PHOENIX – The first casualty from the second-worst season in Phoenix Suns history is general manager Lance Blanks.
After three playoff-free seasons as the franchise’s main evaluator of talent, Blanks was fired a couple of months before the Suns – if the ping-pong balls are merciful – make their highest draft selection in years. The Suns concluded their season last week with a 25-57 record — worst in the Western Conference and fourth-worst in the NBA.
“Lance has been a trusted friend and colleague,” said Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said in statement released by the team. “I thank him personally and professionally for his hard work on behalf of the Suns. We will continue to prepare for the offseason even as we look for his replacement.”
With the aforementioned draft – in addition to pre-draft workouts and interviews – on one of two front-burners, Babby and team owner Robert Sarver are expected to find Blanks’ replacement quickly.
And they might already know who that is. Replacing Blanks – who had one more season left on his initial contract – so close to the draft certainly invites that hypothesis.
At this point, Suns’ fans might not care who has the greatest input on the team’s draft selection; they’re more concerned now with who no longer does.
Having Markieff Morris and Kendall Marshall to show for his first two selections at the end (13th in each case) of the draft lottery, Blanks’ picks haven’t exactly impressed the constituency thus far.
Some of the Suns’ non-draft decisions the past three years – while not all being solely credited to Blanks – have not been well received, either.
According to NBA insiders, Sarver negotiated the free-agent deal to bring back Goran Dragic when Blanks preferred Raymond Felton as a point guard replacement for Steve Nash.
Blanks also has taken a hit for attempting to sell Phoenix fans on the notion that free-agent acquisition Michael Beasley was a reasonable risk in the Suns’ search for a go-to scorer.
After popular coach Alvin Gentry was relieved of his duties earlier this season, Blanks upped the critical ante by taking the lead in hiring rookie coach Lindsey Hunter as interim coach over franchise hero Dan Majerle and veteran NBA assistant Elston Turner.
While many observers assume Hunter’s fate with the Suns is connected to that of Blanks, this remains to be seen. That figures be one of the first questions Babby will field during a noon press conference at US Airways Center on Tuesday.
Blanks wasn’t exactly eager to be the public face of the franchise’s personnel decisions, and he was something of a mystery to Suns players, too. In three separate season-closing interviews with veteran players, Blanks was referred to as “the ghost” due to his disappearance for long stretches.
Blanks was originally named to the post on Aug. 5, 2010, after serving in the front offices of the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs. He and Babby were hired in tandem after Steve Kerr resigned to return to his role as a television analyst.