James Jones, AKA “Champ”, was named VP of Basketball Operations for the Phoenix Suns today. Yes, the same James Jones who is best known as a professional friend and mentor to LeBron James, and who up until a few weeks ago was sitting on the Cavs bench in the Finals, taking up a roster spot that could have been used a young backup wing.
But LeBron insisted that the Cavs sign Jones when he returned to Cleveland and it wasn’t just so he could have a friend on the team:
LeBron also called Jones his favorite player of all time. Clearly they are close, but if he just wanted a friend around, he could have convinced Jones to retire and then asked the Cavs to hire him as an assistant coach. Or relied on his close circle of friends and business associates that don’t take up roster spots.
LeBron knew that the single biggest challenge he would have resuscitating the Cavs would be overhauling their losing culture. Guys like Kyrie and Kevin Love had talent, but were perennial losers at the NBA level. LeBron could handle the on-court transition – famously telling Kyrie that he could never have another game with zero assists – but he needed a trusted lieutenant to help him change the off-court culture.
Not only could LeBron not be everywhere at once, but the message also can’t just come from one person or it will eventually get tuned out, even if that person is LeBron James. It also helps if that second person is a player, not a coach. James Jones filled that role to perfection:
The Suns are a young, impressionable team full of talented prospects. It is extremely important for them to install a winning culture from the jump. It will also be important for them to recognize veterans around the league who are good influences and bring them in. Other versions of James Jones if you will.
Jones will help with both, and if he gets them a meeting with LeBron James next summer, that will just be an added bonus. Champ has a finance degree. He served as secretary-treasurer of the NBA Players Association. He spent more time studying the habits of winning NBA cultures up close than anyone since Steve Kerr. And he is now an NBA executive.
We don’t spend much time quoting David Blatt around here, and for good reason, but he put it best in 2015 when summing up Jones’ future possibilities: