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.
Scott Bordow: McDonough on Jackson: "One of the more underrated players in this draft in my opinion. Really shot the ball well in this workout."
Adam Zagoria: Asked by @Adrian Wojnarowski what he would trade the No. 1 pick for, McDonough said, "For us it would probably have to be a proven star, but probably a young proven star." twitter.com/AdamZagoria/st…
But an important event occurred during that first month. After a rare loss, Kerr went into the coach’s room postgame with some suggestions for D’Antoni. Within the general message: What do you think about some more Stoudemire post-ups? “Steve had good intentions,” said Coro, who originally reported the details of the encounter during that season. “It was just the wrong time because of how coaches feel right after a disappointing loss and how he took the suggestions. From there, there was kind of an awkward dynamic. Not having been a coach yet, he didn’t know what sort of territory he was coming in on at the time.”
Festering beneath the surface: D’Antoni’s suspicion that Kerr was angling to potentially become the coach, sources said. Kerr wasn’t. He was living in San Diego. His kids were still around. It already took hard convincing for him to make the time commitment for the general manager job. Coaching wasn’t on the table until his kids were out of high school. That’s why it didn’t happen until 2014, despite opportunities beforehand.
But that monster price tag didn’t mean cash was flooding into the franchise. Actually, the opposite. Sarver became almost immediately notorious for his penny-pinching and novice understanding of the NBA world. One of his early questions to the basketball decision makers, one source described: Why, if D’Antoni’s rotation only includes eight or nine guys, do we have to pay 13 players to be on the roster? Sarver meddled, which is a new owner’s right. His money, his team, his place to ask questions and have final say.
Scott Bordow: Got off the phone a few minutes ago with Suns' GM Ryan McDonough: He said report Phoenix offered 4-year contract to David Fizdale was "inaccurate." Didn't want to get into specifics.
The Phoenix Suns have agreed to terms with Utah Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov to become their new head coach. The two sides reached agreement on a three-year contract, league sources told ESPN. Suns general manager Ryan McDonough met with Kokoskov in Houston before Sunday's Game 1 and moved quickly to make an offer, league sources told ESPN.
“We are thrilled to bring Valley resident Igor Kokoškov back to Arizona as head coach of the Phoenix Suns,” said General Manager Ryan McDonough. “Igor has been a pioneer throughout his basketball career and he brings a wealth of high level coaching experience to our club. He was one of the first non-American born assistant coaches at both the NCAA and NBA levels and his most recent head coaching stint includes leading the Slovenian national team to the 2017 EuroBasket title, which was the first European title in the history of the country. Igor’s teams have always had a player development focus, a creative style of play and a track record of success.”
Scott Bordow: Everyone going nuts about my Jason Kidd, Vinny Del Negro news: Chill. McDonough told me in March he would talk to a lot of people in initial round of interviews. Then will whittle list down. Doesn't hurt to get a lot of input, opinions, about your team and organization.
Booker is expecting changes for the better this offseason in Phoenix. “It’s only up now,” Booker said. “This summer is a big summer for us. You hear our GM [general manager Ryan McDonough] come out and say he’s going to be super aggressive. We have young talent, we have a lot of picks, with a lot of money too. So I think there’s definitely going to be a lot of moves made this summer.”
Len isn’t closing the door on returning to the Suns. But he gets it. General Manager Ryan McDonough has said finding a center in either the draft or via free agency is the organization’s highest priority. Tyson Chandler has one more year left on his contract, and Alan Williams proved last season he can be an effective backup – as well as a fan favorite. That doesn’t leave any room for Len and, frankly, he’s fine with that. “I’m looking forward to this offseason,” he said. “I think it’s going to be exciting. It’s the first time I’m actually going to have a chance to go where I want to go.”
LeBron was asked about his former teammate by reporters, who he said he met up with during his time in Phoenix. He believes James Jones will be great in the front office. “He’ll be great because he gets it,” James said. “He gets it, he knows talent, he knows work ethic and he knows basketball people. That definitely helps out. Best of luck to him in his new endeavors, that’s for sure.”
The Cavs have two open roster spots, but it’s unlikely they will fill them. Jones, who was a member of the three Cavs teams who went to the Finals, is still good shape according to LeBron. “He looks good to still play, I’ll tell you that. He’s looking leaner than he was and he was already lean. I’d love to have champ around.”
Phoenix is targeting former Memphis coach Dave Fizdale to replace interim coach Jay Triano, according to league sources. When Fizdale was the lead assistant to Eric Spoelstra in Miami during the LeBron Era, James Jones was on the Heat roster. Jones has been the Suns' vice president of basketball operations since last July.
The Suns’ stance for weeks has been that they will use their draft picks and their cap flexibility this off-season to add quality veterans to their youthful roster. In that same vein, there has been a growing sense that one or two of the Suns’ duplicated young guys could be had at the deadline. There is a belief the Suns may wait until the draft when they could leverage one of those players to move into a player they are very high on in the draft or to make a deal for a veteran.
September 26, 2021 | 8:50 pm EDT Update
Arash Markazi: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Talen Horton-Tucker are in a suite for today’s Rams-Buccaneers game. pic.twitter.com/2b0bmLPw6V
September 26, 2021 | 6:21 pm EDT Update
Shams Charania: The Los Angeles Lakers are planning to sign two-way guard Austin Reaves to a new two-year contract, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium. Reaves converted to a standard NBA contract, becomes Lakers‘ 14th roster spot.