Phoenix Suns General Manager James Jones addressed a number of topics in his exit Zoom media interview Wednesday afternoon, with one being the future of Deandre Ayton with the team.
Ayton will be a restricted free agent this summer, as the Suns failed to sign him to a rookie max extension or any extension at all heading into the fourth and final year of his rookie deal.
“As far as free agency and those things, we’ll address them at the proper time,” Jones said. “That happens in July, end of June, but we want to continue to keep our consistency and continuity and keep the guys that we have and continue to help those guys improve upon the things that we did this year.”
The Suns can match any offer from another team since Ayton is a restricted free agent or do a sign-and-trade with Ayton in a package deal that could address needs at the guard position.
“”He’s the one guy on your roster that you could facilitate a sign-and-trade with and potentially bring back a third player, a wing player, that can get you buckets, that can guard,” said former NBA player JJ Redick on ESPN’s First Take This Week. “They just don’t have that third option right now.”
The top-seeded Suns were eliminated from the playoffs by the fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, who won the decisive Game 7 by 33 points, 123-90, Sunday at Footprint Center.
“The season didn’t end the way that we wanted it to, but I think with a lot of internal improvement, we can progress forward,” Jones added.
Ayton averaged a double-double for a fourth straight season of 17.2 points on a career-best 63.4% shooting and 10.2 rebounds in 58 games as he sustained multiple injuries this season.
“Deandre had a great season, a really productive season,” Jones said. “I think across the board, when you look at what he did, he improved. That’s a testament to him and the hard work. That’s what you expect from a player of his caliber.”
Jones also addressed Ayton’s heated exchange with Monty Williams on the sidelines when Williams took him out of Game 7 with 8:26 left in the third quarter and didn’t play him for the remainder of the game.
The Suns were down 38 points when Williams inserted Bismack Biyombo for Ayton, who finished with a playoff career-low five points on 2-of-5 shooting in just 17 minutes of action.
“It’s one of those things where you’re playing an emotional game and at an emotional point,” Jones said. “It’s a game of emotions and feelings and sometimes your feelings get hurt and you process it and you move on, but we’re adults. We’re teammates. We’re grown men. Those things you handle and you move on and improve from.”
Williams said “it’s internal” when asked why Ayton only played 17 minutes and stuck to that stance during his exit media interview on Monday.
“We’re a team,” Jones said. “We have conversations, internal dialogue, all the time. I think Monty addressed it.”
Sunday’s loss served as the conclusion to a historic season that saw the Suns set single-season franchise records for wins (64), road victories (32) and longest winning streak (18 straight).
“Let’s be real, we had a tremendous season,” Jones said. “I said this (Tuesday). The season, the way it ended was disappointing, but the season was not a disappointment. Our team was a really good team. We just didn’t have that same level of success in the playoffs. So I’m not going to change what we do. I’m not going to change my approach to team building, which is to create and construct a team that has a ton of depth, a ton of skill and great chemistry. to be better and I think after a summer where our guys improve, we will be.”
Jones addressed several other topics Wednesday.
Idea of getting a pick for next month’s draft. The Suns currently don’t have one:
“You know me. I explore all options. If there’s an opportunity to get back into the draft, we will. We’re going to use all the avenues to improve whether it’s the draft, free agency, summer league. You name it, we’ll be looking at it.”
On why the Suns blew a 2-0 series lead to Dallas:
“They played better. They made shots. We didn’t. Not taking anything away from our players, but they performed better. I thought it was balance back and forth. Both teams played well at home. We got to Game 7 and we couldn’t get it done, but they did a lot of good things that teams do. They try to take you away from your strengths. They switched pick and roll on Chris (Paul). They tried to trap Devin (Booker). They forced us out of our comfort zone and for half the games we responded, the other half we didn’t, but you have to take your hats off to them. They beat us. They were just the better team.”
“We were flat. We came out flat. Offensively, we struggled and they made shots and I thought after that, it became a grind, an uphill battle to recapture some of our momentum, some of our flow, some of our confidence and they continued to make shots. They had huge contributions from Luka (Doncic, who scored 35 points) and Spencer Dinwiddie (scored playoff career-high 30). I just think our offense, we struggled and our offense failed us in the first half. We scored 17 points in the first quarter and 10 in the second. I don’t think you can win many games when you have that type of offensive output.”
On possible supermax deal for Devin Booker and rookie extension for Cam Johnson. If Booker makes All-NBA this year, he’ll be eligible for a four-year deal worth $211 million while Johnson is up for a rookie extension heading into his fourth NBA season:
“That’s a part of the business. As your team improves, typically your payroll increases. We’re focused on improving the team and those guys, they deserve the credit. They deserve the accolades and the financial rewards that come with being good players and productive players. It doesn’t preclude us from doing anything. We’re not talking about a luxury tax issues or avoiding those things. That’s not something that’s going to prevent us from continuing to build this team and keep this team together.”
On moves made before the trade deadline, as Rockets guard Eric Gordon was in the air, but the Suns brought back Torrey Craig in a trade that sent 2020 first round pick Jalen Smith to Indiana. They also got Aaron Holiday from Washington in a trade for cash considerations:
“I go into those deadlines or go into the summer with the same mentality. Explore everything that would help us improve and find out the things that are real and the things that are actionable and balance whether or not it can be done and whether or not it can help us. I’m not revisiting what we did. We made moves that we thought helped increase our depth. it did. Those are practical moves. The theoretical moves, I can’t allow myself to think about whether or not something that potentially could’ve happened would’ve had an affect or would’ve changed it. You just don’t know. You roll with what you have. You put the best squad together and you go there and try to make it happen.”
On Chris Paul’s future, load management and health entering future postseasons:
Chris will come back and he’ll improve. He always finds a way after struggles to come back better, but then, our guys as a team, it’s a team game. There are opportunities every year, stretches of the season for guys to take a bigger role, a bigger load, carry a bigger load, manage a bigger load. And I thought we did that well during the regular season, not so well in the postseason. So I think our guys will just have to step up and do little bit more when it’s need.”
On results of team owner Robert Sarver investigation possibly impacting the franchise moving forward:
“It doesn’t change what we’re doing on the basketball court. It doesn’t change what we’re doing on the basketball operations. Our job as execs and coaches and players is to assemble, build and lead a team to accomplish a goal of winning basketball games. That part of the job doesn’t change.”
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