TwoTwo years ago, we were talking about goats. Not GOATs; goats. That’s because ESPN published an exposé on the Phoenix Suns that revealed an organization with no direction, an owner with a heavy hand, and one hilarious anecdote: Suns owner Robert Sarver placed goats in the office of former general manager Ryan McDonough to symbolize the team’s desire of finding a GOAT player, only for the goats to defecate all over the office. It was a tidy metaphor for Phoenix’s predicament, as the franchise boasted the NBA’s worst record from 2015-16 through 2018-19. “The organization hasn’t functioned to the level of mine or our fans’ expectations, and that’s on me to change,” Sarver said at the time.
In the time since, Phoenix has cleaned up its act. With a win on Thursday over the Warriors, the Suns would head into the All-Star break with the second-best record in the NBA. They’re also one of two teams that rank in the top eight in both offensive rating and defensive rating. (Utah, owner of the league’s best record, is the other.) A blend of impressive young guys and grizzled veterans now make up one of the NBA’s best teams.
“There’s no secret sauce,” Suns general manager James Jones told me recently.
Sarver hired Jones as a VP of basketball operations in the summer of 2017, hoping to prepare him for a larger role that would allow him to bring his success as a player to the front office. In his 14-year playing career, Jones never played on a team that finished under .500, he missed the playoffs only once, and he won three championships. LeBron James has called Jones his greatest teammate ever. Jones was elevated quickly: He was named co-interim GM when Sarver fired McDonough in the fall of 2018, and in April 2019, he was officially given the position. Change had begun.