize the Suns,” Jones said. “The Suns are my No. 1 priority.” Jones is in a very important stage in his NBA executive journey.
While Phoenix has made eight roster moves not even three full months into the season, Jones values stability and believes the team “for the first time in a long time” has that and is seeing the benefits. “They can just come in and work,” Jones said. “They can just come in and perform. They can come in and compete, knowing that the next day is just another day to get better. Like anything, you put (young players) in a stable environment and give them time to develop the right way, and they trust what they’re being told and they trust what they see and what they’re doing, they will get better.”
“For us, as free agency hit, you talk about that tier of starting caliber point guards, they chose other destinations that were a better fit and better suited to compete right now,” Jones said. “As far as trades, I always say it takes two to tango. That’s not something you can control.”
So, Phoenix waived Rivers, but Jones said the Suns are “happy” with the acquisition of the 6-foot-7 Oubre, who is averaging at career-best 12.9 points per game this season. “He fits what we’re doing,” Jones said. “He’s a good fit for us and we’re excited about that.”
“Frankly, I think I would have probably really enjoyed it,” Nash said of the Suns position. “I probably would really enjoy being a coach and really enjoy being a general manager. The reality is that I want to be at home and present in the largest capacity I can while my kids are at a very impressionable age. If that means sacrificing a career in the game, so be it. To be able to do things like Champions League, to own a bit of two soccer teams (Real Mallorca and the Vancouver Whitecaps) and to work with the Warriors, these are all things I can do while my kids are at school. That’s a priority for me.”
About a month ago, Shaquille Harrison received a “very blunt” phone call from Suns acting co-general manager James Jones. Harrison understood there was no way for Jones to sugarcoat that Phoenix was cutting him right before the start of the regular season. But that move is why Harrison stepped onto the United Center floor Wednesday night wearing a Bulls jersey — and began his game action by guarding Jamal Crawford, the veteran guard the Suns signed after waiving Harrison, Davon Reed and Darrell Arthur. Harrison downplayed feeling any extra motivation facing his former team for the first time, a mentality that checked out when he lingered in the hallway to chat with Suns assistant Joe Prunty and rookie point guard Elie Okobo following the Bulls’ 124-116 victory.
Typically, the NBA buyout market doesn't heat up until the February trade deadline. In Chandler's case with the Phoenix Suns, that would've been the expected timeline. The ship had long since sailed on the idea that Chandler would be a part of any sort of championship pursuit in Phoenix, but at least he could serve as a role model and mentor to No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton. And that was the plan…until LeBron called in a favor. It's no coincidence that the facilitator was Suns vice president of basketball operations James Jones, a close friend and longtime teammate of James.
"They could have bought him out at the trade deadline and gotten great leadership and mentoring for two-thirds of the season," a rival executive told B/R. "But LeBron wanted him now." Usually, LeBron gets what LeBron wants. It's a privilege he's earned. It's also something that everyone in Lakerland must understand.
On Monday, Ryan McDonough joined ESPN’s The Jump and offered more details about his Phoenix tenure and ousting. He admitted that he was fired over the phone but remained largely diplomatic in discussing owner Robert Sarver. McDonough said: “I viewed the roster as not fully completed, and we were working on a few trades to upgrade the team — I guess we thought I had more time than I ended up having. The timing of it was surprising, but Robert (Sarver) thought it was best. I was there five-plus years. I appreciate the opportunity he gave me.”
In his first time speaking since being named interim general manager — along with assistant general manager Trevor Bukstein –, vice president of basketball operations James Jones’ quotes on Friday reflected a team still in a rebuild. “Our focus as a team is to develop,” Jones said when asked about the team’s stated goal to be one of the most improved teams in the NBA this season. “It’s not wins and losses. We can’t define our season based on a win-loss total. We do know that our young guys need to improve.”
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Suns were “leaning toward the eventual hiring” of Jones as the permanent GM hire. When he was asked if he was interested in the position, Jones said he isn’t focused on that. “Titles don’t mean anything to me,” Jones said. “The only title that matters is an NBA title and if that means I can help this team in my current role or in another role, I’m all for it.”
The Phoenix Suns are adamant they want to start competing and bumping up their win total significantly. Owner Robert Sarver said as much Monday on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station, the same day he fired general manager Ryan McDonough. “I think we’re at the end of a rebuild,” he said on Burns & Gambo. “For me, the switch has flipped and it’s now time to start figuring out how to win.”
Sarver has earned a long-standing reputation for aggressively involving himself in basketball decisions, but it’s become harder for coaches and front-office staff to manage in the past two years after the Suns became Sarver’s primary business interest. Suns coaches became accustomed to regular beratings and demands of strategy and lineup changes, league sources said. Rival executives could sometimes hear Sarver yelling in the background on negotiation calls with the Suns’ front office. Agents tell stories of private conversations involving Sarver without the front office’s knowledge.
Josh Jackson: Our GM got relieved of his duties. We found out on our way to the gym for shootaround on Monday. I got a glimpse of what the NBA life is like when I first came into it last year because, as y’all know, our first coach Earl Watson got fired after the third game. That showed me that it was a business. At any given time, you can be replaced and someone can just come right in and take your job. It is the same with players. You see it around the league all the time. Guys get traded. You got new guys coming into the league getting drafted. Guys sometimes disappear. You just always have to do your job and control what you can control. Always come to work every day ready to work.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Story soon on ESPN: Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver is leaning toward the eventual hiring of interim general manager James Jones as the franchise’s full-time GM, league sources tell ESPN. Jones had been VP of Basketball Operations under former GM Ryan McDonough.
In his initial conversations around the league, Sarver has left little, if any, doubt that Jones will be leading Phoenix's basketball operations into the future, league sources said. Nevertheless, Sarver has been known to change his mind - often without warning - on personnel matters. The most recent evidence was firing McDonough nine days shy of the Suns' opening night. Last year, Sarver hired Jones to apprentice under McDonough and prepare him for a larger role in the organization.
When asked how much the point guard situation played into McDonough’s firing, Sarver said in an interview with KMVP-FM (98.7) in Phoenix that he did not “really want to get into specifics.” But later, Sarver noted addressing that position is “definitely at the top of the list” of priorities for the organization.
Adam Johnson: Team source confirms the dismissal of Louis Lehman as GM of Northern Arizona Suns. #GLeague
Suns coach Igor Kokoskov acknowledged ahead of his team’s Monday-night preseason contest at Golden State that “our day started very early, with the news we had this morning.” But he aimed to keep business as usual with his team. “It’s something we don’t control,” Kokoskov told reporters during his pregame media availability. “The reason we’re here is to play the game. The whole focus was really on the (team) … we’re basically trying to accomplish why we’re here and focus on the game tonight.”
Michael Scotto: The Athletic Sources: The Phoenix Suns also fired assistant GM Pat Connelly and director of scouting Courtney Witte, along with GM Ryan McDonough. Draft picks under McDonough's regime included Alex Len, T.J. Warren, Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, Josh Jackson and Deandre Ayton.
Shams Charania: Suns will now have GM role served by vice president of basketball operations James Jones and assistant GM Trevor Bukstein. Jared Dudley: James Jones is a perfect fit 👌🏽👌🏽
Adrian Wojnarowski: Suns legend Steve Nash -- a Sarver favorite -- continues to have no interest in pursuing the demands of the day-to-day duties of running a front office, league sources tell ESPN. He works as consultant with the Warriors now.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Owner Robert Sarver has become even more involved in day-to-day of franchise. He already had a strong voice in many moves, including past coaching hires. James Jones has become a favorite of Sarver, too. He'll be a GM candidate there.
Adrian Wojnarowski: The challenge for the Suns remains unchanged: Robert Sarver is perhaps the NBA's most involved owner in basketball decision-making and the plan can change day-to-day. McDonough survived five years with him. Recruiting a new GM is never an easy sell there.
Gerald Bourguet: Suns announce the firing of GM Ryan McDonough: pic.twitter.com/5ulWUbsEqe
Adrian Wojnarowski: Suns announce firing of GM Ryan McDonough. James Jones and Trevor Bukstein will be interims. One candidate to watch long-term: Kevin McHale.
Adrian Wojnarowski: McDonough's tenure was met with immediate success, but difficulties with trades and draft picks short-circuited tenure. McDonough has been pursuing a starting-level point guard in marketplace, only to have many teams holding Suns up for an unprotected first-round pick in talks.
Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough was not short of topics to discuss with 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Bickley & Marotta when joining them Tuesday. Since he last spoke publicly, McDonough had traded Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Ryan Anderson and De’Anthony Melton.
“Anybody who does this job — you have to be honest and realistic with yourself about how it’s going and the progress that a player makes, or the lack of progress,” McDonough said in relation to Chriss. “With Marquese, there were ups and downs,” he said. “I thought he had a pretty good rookie year, overall. I think he showed some flashes and played better than we probably expected him to at 19 years old, and then last year I felt like there was a step back for whatever reason.”
At the same time, McDonough said a large determining factor was a new head coach and system that didn’t have the comfiest fit for either Chriss or Knight. “A big part of it, not only with Marquese but with Brandon as well — with Igor Kokoskov and his staff coming in, they have new philosophies,” he said. “They have a very high-level offensive system that I think our fans will really enjoy watching because it’s pretty impressive and has proven to be effective over time. That being said, the pieces have to fit the system and there has to be a role in the system for certain players, and if there’s not a role, we look externally to see if there are players we can bring in to fit the system and play a role better.”
But, of course, with Knight gone, the Suns now have an opening at point guard. Well, at least from McDonough’s perspective, that opening is a point guard with real experience. Elie Okobo and Melton were both just selected in the second round of the NBA Draft, Shaquille Harrison has 23 games of NBA experience and Isaiah Canaan’s NBA role has mostly been toward the end of a team’s rotation in his five-year career. Despite that, the GM likes his group. “We’re very high on Elie Okobo, he’s looked terrific in the pickup games we’ve had so far,” he said. “[Melton] we thought was one of the better rookies in summer league, and guys like Shaquille Harrison and Isaiah Canaan played very well for us a year ago. We have depth there, I realize we don’t have a lot of experience there.”
Still, though, the team has been linked to numerous point guards on the trade market and has been reported as on the lookout for a starting-caliber name to add. “We’re evaluating options,” McDonough said. “We’re trying to be deliberate and strategic, and just make sure it makes sense — if we are to do a deal — in the short- and long-term.”
Alex Kennedy: Cody Toppert (@Topp33) is the new Director of Player Development for the Phoenix Suns! This is an OUTSTANDING hire by Phoenix. Toppert was previously the head coach of the Suns' @NBAGLeague affiliate (the Northern Arizona Suns). Prior to that, he trained many NBA players.
Several league sources told me they anticipate Suns general manager Ryan McDonough to probe a Leonard deal using the no. 1 pick. Phoenix explored Irving trades last summer but was reluctant to deal Josh Jackson, whom they selected with the fourth overall pick. Leonard is better than Irving, so perhaps it’s time for the Suns to strike now, when they’re armed with assets and an opportunity to trade for a transcendent player. There’s also a sense from league sources that the Suns presumed selection of Arizona big man Deandre Ayton at no. 1 isn’t a guarantee because of the outside possibility that they’ll get a good enough deal to trade down or out of the draft entirely. Now that Leonard reportedly wants out, anything is possible.
September 27, 2021 | 9:36 am EDT Update
Towns received treatment at an area hospital, then quarantined at home for the next few weeks, isolated from friends and family. Basketball had been the closest thing in his life to an outlet. Now, by himself, he had no choice but to confront the pain that followed his mother’s sudden death. “I’ve had a lot of situations this year where things were just too much for me,” Towns says. “I just remember [quarantining] in the house, and it was more than just COVID for me. I felt like I was going through a holistic journey.”
A high-calorie diet eventually solved his weight problem. But that night inside Quicken Loans Arena, in the same building with so many people for the first time since he was able to leave his house, anxiety enveloped Towns on the bench. When the first quarter ended he texted his agent: “I can’t be out here anymore. I can’t do this.” He rushed back to the locker room, where Minnesota’s head equipment manager Peter Warden asked if everything was O.K.
“I felt like everything was an open-ended sentence, you know? There was no closure. There was no period at the end,” he says. “I just kept running on and running on and running on, but I never really got to where I needed to go to end a conversation.”
There were days when being around teammates carried him. Basketball felt like it could provide a blip of relief. There were others when he thought about stepping away and giving himself space to mourn. “[My mother] made basketball fun for me my whole entire life,” Towns says. “She made it where I wanted to even do this. So for me, I was like, [There’s] too much on my mind. I’m not, I can’t, nah, I can’t.”
“That money s— don’t mean s— to me,” he says. “Time is the real thing we losing every day. I just really didn’t think I could play the game of basketball the way I want to represent myself in the NBA. I didn’t want to represent myself in a bad way. There’d be a lot of times we’d play a game. Game’s over. And I’m not even in there. I’m doing my own thing. I’m in the bathroom looking at myself, wondering if this is the man that I really think I am. I had 40. I’m still not happy with the man I see in the mirror. I’m still dealing with a lot of s—.”
Before home games last season, Towns would walk into Finch’s office with a latte in his hand, sit down and chat. Most conversations covered their shared Philadelphia Eagles obsession or baseball, specifically the American League East standings. “We’d just talk about these little commonalities that we’ve had that give us a chance to shoot the s—, so to speak,” Finch says.