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On June 20, 2019, Cam Johnson celebrated at his family’s home in the Pittsburgh area, his name being the 11th overall pick in the NBA Draft.

The most optimistic outsider was stunned, as evidenced by the “Wow, bro!” Viral video of Coby White, Johnson’s former teammate and close friend in North Carolina. The most pessimistic outsider moved on with the entire draft night of newly promoted Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones which also included the trade of TJ Warren to Indiana for money considerations, the acquisition of Dario Å arić in the deal that gave the Suns Johnson draft rights trade for Aron Baynes and the draft pick that became Ty Jerome in exchange for a first-round pick.

Two years later to the day, Suns managing partner Robert Sarver and Jones’ three children surprised him halfway through with a perfect Father’s Day gift: the news that he had been elected. NBA Executive of the Year by his peers. The Phoenix players took a break from their pre-game warm-ups to applaud the architect who built this Suns team to three wins from the NBA Finals. Johnson went on to register 12 points, four rebounds and two steals in Phoenix’s Game 1 win over the Clippers.

This odd timing – which is only possible due to a changed schedule to end this pandemic season – presents a perfect opportunity to look back at how that draft night shaped the Suns’ leadership and the impressive resurgence under Jones. .

“That trip where when I was first drafted here, it was like, ‘Oh man, this team is terrible. I was a bad choice. This team was doomed,” Johnson recalled. recently, “so getting to this point now, getting into the Western Conference Finals, it’s fun.”

“It shows the trust and the faith and the trust that we have in each other.”

Jones took over as interim co-general manager just before the start of the 2018-19 season. His seasonal moves in those early months included the exchange of Trevor Ariza in Washington for Kelly Oubre Jr. and the exchange of Ryan Anderson in Miami for Tyler Johnson.

After being officially promoted to general manager after the season, Jones’ first major move was to hire Monty Williams as head coach. But the night of the draft was the first opportunity for Jones to make any significant changes to the roster.

Money considerations that returned to Warren’s trade were used to re-sign Oubre and sign playmaker Ricky Rubio, who were major contributors during their time with Phoenix before becoming the centerpiece of the trade. success story for Chris Paul. Another move that helped free up some pay for those signings came later that summer, when Jones traded Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton and two Memphis second-round draft picks for Jevon Carter, who has become a fan favorite due to his defensive tenacity. , a tireless work ethic and passionate support from the bench when not in the rotation.

Baynes also added value with his tenacity, experience and 3-point shots last season, especially when Deandre Ayton was suspended for 25 games.

Instant judgments and instant analysis are rife in a passionate 24/7 sporting landscape. But Jones’ plan has been methodically deliberated since his interim season. His goal has been to find “fit Suns”, or players with the skills, work habits and personality that can immediately raise the level of the team and blend into a positive culture.

Johnson embodied this vision. His long-range shot would immediately translate to NBA level. The Suns knew he was a top man due to his past relationship with vice president of basketball operations Jeff Bower. The Suns were confident Johnson’s hip injury that required college surgery was healed.

And Phoenix believed Johnson would become more than just a shooter. In his first two NBA seasons, Johnson showed the athleticism to rise for the dunks – including a key fourth-quarter slam in Sunday’s win – as well as the footwork and length to keep several positions.

The Suns have won 34 games this season after removing Jones’ provisional tag, including an 8-0 run in the Orlando bubble that raised eyebrows throughout the league. Jones then turned that momentum into an offseason that changes the franchise.

The trade for Paul, 11 times All-Star and one of the best point guard of all time, was the obvious headliner. Phoenix also hired Jae Crowder, a tough veteran winger, who had just finished an NBA Finals with Miami. The Suns have brought back Å arić, Carter and Frank Kaminsky because Williams calls them “engines of culture.” They gave Cameron Payne a shot right before the bubble, then picked his team option for 2020-21. They acquired Torrey Craig for cash considerations in March, and he immediately became a rotational contributor. They filled the list with E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway, who were praised for their professionalism, leadership in the locker room and ability to step in when needed (see: Moore playing 11 minutes on Sunday while Paul was away for health and safety protocols).

The result: Phoenix finished with the second-best NBA regular-season record and landed a playoff berth for the first time since 2010. The Suns placed in the NBA’s top 7 in offensive standings and defensive, using a style based on sharing the ball and playing with relentless force. They have now won eight straight playoff games to stretch a franchise record, knocking out the defending champions Lakers in the first round, sweeping the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals and winning Game 1 of their series against the Clippers. .

“As a team, I really, really like our squad,” Johnson said. “… I love this team. I love who we have on the pitch. I love to play with these guys.

A natural outside skepticism was perhaps expected when Sarver elevated Jones to the top of the Suns’ personal decision-makers. He played a role in championship teams and then quickly rose through the ranks of the Phoenix front office. He took over a franchise that had suffered from huge recent turnovers and struggles on the pitch, winning just 19 games in 2018-19.

But June 20, 2019, kicked off the construction of the Suns’ roster, now up 1-0 in the Western Conference final.

And on June 20, 2021, Jones was named NBA Executive of the Year.

What a difference two years can make.

“This is one of the main reasons we are successful, because of the team he has put together and the character of the players and the talent he has brought together,” Williams said of Jones. . “Just happy for him. He changed that thing in no time.

“… I know it must have been a thrill for him (to be named Executive of the Year). He won’t admit it, but I’m sure he was on the verge of tears.

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