With negativity seemingly pouring over the edge of the containment silo, Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver decided it was time to represent the franchise’s thinking on some incendiary events.
As a guest on KTAR 620’s Burns & Gambo Show, Sarver fielded all inquiries with calm and candor. And the show’s co-hosts didn’t shy away from aiming directly at what have become some sore spots locally.
The impetus for a great deal of teeth-gnashing from media types around town was the decision to skip over two Suns assistant coaches and hire Lindsey Hunter as interim head coach two days after showing the door to Alvin Gentry.
Sitting at 13-28 at the season’s midway point, the Suns’ decision to part ways with Gentry wasn’t exactly popular, although it was considered understandable. But skipping over veteran NBA assistant Elston Turner and Suns legend Dan Majerle to go with someone who’s never been a bench coach at any level provoked a firestorm of criticism.
According to Sarver, the decision to promote Hunter – a 17-year NBA player in his first season as the team’s coordinator of skill development – was made by third-year general manager Lance Blanks.
Sarver was quick to remind listeners that he has veto power over such decisions, but also explained the reasoning in going with Hunter.
“It was the view of our organization,” Sarver said, “that, for the next 41 games, Lindsey Hunter was best-positioned to guide this team.”
To support the selection of Hunter, Sarver pointed to a recent league-wide trend in hiring former players who may have little coaching experience, but strong leadership skills.
The key, in Sarver’s opinion, was “being able to relate to them (players). You’re hiring a leader of men.”
Sarver also said he was involved in the vetting process.
“I did my own independent research and evaluation into Lindsey Hunter,” he said, adding that input from those associated with the new interim coach was another strong selling point.
During an interview that lasted close to 25 minutes, Sarver was pretty direct in giving his opinion on several questions.
For example, he insisted Hunter will not be – as has been speculated – a puppet for Blanks.
“Anyone who’s known Lindsey for his 20 years in the league knows he’s not a puppet to anybody,” Sarver said. “Lindsey is a tough son-of-a-gun … he’s not a puppet to anybody … I can tell you that.”
Sarver also expressed a strong distaste for what he referred to as inaccurate reporting on a couple of issues that were raised in recent days. One discussion suggested that – since they were Detroit Pistons teammates – Hunter was hired by Blanks because they were buddies. During Sunday’s interview at U.S. Airways Center, Blanks reminded his inquisitors the two played for the Pistons at different times and didn’t meet until Hunter contacted the Suns looking for employment two years earlier.
The Suns owner also said the national report of a shouting match co-starring Blanks and backup center Jermaine O’Neal after Monday’s practice was fiction.
Another topic on the table was the perception that the interviews of Turner and Majerle were a formality because the long-range plan had been to bring in Hunter.
“I can tell you they were not a charade,” Sarver said of the interviews, which were used to gauge what each candidate would do in the immediate aftermath of taking the job. “Those interviews were done with a purpose. If not, there was no reason to wait two days (before hiring Hunter).”
When asked if Blanks and president of basketball operations Lon Babby had diminished his confidence in them due to recent events, Sarver said, “No, no they haven’t. They determined he (Hunter) was what was needed for this franchise.”
He also said Blanks (who, like Babby, is in the last year of his contract) will have his work performance judged at the end of the season.
“Everybody in the organization is evaluated on an annual and consistent basis,” Sarver said. “Lance has a good eye for talent. He’s been very good with the draft.
“He’s not good at public relations. But that’s not his job. His job is to put together a basketball team.”
To that end, Sarver said he entered this season believing the current roster had the capacity to challenge for a playoff seed.
“I was under no illusions,” he said in regard to the Suns’ ability to challenge the Western Conference elite right now. “We did think we had a chance to compete for one of those bottom playoff spots.
“If you set a low bar, you’re guaranteed poor results. We want to compete at a level higher than last place in the Western Conference.”
Sarver did say that — despite the team’s terrible performance – Suns fans are not as disgruntled as media reports suggest.
“I would say that we monitor all of the information that comes in from our ticket holders and from our fans, and I would disagree with that,” he said when asked about possible mutiny within the fan base. “This is a tough time for the franchise. When we’re not winning and we’re not playing well, fans are upset and that all comes with it.
“What I would say to fans is we’re working every day to try to get our team back to elite status. It’s not something that can happen overnight.”
Sarver said the current rebuild will utilize the stockpile of draft picks and financial flexibility, and that the Suns “will be on call and active in the trade market.”
And, for now, the owner of what had been the city’s favorite major sports franchise will sit back and determine if he’s at least one piece closer to solving the puzzle.
“Give Lindsey a chance,” he said. “It’s 41 games … let’s see how he does.”