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Inside the Phoenix Suns' messy and dysfunctional front office

Inside the Phoenix Suns' messy and dysfunctional front office
Published On: Mon, Mar 04
Jan 29, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks head coach Derek Fisher talks with guard Sasha Vujacic (18) during the second quarter against the Phoenix Sun at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

ASK ANYONE WHOA has come through theA Phoenix SunsA organization over the past decade, and they'll likely have a Robert Sarver story.

One longtime former player remembers the owner barging into the locker room following a loss to officiously instruct big men on how to set better screens. A former assistant coach was floored when Sarver confronted his boss on the way from the court to the coaches' office immediately after the buzzer to berate him on his substitution patterns. Another former coach was taken aback when Sarver marched into the head coach's office at halftime and insisted the team run a trap at an opposing point guard who had abused the Suns' defense.

One insider recalls an evening, following the draft, when Suns brass dined at a notable Phoenix eatery. After the meal, Sarver delivered several pointers on how to improve the operation to the owner, one of the West's leading restaurateurs.

Then there was the time in January 2012 when Sarver dressed down future Hall of Famer Grant Hill in the locker room at halftime for allowing former SunA Vince CarterA to go off for a quick 15 points. One of Hill's teammates recently stated that the team found Sarver's actions utterly repugnant. Former players and Suns coaches recount incidents of Sarver baiting opponents from his courtside seat, and even heckling Suns players or roaring to the bench to yank someone from the game.

More than a decade removed from the Seven Seconds or Less team that thrilled both casual fans and basketball junkies, the Suns appear to have no discernible direction. What was one of the most influential franchises in the NBA -- oneA that both redefined the gameA and led the way in innovation -- is now one of the league's most beleaguered. Fallow periods are part of the life cycle of most NBA teams, but this Suns' state has become a chronic condition. They're projected to win fewer than 25 games for the fourth consecutive season. They haven't made the playoffs since 2010.

While opinions differ over the primary factors that led to the drought, some consistent themes have emerged in discussions with nearly two dozen NBA insiders -- from current and former Suns players and employees to agents and rival executives who have done business with the organization: an interventionist owner with more authority than expertise, a front office marred by instability, an undermanned scouting department, and a dated facility that isolates the decision-makers from the players and coaches.

"The organization hasn't functioned to the level of mine or our fans' expectations, and that's on me to change," Sarver says. "If I look back, at times I've tried to use a formula I've used in business where I've hired younger folks and tried to mentor them. In my other business, that's been successful. But in this business, I've sometimes underestimated the challenges of the management responsibilities in today's NBA and the experience level it takes to do that."

Sarver says the Suns will soon begin a search for his next head of basketball operations. The team of James Jones and Trevor Bukstein, who assumed the role of interim co-general managers last October, will be among the candidates.

"We will cast a net around some highly capable and experienced people who can help our organization move forward," Sarver says.

Sarver certainly isn't the first owner to preside over his franchise with a heavy hand and heated emotions. And several sources say that in moments of calm, Sarver can be genuinely warm on a personal level. Even those who have been on the receiving end of outbursts say Sarver, at other times, took a sincere interest in their families, or offered thoughtful financial advice.

But just as troubling as invading the work spaces of his players and coaches, say those who have worked for Sarver, is his meddling in personnel decisions. An individual who has worked in the Suns' front office says Sarver, in his best moments, poses challenging questions that can help frame a conversation. But often, process can get derailed by impulse.

Case in point: Earl Watson. After Watson replaced Jeff Hornacek as interim coach midway through 2015-16, the Suns opted against performing a broad search for a permanent replacement, despite the fact that Watson had all of one full season's experience as a D League assistant coach before assuming a spot on Hornacek's bench.

Read the complete news article here...


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