Phoenix Suns: Plan is in place, but asset management is poor

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images /

The Phoenix Suns have a plan in place for on-court improvement, but their concept of asset management in getting there is exceedingly poor.

“Out with the old, in with the new,” is how the old saying goes. Unfortunately for the Phoenix Suns, even with a new front office regime, the 2019 NBA offseason feels more like “same old, same old.”

It’s been a busy summer for the Suns, who have long been the subject of nationwide slander and haven’t done much to quiet the criticism over the last few weeks. In the first offseason with general manager James Jones at the helm, change was to be expected.

Instead, it’s been a full-scale teardown of almost everything the prior GM put in place, as the Josh Jackson dump — first reported by ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski — showed on Wednesday.

To be fair, there’s certainly not a lot from Ryan McDonough’s tenure for Suns fans to be appreciative of. Selecting Devin Booker at No. 13 provided the franchise with its first bonafide star since Steve Nash, but outside of that, McDonough’s time was characterized by asset accumulation that never went anywhere, leading to a collection of mistakes the current front office is still trying to fix.

Dating back to 2013, McDonough’s poor drafting and the Suns’ inability to develop those prospects doomed this team, with ripple effects still being felt to this day. Forget about how four top-eight picksAlex Len at No. 5 in 2013, Dragan Bender at No. 4 and Marquese Chriss at No. 8 in 2016 and Jackson at No. 4 in 2017 — were no longer on the team within five years of being drafted.

The accumulation and mismanagement of assets runs deeper than that, and it’s a worrisome, recurring trend we’ve already seen rear its ugly head again multiple times this summer.

After missing out on the Zion Williamson Sweepstakes and dropping all the way to No. 6 in the pecking order after a 19-win season, there were plenty of possible avenues for Jones to explore. He could’ve used the pick on intriguing, but flawed rookie point guards like Darius Garland or Coby White. He could’ve use the pick on the best player available, opting to use free agency to address the team’s longstanding issues at point guard.

The most sensible path, however, was to try and trade the pick for an established NBA point guard, several of which were available.

But apparently Mike Conley wasn’t good enough. Neither was Lonzo Ball, and neither was Spencer Dinwiddie — even in a draft low on franchise-altering talent outside of Zion and maybe Ja Morant.

Fair enough; valuing top-10 picks is a good quality for any GM, no matter the draft. But then, when frequently mentioned Suns target Jarrett Culver — a playmaking, defensive wing who could play multiple positions — was still on the board at No. 6, Phoenix dealt the pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves to address their power forward spot with Dario Saric.

That wasn’t the end of the world though; the Suns acquired a competent, starting-caliber 4 and still had the No. 11 pick to take Brandon Clarke, another coveted big man for most pundits thanks to his elite defensive ability and shot-blocking. When Clarke was still available at No. 11, fans rejoiced.

Instead, Phoenix made the largest reach of the draft, taking North Carolina sharpshooter Cam Johnson about 10 spots ahead of where he was projected on most draft boards. It was so surprising, his own UNC teammate Coby White couldn’t believe it.

Jones wasn’t done though, dealing the Milwaukee Bucks top-seven protected 2020 first-rounder to the Boston Celtics for Aron Baynes and the 24th overall pick, used on guard Ty Jerome.

Baynes is a solid, defensive-minded backup who’s recently added an outside shot to his game, and he’s on a cheap, one-year contract. Jerome is a capable, seemingly NBA-ready shooter coming from a successful Virginia program, but there are obvious concerns that extend beyond prospect evaluation.

Like any other draft, pre-draft projections can easily fly out the window in a year or two, let alone over the course of a full career. Maybe Cam Johnson becomes a sniper, Jerome emerges as an unlikely stud or Culver and Clarke turn out to be busts.

But no matter their futures, trading a first-rounder that’s only protected 1-7 to move back into the late first round of a weak draft and also acquire a backup big man is an irresponsible use of assets.

Beyond that, the cap space the team had created earlier that day from the T.J. Warren salary dump was largely negated by the $7 million owed to Saric and Baynes. Remember that $7 million, because it’s going to be important.

As for the Warren salary dump, the move shipped a useful wing off to the Indiana Pacers — along with the No. 32 pick in the draft! — for nothing but cash considerations and cap space. Warren didn’t have a place in Phoenix long-term and has routinely missed time due to injury, but dumping him for that package was so bad the Pacers actually thought it was a joke at first.

The Josh Jackson trade is just the latest in a series of asset mismanagement. There’s no beating around the bush: Jackson is not a good NBA player right now. He had absolutely killed his trade value between his poor play on the court and a never-ending string of bad headlines off it. It’s not surprising the Suns had to attach some sweeteners to move his contract — a necessary step to free up the requisite cap space for signing Ricky Rubio and re-signing Kelly Oubre Jr.

But hey, remember that $7 million in salary the Suns added on draft night between Saric and Baynes? Well, guess how much Josh Jackson’s salary was, which just had to be moved to make room for Rubio’s slight overpay and Oubre’s incoming contract? That’s right, $7 million.

Attaching two second round picks and De’Anthony Melton — a promising young point guard coming off a rookie season in which he showed consistent flashes of brilliance on the defensive end — in order to make up the $7 million the team added back to its cap sheet in a series of odd draft-night moves is a major L no matter how you try to spin it.

It’s a necessary evil, born mostly of sins from the prior front office, but it’s still an ugly means to an end that this current regime bears some of the blame for nonetheless.

Throw in the buying out of Kyle Korver‘s contract (vets still don’t want to play here, after all) and the lone return being second round pick Jevon Carter — who will likely add Elie Okobo to De’Anthony Melton on the list of former second round point guards he’s ousting from Phoenix — and it becomes clear this franchise has trouble properly evaluating talent and the value of assets in general.

The Suns never understood what they had in Melton, which was clear from his inconsistent playing time and the unceremonious deal that will move him to the Memphis Grizzlies, where he’ll undoubtedly thrive in their Grit-N-Grind culture. It was clear when Warren was dumped in that joke of a deal, and it was clear from the team’s other draft night trades.

James Jones’ plan is clear: Acquire proven, older players who can shoot and hopefully complement Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. That strategy seeped into their rookie additions and every trade they’ve made this summer in order to free up the space for one good free agency acquisition (Rubio) and one incredibly questionable addition (Frank Kaminsky).

Having a strategy and sticking to it is great, but these moves have come at the cost of defense, athleticism and, again, asset management. Should anyone feel good about Phoenix turning the following players and picks into what the team has now?


  • T.J. Warren
  • Josh Jackson
  • De’Anthony Melton
  • No. 6 overall pick (Jarrett Culver)
  • No. 32 overall pick
  • Bucks’ 2020 1st round pick
  • 2020 2nd round pick (likely to be in the 31-40 range)
  • Conditional 2021 2nd round pick


  • Cap space to sign Ricky Rubio to a three-year, $51 million overpay
  • Dario Saric
  • Frank Kaminsky (two-year, $9.8 million deal)
  • No. 11 overall pick (Cameron Johnson, over Brandon Clarke)
  • No. 24 overall pick (Ty Jerome)
  • Aron Baynes
  • Jevon Carter

The Suns should be a better team in 2019-20. A lineup of Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre/Mikal Bridges, Dario Saric and Deandre Ayton features a competent starter at all five positions. New head coach Monty Williams offers hope, and between Kaminsky, Jerome, Johnson and Baynes, there’s more 3-point shooting coming off the bench to space the floor.

However, there were so many missed opportunities and unexplored possibilities this summer, it’s impossible to keep count. A potential Mike Conley deal. Jarrett Culver at No. 6. Brandon Clarke at No. 11. NOT including Melton and two second-rounders to dump the No. 4 pick from three drafts ago. NOT including the 32nd pick just to dump Warren for nothing but cap space. The list goes on and on.

James Jones has a plan to acquire shooting and established players, and it’s clear his goal is to rid Phoenix of the remnants of McDonough’s poor decision-making. But even though there’s a time to acknowledge sunk costs and move on, proper asset management has to be part of that process.

Next. 2019 NBA free agency tracker - grades for every deal so far. dark

The Suns may very well approach 30 wins next season, but the next steps to progress after that, and assembling a future contender around Booker and Ayton, will require savvy roster-building and asset management. To this point, Jones is showing there’s plenty of cause for concern on that front.