Suns GM James Jones Calls LeBron James 'the Ultimate Competitor' Before Lakers Game

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVMay 23, 2021

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 18, 2016: LeBron James (L) and James Jones of the Cleveland Cavaliers talk prior to a game against the Chicago Bulls at Quicken Loans Arena on February 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland won 106-95. (Photo by: 2016 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
Photo by: 2016 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones called Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James the "ultimate competitor" ahead of the teams' first-round playoff series, which tips off Sunday.

Jones, who played alongside James for seven years with the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers before his 2017 on-court retirement, told ESPN's Dave McMenamin he still has a ton of respect for his former teammate:

"I mean, LeBron's the greatest. He's the best player in the league. I'm biased. I know him. I've seen him up close and personal. He's great. There's no other way to describe him, and he's the ultimate competitor. And he's really good. And you have to beat really good players and really good teams to do what you want to do—do what we want to do, do what I want to do, which is win a title."

The Lakers slid down the Western Conference standings because of key injuries, including extended absences for James and Anthony Davis in recent months, and were forced to survive the play-in tournament to secure the No. 7 seed in the playoffs.

In turn, the reigning champions represent a more dangerous low seed than would typically be the case for the second-seeded Suns, who posted a 51-21 record during the regular season.

While L.A. poses a serious threat to end Phoenix's terrific year prematurely, Jones told McMenamin he's excited about what the matchup with the Lakers represents for his team:

"It's a challenge. It's a great challenge. And it's fun. You live for these opportunities. You don't take it for granted. Because you don't get a chance to compete against the greatest very often. And so, I'm just excited. I'm just as geeked for the opportunity to play him, as I'm sure he is playing our team. It's just fun. I'm looking forward to it.

"Seriously, I'm looking forward to it. And I'm not even playing. ... It's the type of stuff you talk about for years to come. Because I plan on being in this industry for a long time, and I know he does too."

James, who called Jones his "favorite player of all time" in 2015, previously credited his longtime teammate for helping build the Suns' roster into a championship contender since taking over as GM in 2018, including the addition of point guard Chris Paul last offseason to help spark this year's rise up the standings.

"He's done a hell of a job in not only acquiring CP3, but he is building that team," James said in December. "He's got some really, really good things going on over there to add to the All-Star, future superstar Devin Booker."

The Lakers and Suns are likely headed toward a long series with the teams pretty evenly matched and L.A. still rounding back into form after the injury woes. It wouldn't be a surprise if they end up going the seven-game distance.

Game 1 is set for a 3:30 p.m. ET tip Sunday on ABC.