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The chaos behind the Suns decade of failure


Baxter Holmes' report on Robert Sarver and the Phoenix Suns shook the NBA world, as numerous disturbing stories came to light. Most of them tell the story of racism and misogyny in the workplace, definitely the most important issue to be addressed in the future. But, they also reveal the explanation of the Suns' dysfunction. When you hear them, things start to make sense.

Seven coaches in eight years

The easiest way to check organizational stability is to take a look at the coaches and GM list. You don't need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to figure out the best NBA teams have stable leadership, while the bad ones change coaches and GMs like socks. The Suns had nine coaches in the Sarver era - they went through seven coaches in eight years - and eight GMs. Why?

In addition to having a reputation as a guy who drops the N-word with ease, Robert Sarver seems to have another "quality" that is very high on the "How to be a bad owner for dummies" list - meddling. The ESPN story covers multiple moments when Sarver would go into the coaches locker room during halftime and start pushing his Xs and Os theory.

This would frustrate coaches who would try and explain to Sarver he was wrong. The problem was if they didn't listen, they'd get fired. On one occasion, Sarver thought the team failed to adjust to Jonas Valanciunas, who dropped 34 on them. Assistant coach Joe Prunty couldn't take it anymore and spoke up.

Veteran assistant Joe Prunty, who did not respond to a request for comment, spoke up, saying the short-handed Suns had made several in-game adjustments -- fronting Valanciunas, doubling him on the catch, explaining other basketball minutiae.

"Joe starts throwing all the s--- at him, [and] the guy has no idea what any of that means," said one former coach, details that others in the room confirmed. Sarver, livid, marched toward the door and screamed "No adjustments!" on his way out.

Baxter Holmes, ESPN

This is enough to scare away almost any good coach in the league. But this was just the tip of the iceberg. Remember when Earl Watson was inexplicably fired just a few games into the season? The story behind that is even crazier.

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"Weren't talking about tennis"

Eric Bledsoe was up for a contract extension, and his agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, was negotiating directly with Sarver. Trying to drive down the price, Sarver started to criticize Bledsoe's performance, expressing concerns about his ability to make the team better.

Paul responded to Sarver's remarks by saying that he knew basketball and that they "weren't talking about tennis," Sarver's childhood sport.

Sarver erupted at the dig, according to two people with knowledge of the interaction, telling Paul he was going to fire Watson as the team's head coach if Watson didn't sever ties with Klutch, which had been representing Watson, within 10 days - just after the start of the season.

Baxter Holmes, ESPN

Word of this quickly got to Watson, who went to address it with Sarver. This could've easily been a heat-of-the-moment thing with the Suns' owner. It turned out to be real. Watson asked Sarver was he being serious. "Yeah, I will f---ing fire you. You have 10 days to think about it. Don't wait too long." Watson made it clear to Sarver that he won't be bullied and change agencies just because his feelings got hurt.

Mr. Sarver's legal representatives said that the issue was a conflict of interest, that the same agent could not represent a coach and a player. But Watson points out Rich Paul wasn't his agent. He is represented by Klutch, but by a different person. More so, there's a hole in the conflict of interest angle.

"Guess who did my contract when I got hired to be a head coach [with the Suns]? Klutch. If Klutch did my contract, wouldn't [the Suns] have just told me, 'We can't sign you because it's a conflict of interest?' They did my interim contract, and they did my other contract. They did two contracts for me."

Earl Watson, ESPN

Suddenly the coach and GM turnover make sense. There's no way you can have stability and success if the owner micromanages Xs and Os without the necessary knowledge and is vindictive if his feelings get hurt.

As the ESPN story explains, Sarver rationalizes this by saying he is "brutal to work for" and pointed out that executives and people in leadership positions are "paid a lot of money to put up with my s**t." That's not how good leaders think, and seems to prove the statement many in the story have made that Robert Sarver believes that by owning the team, he almost literally owns all the people working for the Suns.

The NBA is a highly competitive league, and teams look for the smallest angle that gives them an edge. If you hear the Suns are after the same guy as your team, how many slides would it take before you put up a photo of Robert Saver on the screen?


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