The Phoenix Suns front office has moved with a unique beat since general manager James Jones took charge.
Its draft strategy has been in the spotlight because of an ESPN article that highlighted how differently Phoenix’s executive team operates around the NBA Draft.
The Suns most recently added to the tight-knit group by the hiring of Morgan Cato, one of the highest-ranking women in an NBA front office and the first woman of color to hold the assistant general manager and president of basketball operations title.
While the latter half of her title is the same as the departed Jeff Bower, who left in July 2021 after Phoenix’s NBA Finals run, Cato’s role is obviously very different from the basketball-centric former executive.
Cato joined the Suns after serving as the associate vice president of business operations for the NBA league office. She will have a hand in everything it seems, and Cato spoke to Andscape’s Marc J. Spears about those specifics while at the NBA Summer League this past month.
But what made her leave the league office for an executive role with a team that has dealt with many on-court successes to go with unique off-the-court scrutiny in the past year?
According to her, the decision had much to do with her built-up relationships with Jones and head coach Monty Williams.
“I prayed on it. And I realized that this was giving me an opportunity to impact the game differently,” Cato said. “We support learning across the board, we support basketball ecosystems and having the chance to go deep and really impact that way. It felt good. I respect James and Monty immensely, and having the chance to work with just two great basketball mentors to do more was an awesome experience. And the fact that they thought that I could add value to them as well. How could I not?
“And this was something that they recognized, ‘Mo, because of what you bring to the table, because of what you can do, you can help us.’ And those opportunities don’t happen so often, particularly as a woman of color, as someone who didn’t play professionally, as someone who didn’t go to a PWI [predominantly white institution], as all these different things. Still, throughout all of that, they saw something that I could add.”
Cato told Spears that she doesn’t know if she would have left the NBA office for another team.
She said Jones reached out with interest in filling a new position and said she was on a shortlist of people who they believed could help them improve internally.
Cato, from the sound of it, will take on projects that touch everything from the salary cap to the players to the scouting department.
“Front-office personnel, coaching development, player engagement strategy, connectivity to the W [WNBA], international expansion, and the work that we’ll continue to do with international players, roster chemistry and cohesion, and working really closely with our coaches, with our heads of analytics and scouting, and then also our salary cap folks,” Cato told Spears.
“So, I think with James’ vision is essentially, ‘How do we bring this all together to bring it to the next level? How does Phoenix become this destination?’”
The timing of Cato’s hiring, of course, raised eyebrows as the Suns remain under investigation into the workplace culture created by and actions of owner Robert Sarver, who is facing allegations of racist and misogynistic behavior.
Cato told Spears the accusations did not impact her decision to join the Suns.
As of the NBA Summer League, she had not yet met the owner.
“No, he has not been part of this discussion, these decisions,” Cato said. “From what I understand, James runs his house. So, from an oversight, (Sarver is) there, but James and Monty, they handle basketball. Sarver is not in the day-to-day operations. And I believe, from what I understand so far, he let them do their work.”