I was the host of “NFL First Look,” my first sports talk show in April of 1991. I went from market 462 to 119 to 29 and now to Phoenix. In those 20-plus years as a talk show host — working to earn the dream job I have now — I have never experienced a week like this. In all the years you’ve lived in Phoenix, I’m assuming you’ve never seen a week like this either.
One year ago today, the Cardinals were at the Senior Bowl with Ken Whisenhunt and Ray Horton as coaches led by GM Rod Graves; Alvin Gentry, Dan Majerle and Elston Turner were coaching Suns players Steve Nash and Grant Hill; and the Diamondbacks were preparing to start spring training hoping Justin Upton could lead them to consecutive NL West titles.
In one week we’ve been introduced to Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles, and to a lesser degree Steve Keim; Lindsey Hunter and (you could argue because he wasn’t very visible before last week) Lance Blanks are Phoenix household names; and Martin Prado is here to save us at third but might only be here for a year.
What just happened?
I have no idea what just happened but I can tell you how I felt going through it. The best way to go through the week is to go through the names.
My choice would have been Ray Horton as head coach with Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator. Horton on Burns and Gambo replied, “unequivocally” when asked if he was confident in his ability to bring in Turner Having said that, hiring Arians is not a mistake. He was clearly the most qualified assistant coach on the market to be promoted to head coach. Unlike other assistant coaches, he was a head coach last year, filling in for Chuck Pagano during his illness.
It is impossible to be in a room with Arians and not be swept up by his passion. Agreed, emotion doesn’t win football games. Execution does. I believe Arians’ passion translates to others believing in his system. Belief in what you’re being told makes it easier to execute. Combine his passion and knowledge with the coup of signing Tom Moore — who NFL personnel guru Gil Brandt told us was a steal — makes anyone believe that the days of being ranked in the 30s offensively are over.
Great move, Cardinals.
I completely agree with trading Justin Upton. I don’t like this trade, however. Signing Prado to a contract extension will move this trade up to the “it’s OK” designation. If you trade a major piece like Upton, I think you have to shoot for more than “OK.”
In the era of drug-using athletes, stories of mistreating women and criminal arrests, Justin Upton is not a bad guy. However, through the prism of clubhouse leader, work ethic and team focus, Upton was a bad locker room guy. Let’s say Upton is hurt and doesn’t come in or is late for his rehab work. Do you think the guys in the clubhouse believe he’s all in to help the team win? If he’s throwing bats around because he went 0-for-4 despite the team having a thrilling come-from-behind win, don’t you think his teammates wish he would be a little happier for the collective group?
It comes down to one thing, Justin Upton had run out of opportunities to reach his potential in Arizona. No matter how high you think his ceiling is, he wasn’t going to reach it here and had to be traded.
My problem with the deal was you traded a player who will be great somewhere else and didn’t get great return. Make no mistake, Upton will succeed wildly in Atlanta. The collection of players received need to match that success and I don’t think they will.
Average move, Diamondbacks.
There are so many things Sarver has done in the past that I have completely disagreed with. Watching the Suns from the outside, it seems Sarver either makes bad hires or drives away people who are the good hires. I think years of selling off draft picks was either cheap or misguided. Fair or not, Sarver must make it to the NBA Finals for fans to ever think of his tenure as owner as worth the pain they feel.
Over the last week, however, I think he’s been unfairly blamed. For those screaming “Sell the Suns,” there are other moments where those shouts were warranted. Yes, Sarver hired Lance Blanks and Lon Babby. Yes, everything that happens on his watch is to his credit or his failure. This time, though, he did what we’ve all wanted him to do and it’s wrong to then blame him for that too.
We wanted Sarver to get out of those courtside seats waving his foam finger around. We wanted Sarver to hire basketball people and let them run the show. We wanted him to stop trying to be the players’ best friend while nickel-and-diming a Grant Hill come contract negotiation time. Whether anyone noticed or not, Sarver is doing that for the first time.
The mere presence of Robert Sarver in our lives drives us crazy. He has committed so many basketball “sins” that we won’t forgive. I get that and I’m not asking you to forgive. For once, though, I think Sarver sounded like an under-control leader when he was on with Burns and Gambo. For once, I think we should give him credit. It’s unfair to yell at him for years for being in the way and then attack his because he won’t stop the train. I have never defended Robert Sarver before but I think he’s doing the right thing by letting basketball people make the basketball decisions.
LON BABBY/LANCE BLANKS
I get the anger. I’m angry too. I do miss the days in our country when we could disagree with passion without it leading to hatred. Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill agreed on nothing, yet so much was accomplished because both men worked together in a hate-free environment.
I don’t hate Lon Babby and Lance Blanks. I don’t think they are idiots. I don’t think they are liars. I don’t think they are right, either. Actually, I think they are flat out wrong.
I think you can sometimes outsmart the room. There are a lot of people saying the interview process was a sham. A sham infers that this was a master plan all along. No one takes a GM job and puts together a team with the sole purpose of losing so they can fire the coach. That is absurd.
I do think they put together a bad team. I do think they thought the team was better than it is. I do think they blame Alvin Gentry. If they believed in him he would have given him a contract extension. I do believe they went into the interviews with a pre-conceived notion that Elston Turner and Dan Majerle were just as culpable as Gentry. I think Turner and Majerle did nothing in their interviews to dispel that notion.
Imagine if you spent 12 months working on a project and you don’t feel like the foreman is the guy to run it anymore. Now it’s time to hire someone to run the finished product. During the interviews, two people tell you your project wasn’t any good but they’ll do the best with what they have. One person tells you your project only needs some tweaks and he is the man for the job. Do you respect the honesty of the first two or are you offended? Do you take the third option because he thinks like you or is he just saying what you want to hear? I think that’s what happened and Lance Blanks took door number three and out stepped Lindsey Hunter.
I respect their conviction. They stood and faced the arrows like no one in sports does. The problem is every potential upper-echelon assistant coach knows Babby/Blanks will pass them over for an opportunity, so they won’t come here. Babby/Blanks clearly looked at Dan Majerle as a Suns legend to be feared and not as a hard-working assistant who has paid his dues. I think in their dogmatic attempt to do the right thing for the Suns, they did the wrong thing for everyone.
There are some decisions Blanks/Babby have made for which they will never get credit. It’s a shame. They’ve made a lot of tough decisions that will help the Suns in the long run. I think this could be one of the last major decisions they will make.
Bad move, Suns.