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Suns general manager James Jones signs multiyear contract extension

Jones, a key figure in Phoenix’s resurgence, is proud to be part of progress for Black sports executives

The Phoenix Suns have signed general manager James Jones to a multiyear contract extension, he confirmed to The Undefeated.

Jones joined the Suns as the vice president of basketball operations in 2017 before being named interim general manager and eventually the permanent general manager in 2019. During his tenure, Jones hired Monty Williams, who was the NBCA Coach of the Year last season. He also acquired and re-signed All-Star guard Chris Paul while building a roster that reached the NBA Finals in 2021 and entered Tuesday an NBA-best 37-9 this season.

“I’m just fortunate and I’m extremely grateful to be a part of it,” Jones said of the contract extension to The Undefeated. “It’s more than I could have ever dreamed of to be a part of a team like this, some of the best professionals across sports. And to have the success that we’re having, it’s so much fun. When you step into this job, you never really know what it’ll be like, you hear stories about what it looks like, what the profession looks like, and the arc of a career in the front office or in an organization.”

Jones, one of 11 Black general managers in the NBA, agreed to the extension in the midst of the NBA’s investigation into the Suns and the conduct of majority owner Robert Sarver. The league is conducting the investigation in the wake of ESPN publishing a report on Nov. 4, 2021, based on interviews with more than 70 current and former Suns employees who described a sometimes toxic and hostile workplace of racism and sexism during Sarver’s 17-year tenure in Phoenix.

Sarver has said he would support any league inquiry to the allegations made against him. When the ESPN report was published, Jones said in a statement: “None of what’s been said describes the Robert Sarver I know, respect and like — it just doesn’t.”

Jones told The Undefeated that the Sarver investigation “didn’t give me pause” in accepting the contract extension with the Suns.

On taking the extension during the Sarver investigation, Jones added: “This organization, business and basketball, it’s good. The talent, the people here are amazing. I have such a great team that I work with on the basketball side, but just as well equally, and sometimes even more on the business side. Because we’re the Suns, right? This is entertainment. And you don’t do the things that we do in a vacuum. That’s what I tell people a lot of times: You don’t do this in the vacuum, it takes everyone.

“And if you have the right mix of people, if you have common goals and you’re aligned, it makes working, coming to work every day exciting. It creates an awesome experience for everyone involved. And so that’s been my experience since I’ve been here. It’s been awesome.”

Jones was named the NBA Executive of the Year last season during the Western Conference finals. Jones accepted the award, but declined to be interviewed during the entire NBA playoffs because he preferred the focus be on his players.

Looking back, Jones described his honor as a “team award” and explained why he preferred to be low-key about it.

“I’ve always been a part of great teams, and I don’t take myself too seriously,” Jones said. “That award, the franchise, the players, the coaches, the staff, what I call the entire Suns team, they made me look good. I got credit for their works. If they don’t win games, they don’t excel at a high level, the decisions that we make from personnel, the decisions that we make with our personnel, they don’t turn out, they don’t pan out.

“And in this league, if you don’t win, you go home. They did a lot of winning, those guys won a lot of games. They’ve had a lot of success, so for me, I take it as a team award. So, for me personally, I’m just thankful for my team.”

At the start of the 2019-20 season, Jones and Williams were the only African American general manager-head coach duo in the league. Now there are seven such duos, including the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Koby Altman and J.B. Bickerstaff, the Houston Rockets’ Rafael Stone and Stephen Silas, the Detroit Pistons’ Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey, the Dallas Mavericks’ Nico Harrison and Jason Kidd, the New Orleans Pelicans’ Trajan Langdon and Willie Green, and the Philadelphia 76ers’ Elton Brand and Doc Rivers.

Suns stars Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton have said it means a lot to them to have an African American coach and general manager who have also played in the league. Jones is proud to be part of that progress for Black sports executives and is hopeful for more.

“It’s better. It has improved, and it will continue to improve and evolve, and there’ll be more diversity in that space,” Jones said. “And just to be a part of that group, is special. There’s only so many of those spots, only so many of those positions in the league, and to be able to fill those spots, and to be able to be a part of it, it’s special. I don’t take it for granted. It’s really unreal when I think about it. It’s the type of thing, you don’t think about it until you have to think about it.”

Jones, who was the 49th overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft by the Indiana Pacers and had a 14-year playing career, said he continues to grow in his role.

“I just try to sit back and observe, and give an objective perspective to what we do,” Jones said. “But I still have a long way to go, because the league, the talent here is growing exponentially. It’s a new game, the game is changing, the fans are changing. So I’m always in constant improvement mode.”

He added: “One thing that I say a lot internally is that, sometimes experience can be the enemy of progress. And taking that approach, I say, I need to just sit back, and listen, and watch, and not lean on my experiences as a player for the reason that I don’t want to overweigh. I try not to overweigh my experiences as a player. I try to value the experience with my coaches, my players, my current coaches and my current players, because they’re the ones that are playing this game.”

Jones said the pain for the Suns falling short in the 2021 NBA Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks will “burn forever, it’ll never go away.” But today’s Suns appear better and more confident than last season and have the potential to return to the Finals again.

“That’s the dream, but we know it’s a long road,” Jones said of competing for a title. “More than anything, it’s helped us appreciate every day. That’s where our joy comes from here, is that every day we get a chance to go out there and compete, and try to build the resiliency, the habits and the capacity to win a title. Doesn’t mean we will, but we know if we do what we need to do, we’ll have a chance. And that’s all we can ask for.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.