Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones speaks to the media regarding the sacking of Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo / Matt York)
What is left to do when you get two wins before an NBA Finals win?
Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones has managed to reverse a franchise’s fortunes in two seasons, but the challenge becomes more difficult as keeping the core intact – while keeping the roster enduring – becomes a priority.
Chris Paul can opt out of his contract, while Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges enter the final year of their rookie deals looking for extensions.
Suns free agents include playmaker Cameron Payne, winger Torrey Craig, big man Frank Kaminsky, as well as veteran goaltenders E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway.
Before it gets there, the Suns hold the No. 29 pick in the NBA Draft next Thursday.
How can Jones improve Phoenix to make another playoff run in 2021-22? We asked our Arizona Sports presenters, editors and journalists.
Other than making sure Chris Paul is back next season, what should be the biggest offseason goal for GM James Jones so the Suns can fight for an NBA title again?
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: Paul is certainly the key to it all, but the Suns’ lack of length and size was exploited by the Bucks in the Finals. The Suns definitely need a big save they can count on, a bench of four with a length that can hit three and most difficult I think Phoenix needs a better and more reliable scoring option on the ‘wing.
Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have all produced at inconsistent levels this season offensively – you never know what you’ll get overnight. For Bridges and Johnson, maybe it comes with age and experience?
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Locking up Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges should be two top priorities. And apart from that, adding size must be a necessity. They need more length behind Ayton. Frank Kaminsky just doesn’t have the defensive capacity you need from a big replacement. Dario Saric will be missing a lot of time. We must therefore add a defensive presence with a size in the center.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Honestly, I think most of the upgrades will come from within. Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and of course Deandre Ayton are improving thanks to the experience and what they learned about themselves last year. But if we are talking about personnel, it is clear; more depth of man and bigger bodies to be able to mix and match. It is not a luxury item, it is a necessity especially after the injury of Dario Saric. Is Jalen Smith ready to take the plunge? Even if it is, the Suns need to flex their rediscovered muscles as a free agent destination and find some depth.
Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf:: James Jones must answer these two questions: 1) who is the real Deandre Ayton? And 2) will giving DA five years / $ 168 million change your answer to the first question?
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Doug and Wolf: Sign Deandre Ayton for a contract of up to five years. The child is 22 years old and is improving every year. And this year was the “A” exhibition for its development. DA improved as the season progressed. It’s gone from sitting in the 4th quarter for critical minutes in April to being a HUGE reason the Suns got deep in the playoffs.
The bulb went on in the hangar; DA will never be the same again in the future. It will only get better. The only question is HOW MUCH better? I give him a lot of credit for that because DA has outdone himself and his nature to become a force in the playoffs.
Or, as Aristotle once said: “I consider him braver who overcomes his desires than he who triumphs over his enemies; for the hardest victory is victory over oneself. Sign DA at maximum agreement now.
Luke Lapinski, host of The recap with Luke Lapinski: I think it’s pretty simple: do whatever you can to keep this group together and add depth behind Deandre Ayton.
I’ve heard the argument that because they haven’t won everything, they still have important things to add. I don’t buy it. That’s too much of a general statement that can just be thrown at any team that doesn’t win the title. This group got as close as possible, so making changes to make changes seems counterproductive.
Look, if someone great becomes available, do it. Phoenix is more of a destination for high-end gamers now than it has been for a long time. But just be aware that adding an alpha could mess up the chemistry, so it’s probably worth checking out any large additions.
However, they need big players who can step in when Ayton needs a rest or gets in trouble. That was a legitimate concern about the trade deadline, and it was exposed by Milwaukee in the final. I’m not suggesting that adding a deep guy four months ago would have rocked the series by any means, but it’s an issue that needs to be sorted out before next season.
Kevin Zimmerman, Editor-in-Chief of ArizonaSports.com and co-host of Empire of the Suns Podcast: I’ll cheat to answer the question by combining everything the Suns need into one thing: They need to focus on developing players with rookie contracts who can dribble.
Let’s break it down into pieces. They need to start relying more on draft picks and inexpensive backers with contract decisions – and likely payouts – to keep Paul, Ayton and Mikal Bridges. The Suns already have a great all-rounder Jalen Smith, who could be called upon to play heavy minutes next year. What they need to fit their 0.5 style are guards or wings that can take off even more Devin Booker and, assuming he’s back, Chris Paul.
This is where I’ll start promoting the Suns to recruit Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu, an athletic combo guard who can attack the rim, shoot a decent clip and also reach the rim off the field. This last item is something they badly need, especially if Cam Payne gets a big paycheck to leave.
Kellan Olson, Editor-in-Chief of ArizonaSports.com and co-host of Empire of the Suns Podcast: Re-sign Cameron Payne, complete rookie expansions, and add another dribble creator plus a more traditional 5. One of these should be fairly easy to find in the draft at # 29 and another in free agency.
Payne is an important part of this team, especially early in the season when the bench was carrying the Suns. A high-speed guard with his skills (slashing, shooting, defending) is really hard to come by, so even with Payne likely to see free agency contenders and make a lot of money, Phoenix would be foolish to let him go. He was one of the best playmakers in the league last season.
With the Suns’ spot in the NBA Draft, there’s a good mix of guards out there. Baylor’s Jared Butler their sliding would be a dream, Kevin mentioned Ayo Dosunmu and there’s a lot going on in Oklahoma’s Austin Reaves game, although he’s a bit slow for the job. A little less to offer with big ones in this lineup, but North Carolina’s Day’Ron Sharpe is my favorite with an endless engine and physics game that’s hard not to love.
The free agent market is full of 5 veterans, from the high end like JaMychal Green of Denver (player option) and Jeff Green of Brooklyn (unrestricted) to the low end like Daniel Theis of Chicago and Boban Marjanovic of Dallas.
Finally, if the Suns have room and Langston Galloway or E’Twaun Moore want to come back, they should re-sign at least one of them. Both were important in helping establish the culture and were key veteran voices to be had throughout the season.