Former Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough’s one-liners drew a few laughs Monday afternoon on ESPN’s “The Jump,” hosted by Rachel Nichols.
Between those soundbites, McDonough, in the eight-minute interview, talked about how Suns owner Robert Sarver fired him, his biggest regret as general manager and much more.
McDonough was entering his sixth season as Phoenix’s GM, but felt he had more time.
In explaining the rationale behind signing free agent Trevor Ariza to a one-year, $15-million deal, McDonough compared it to Philadelphia paying J.J. Redick $23 million for a year last season.
“We thought Ariza would help us take a step from rebuilding to hopefully being playoff competitive and then we could build from there either with Ariza or with an elite free agent in the 2019 class,” he said.
McDonough at least thought he’d make it through this season as he said the Suns “are lined up pretty well for the 2019 free agent class in terms of their cap space and how they’re positioned going forward.”
Sarver didn’t give him the opportunity to see that out. Phoenix announced the firing Oct. 8, 10 days before the season opener.
“It was unexpected,” McDonough said.
McDonough joked that he would’ve scheduled more Australian teams in the preseason had he known this was going to happen.
The Suns played the New Zealand Breakers in their second preseason game. They won by only five points before losing by 22 to Portland at home two days later.
Over that weekend, Sarver let McDonough go.
“The timing of it was a little surprising,” McDonough said.
He said the firing came over the phone.
“Any head coach or general manager that’s been fired say if I’d only had more time, I would’ve done this or that,” he said.
McDonough admitted he felt the roster was “not fully completed” and felt like the team’s youth hurt in recruiting “elite free agents in their prime.”
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst prefaced a question about free agents saying Phoenix had “a couple of high-profile” ones visit.
In answering the question, McDonough named LeBron James and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Before James left the Heat to return to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, the Suns reportedly pitched James’ agent, Rich Paul. It was reported that McDonough joined Sarver and then President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby at that meeting.
Aldridge chose San Antonio over Phoenix in 2015.
Maybe McDonough’s just name dropping, but he didn’t name anyone when saying his biggest regret was “how public some of the conflict with players became.”
Between Eric Bledsoe’s exit plea tweet at the beginning of last season, Goran Dragic’s trade demand ahead of the 2015 trade deadline and McDonough publicly saying he regretted trading Isaiah Thomas, McDonough said the franchise could’ve handled things better internally with players and vice versa.
“If I do jump back in on the team side at some point, I’ll learn from that,” McDonough said. “I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting over the last couple of weeks and just thinking how we can do better in that area going forward.”
McDonough does have high hopes for the Suns moving forward starting with the outside-inside combination of Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. He said NBA teams need three elite players to win big and believes Booker and Ayton will be elite.
“(Booker is) as good as any young player in the league in terms of closing out games down the stretch, which you guys know is the hardest thing to find in the NBA,” McDonough proudly said.
Coming full circle on McDonough’s interview, the Ariza comment was an answer to former Suns executive and current ESPN Insider Amin Elhassan’s question about deciding between a veteran to impact the locker room or a point guard such as Rajon Rondo, who McDonough knew from his days in Boston.
McDonough reverted back to what he said at Suns media day in September that three of the four conference finalists in last season’s playoffs – Golden State, Houston and Boston – had “a ton of interchangeable wing players,” one of whom on the Rockets was Ariza.
Of course, Cleveland had James, the 6-foot, 8-inch, 260-plus forward who ran the show like a point guard, but those other three teams have proven point guards, in addition to the wings.
Two are future Hall of Famers – Steph Curry (Golden State) and Chris Paul (Houston). The other, Terry Rozier, someone Phoenix pursued in the offseason, shined in the postseason in place of another elite point guard – Kyrie Irving.
Phoenix went after point guards, but ended up with wing players and four point guards – Isaiah Canaan, Shaquille Harrison and rookies Elie Okobo and De’Anthony Melton – going into training camp in September.