After 51 years in business, the Suns are still searching for their first NBA title. Too many important people have yet to receive their just rewards.
Jerry Colangelo deserves a statue in downtown Phoenix. Mike D’Antoni deserves a championship for sparking a basketball revolution. Alvin Gentry deserves a purple heart after working for Donald Sterling and Robert Sarver, only to have his most recent season poisoned by doomsday agent Rich Paul.
And after just 87 regular-season victories and zero All-Star berths in four awful seasons, Devin Booker deserves the three P’s: A platform, a playoff team and a point guard to showcase his transcendent skills.
Welcome to another crossroads on Planet Orange.
It’s not enough that Sarver has backed his anti-meddling stance with two key hires. Jeff Bower gives the organization another top executive, another line of defense between the locker room and a notorious hands-on owner. Monty Williams gives the franchise a head coach with real experience and real power, the kind that comes with a five-year contract.
If Sarver wanted to play a shell game to protect his own self-interests, the latter would’ve never happened. History proves what kind of coach he prefers, namely those who are controllable and cost-efficient. Williams is neither, and irrefutable proof of progress.
But now the Suns have to spend real money on players, not just their head coach. They ranked 25th in team payroll in 2018-19. They were 28th the previous season. They were 25th the year before that. They were 26th the year before the year before. On and on it goes.
It’s not that Sarver is cheap. He just doesn’t like to spend freely. There are countless examples, from Joe Johnson to Kurt Thomas. He chose fiscal prudence over Amar’e Stoudemire’s knees and a chance to win a championship in 2010-11.
He might’ve been right on the player. But he hasn’t been to the playoffs since.
Sarver’s teams always make money. They have increased in value by over $1 billion since he purchased the team for $404 million in 2004. That’s because Sarver is a world-class businessman who has built an empire with his acumen, ambition and attention to detail.
But his teams don’t win nearly enough basketball games. Because he’s been a bad owner, a smart guy who can’t get out of his own way. At least until now.
The final frontier is Sarver’s tolerance for financial loss and high-risk poker. Like if D’Angelo Russell becomes available on the free market, a restricted free agent who might not be in Brooklyn’s long-term plans.
Russell would cost a lot of money. He’s also a rising star, a point guard and one of Booker’s closest friends. That would instantly secure Booker’s future in Phoenix in a way his contract never could. It’s the kind of acquisition Sarver’s predecessor would make without blinking.
Let’s see if the Suns pull that off. Or if they continue to blame a litany of a tired list of excuses, like not fitting the team’s chemistry or timeline.
Mike Conley is also available. He is a veteran with a massive contract, a player readily available in a trade. You might not get your money’s worth out of an aging floor leader like Conley, but he’ll make the Suns a lot better in the short term. That’s the sacrifice Sarver must one day reconcile, the prohibitive cost of fielding a really good team, leading with the heard and not the head.
Maybe Jones has another surprise in store for all of us. While the ballyhooed acquisition of Kelly Oubre Jr. was a happy accident and nothing more, the hiring of Williams was a masterful stroke. You hope there’s marquee player hiding out in his back pocket as well, a player who has already decided to pin his future on an uprising in Phoenix.
You also fear a team that goes into the 2019-20 season with Tyler Johnson and some other immature rookie at point guard. Because while the future looks bright, history is not on Sarver’s side. Sooner or later, our rabid hunger for a NBA championship will be anchored to the dollars the owner is willing to spend. It might be this season or five years from now.
And every minute we wait is one minute too late.
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