Josh Jackson hopes young Suns core can develop way Warriors once did
Some incoming rookies might have looked at the Phoenix Suns’ 24-58 record — last in the NBA’s Western Conference this past season — and began concocting ways to avoid getting drafted by an organization in the early stages of a rebuilding project.
Josh Jackson did the opposite.
The one-and-done wing out of Kansas and his management team instead sought out the desert as a destination.
“It’s definitely a place I’ve thought about being ever since the draft lottery,” Jackson said at his introductory press conference in Phoenix, after the Suns stole the multi-talented, 6-foot-8 wing at No. 4 in the 2017 draft. “I look at the team and I just really get excited. This team has so much promise and I think I fit in pretty well, so I’m more than happy to be here, and I can’t wait to see what we can do this year.”
The Suns have won less than 30 percent of their games in each of the previous two seasons. So what does Jackson envision that others don’t?
“I thought that one of the most special things about this team is the youth that we have,” he said, adding that the young core he is joining — which includes Devin Booker (20 years old), Marquese Chriss (19), Dragan Bender (19), T.J. Warren (23) and Eric Bledsoe (27) — would be able to grow together.
The Phoenix roster, as comprised entering the summer, doesn’t exactly scream playoff contender. And although Jackson didn’t make any claims about what the team could accomplish in his rookie season, it was clear that his fascination with joining the Suns had more to do with the longterm.
“I remember watching Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green when they were all young, and they didn’t seem to click as well” Jackson said, referring to three eventual stars drafted between 2009 and 2013 by the Golden State Warriors, winners of two of the last three NBA championships. “But as time went on and they got older they just had the best team chemistry. And now look at them.”
The hope in Phoenix is that Booker, Jackson and either one, or both, of their young power forwards from the 2016 draft — Chriss and Bender — and/or a to-be-determined 2018 lottery pick (spoiler alert: the Suns aren’t making the playoffs next season) will form a combination capable of developing into a stellar team in the future.
“When coach (Earl Watson) came and visited me and watched us work out that was one of his key points, just being able to give the young guys opportunity,” Jackson said. “He knows we’re not perfect, we’re gonna come out and mess up. But we have to have that opportunity to be able to come out and make mistakes so we can learn from them and get better.”
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, who no doubt also preached that opportunity concept to Jackson ahead of the draft, didn’t back off the Golden State ideal model referenced by Jackson. McDonough said he and his team studied how the Warriors and Oklahoma City turned around their franchises through the draft.
“It starts with the caliber of the player, in terms of the talent, in terms of their approach. Most teams with young players don’t win a lot of games — we get that part of it,” McDonough said. “But if the guys work hard, grow together and grow on the same timeline you can turn it pretty quickly and takeoff pretty quickly.”
No one looks at the current Phoenix core and sees a Curry-Green-Thompson trio or Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook/James Harden-type combo in the making. At least not yet. If Phoenix adds a top-three pick in a year or finds a way to trade for another up-and-coming talent this summer, it could be on its way to the kind of drastic turnaround Jackson envisions.
It might not work out that way, but Jackson will do everything within his power to restore the hopes of a franchise that has missed the playoffs seven consecutive years — and counting.