Stix is coming to The Valley. What will James Jones do next?
Were you stunned on Wednesday night when the Phoenix Suns drafted Jalen Smith? Did you stare at your TV with puzzlement? Did you have to Google who this kid was?
The majority of Suns fans knee-jerk reaction most likely included an expletive or two. After all, Tyrese Haliburton and Devin Vassell were both staring at the Suns on the draft board. Based on my piece earlier in the week in which I discussed the different options available, the “draft a big” option was the least popular:
Some wanted the point guard of the future. Others wanted to fill the hole left in the roster with the departure of Kelly Oubre. Fans received neither when Adam Silver walked to the podium to announce the #10 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
What fans received was a goggle-wearing 6’10” power forward/center from the University of Maryland. He can pick-and-pop, he has a smooth stroke, and he can block the hell out of the ball.
While we were thinking, “draft a guy who can learn under Chris Paul,” or “you can never have too many wings,” it is clear what James Jones was thinking. Aron Baynes will not be back. Frank Kaminsky is gone.
The Phoenix Suns are declining the $5.2M team option on Frank Kaminsky, making him an unrestricted free agent, source tells ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 19, 2020
Dario Saric is not the answer at backup five. The team needs a player who has the ability to come in and spell Deandre Ayton. And that player has less than a month to ingrate with the team.
“There are a few guys out there that are what we call ‘Suns fits’ and if we do our job, we’ll add them and they’ll fit in seamlessly and we’ll be ready,” Jones said in a Zoom media interview after drafting Smith.
In James Jones we trust.
Jalen Smith is a regimented individual. His father was a member of the Naval Academy. Casey Jacobson commented on his high-IQ on the Suns Solar Panel Live Draft Show. All of these attributes will allow Smith to transition to life in the NBA. Things will be coming at him fast; training camp is two weeks away and top-off is a month out. Jones sees something that says that his kid can adapt quickly and effectively.
This draft wasn’t about taking the best available. If it was, Halliburton or Vassell would be on a plane bound for Sky Harbor Airport as you read this. This draft was about meeting team needs. Many have referenced how this draft lacked the talent seen in years past and they were right. The Suns didn’t draft a superstar, nor did they necessarily need one. They did draft a young man who fits the James Jones model of being a hard worker, having the ability to be coached, and knows how to put the ball in the hoop.
Jones took the guy who he felt would best meet the needs of this team and in doing so gave a glimpse of how he will approach free agency.
The Approach to Free Agency
Plenty of names have been discussed as it pertains to who the Suns should pursue in free agency. The premise has remained the same as the draft: do we need guards, wings, or bigs?
I have mentioned Montrezl Harrell as a possible fit for the Suns. I have made the case for Serge Ibaka. Knowing the the loss of Aron Baynes is on the horizon, the position of a backup big must be effectively filled. My thoughts were this need would be met via free agency.
I was wrong.
With his decision to draft Jalen Smith, James Jones fortified the likelihood that Baynes will not be in purple and orange next year. Do not expect the Suns to take a shot at the likes of Harrell or Ibaka as Smith fills this role.
My guess is all of you in the Christian Wood camp will disappointed to hear that he will not be targeted by the Suns either. Guess what? We just drafted a Wood-esque type of player who will be much cheaper.
Arizona Sports 98.7’s John Gambadoro stated that he believed Dario Saric will be back next season, and his sauces are generally well informed.
I still expect the Suns keep Dario Saric, on a multi-year deal, as he is a versatile player who can play PF and some C and let go of Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky and Cheick Diallo.
— John Gambadoro (@Gambo987) November 17, 2020
Knowing that Jalen Smith will have the opportunity to instantly provide minutes for the Suns bench, Dario Saric will not have to play much back up center. This is a good thing.
The wing rotation for the Suns becomes a combination of Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric, and newly acquired Abdel Nader. The guard rotation will be a combination of Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Jevon Carter, Cameron Payne, and Elie Okobo.
Much akin the draft, James Jones needs to decide which fork in the road to go down and address. Most likely he will address both the need to add a shooting guard behind Devin Booker as well the addition of another wing to add to the effectiveness of that rotation.
Which is the top priority for the Suns? Where would Jones get the most bang for his buck?
The guard rotation will be a combination of Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Jevon Carter, Cameron Payne, and Elie Okobo. The Suns signed Ty-Shon Alexander, a 6’4” guard from Creighton on a two-way contract as well.
The bench depth is present. The scoring from that depth may be a challenge, however. Jevon Carter and Cameron Payne possess the ability to score, yet both lack consistency. Their defensive prowess is what defines their appeal.
The Suns lack a true reserve shooting guard/point-scorer to spell Devin Booker. Here are some possible free agent targets the Suns could explore:
- Justin Holiday: He is a 6’6” SG/SF, so he may qualify as a wing, but he is someone I would thoroughly enjoy as a member of the Suns. Holiday posted a career high in three-point shooting last season (40.5%). He is a high-IQ defender, is a capable three-and-d player, and is extremely versatile. He made $4.7 million in Indiana this past season and, at 31 years-old, could provide maturity to the bench guard rotation. It’ll take at least $5.7 million to get him to Phoenix and numerous teams will take a run at him. It is time to see how well-respected the Phoenix organization is perceived nationally by players with no connection to the team.
- Avery Bradley: I love this guy. The 10-year shooting guard has a player option with the Lakers for $5 million which is more likely more than he’d receive in free agency. Rumors are he wants to stay but desires a long term deal. We should know by Thursday whether or not he makes that decision. He can defend the perimeter, averaged 12.8 points-per-game-per 36, and shot 36.4% from deep last season. Would he consider Phoenix?
- Tyler Johnson: Just kidding. We love you Ty, just not that way.
- Dwayne Bacon: I made the case for him in my ‘Chris Paul Butterfly Effect’ piece. He is a project, but the kid can score. I believe that, if given the right leadership, he could be unlocked. And the puns, oh the puns!
- Goran Dragic: Would he come back for a third stint with the Suns? Oh how sweet that would be…
The Suns’ guard group (outside of Okobo) is comprised of quality ball-handlers and playmakers. They can get the ball to the wings. You just need quality wings to execute the offense.
Personally I believe that a wing is where we need the most assistance. If Mikal, Cam, or Dario become injured, you need depth. The guard position is deep; not with talent but with bodies. Here are some names the Suns could pursue:
- Danilo Gallinari: The thought of Danilo Gallinari joining the Suns is enough to make me salivate. His shooting and her versatility as a three-slash-four make him an ideal fit for what the Suns need. He would instantly be a member of the starting lineup and the conversation about the Suns’ trajectory as a team would sky rocket. You won’t get much defense from Gallo, however. The hope here is that the price is right. He will be highly sought after. He will be offered plenty of money. Could a CP3 discount may apply as well?
- Davis Bertans: This is another player who is a deadly shooter. Where Gallinari would be a starter, Bertans most likely would join the team in a bench role. He’s a flamethrower who instantly increases your teams ability to be a consistent scoring threat. This is a clear need for the Suns as they finished 27th in the league in bench scoring last season. He too will garner plenty of attention for multiple organizations come Friday. Davis will be looking for the first real payday of his career and may be out of the Suns range. The other downside to his potentially expensive contract is he doesn’t play much defense either.
- Jerami Grant: This is my favorite fit for the Suns, as it checks all of the boxes (hey, just like Jalen Smith did for James Jones!). Grant scored a career-high 16.2 points-per-game-per-36 last season and proved his value as the Nuggets went to the Western Conference Finals. He can shoot, he can play defense, and he can play above the rim. He is position-less, an ideal fit for the modern NBA. The question was would he stay in Denver or opt out of his $9.3 million player option this year. He chose to test the market. He is another highly sought after player who the Suns will have to compete to acquire, but if they do, he will fit in gloriously with the roster.
- Carmelo Anthony: Hey, don’t laugh. Melo can still ball a bit. Is he a defender? No. Is he still athletic? Not really. But if you are looking for points from the bench in a wing capacity, Melo might be your guy! Whereas the gents mentioned above are all going to be expensive adds, Carmelo could be quite cheap.
Remember that Anthony and Paul played together on the 2008 USA Olympic Team. The two also played (briefly) in Houston in 2018. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility that we see them rejoin forces.
If this week has taught me anything is that we never know what James Jones is going to do. We should’ve learned our lesson in the 2019 NDA Draft when he took Cam Johnson at #11. Many were upset then. Now? If you include Cam in a trade scenario, those people will find you.
Whichever way James Jones and the Suns front office chooses to go it will be exciting. Buckle up. Free agency officially begins on Sunday at 10:01am MST, although the “legal tampering” period begins at 4:00pm MST on Friday.