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Green: I can no longer defend Sarver

I used to be, for lack of a better term, a Robert Sarver
apologist.

People would call him cheap; I’d point to a payroll that
is among the league’s highest.

People would say he’s a jerk, I’d tell them you don’t get
to be where he is, in business, if you don’t have that
side to you.

People would say he didn’t care about winning, I’d argue
there is no way that is true; I’d admit that maybe he
didn’t know how to win, but I always felt he wanted
to.

Well, those days are over.

Before I go any farther with this, I’m not going to write
about how I wish Jerry Colangelo was still in charge. The
team was similarly competitive under his stewardship, with
some bad moves mixed along with good ones, but in the end
the on-court product was the same as it has been under
Sarver: Very good, very entertaining, no championship.

But where Jerry beat Sarver, hands down, was that he knew
how to run an NBA franchise. He knew that if you want to
win you’d have to spend money, and he understood that
sometimes you would have to coddle the players a bit,
fattening their egos as well as their wallets.

When Joe Johnson told the Suns he did not want them to
match the offer presented to him by the Atlanta Hawks,
Sarver said he wouldn’t because he did not want someone in
Phoenix who didn’t want to be here. I understood the idea,
but Johnson himself said if the Suns did match (which they
had the option to do) he would have returned and continued
to play hard.

I viewed it as a rookie mistake by Sarver, one that he did
his best to make up for when he gave Boris Diaw a nice
contract extension.

Later on, when Bryan Colangelo left Phoenix to go to
Toronto, I figured that maybe he was upset that his father
was no longer in charge, and it was not like Bryan was
anything special as a GM.

Then, when Sarver tabbed Steve Kerr to run the club I
thought that the boss’ methods would finally show. I felt
he finally had a general manager he could trust to do a
good job in building the team. When Kerr’s first move was
to trade Kurt Thomas and draft picks away for nothing,
literally nothing, I defended the move by saying Kurt
Thomas was not the difference between winning a title and
not, so in the end it was no big loss.

Of course, for a while it seemed as if the Suns were
allergic to late first-round picks, but I was more
inclined to blame former coach Mike D’Antoni, who never
seemed to want to give playing time to rookies. The logic
for Sarver was that there was no reason for him to spend
money on players that wouldn’t play, and I understood. Of
course, the Suns missed out on a lot of talented players
because of this, but I pointed the finger at D’Antoni, not
Sarver.

Kerr came in, and the new guy had a relatively steep
learning
curve. He traded Shawn Marion away for Shaq (a move I
agreed with then – and still do), he was in charge when
D’Antoni left for New York (a move I was fine with since
D’Antoni apparently was averse to coaching defense and
developing a bench), and he made the ill-fated decision to
hire Terry Porter.

But Kerr turned it around. He is a very intelligent guy
(he went to the University of Arizona, of course), and he
knows what it takes to build a contender. He drafted Robin
Lopez and Goran Dragic, shipped Boris Diaw and Raja Bell
out for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley, added Luis
Amundson, Channing Frye and Grant Hill, and was able to
get rid of the Shaqtus when he proved that no, he does not
win championships when he’s angry.

The end result was a team that was rebuilt on the fly, a
good mix of youth and veterans, with some stars and great
chemistry. While the team fell a couple of wins short of a
trip to the Finals, everything seemed to be stable on
Planet Orange. Sure, Kerr’s contract was up, but it was
assumed that he would be back.

When word came down Tuesday that Kerr was going to leave
the Suns to go back to broadcasting, I heard all the
alleged reasons: Spend time with family, better hours,
less stress. Still, there were reports that Sarver had
low-balled Kerr, asking him to take a pay cut.

I didn’t believe, for one second, Sarver’s story that
he never asked Kerr to take a pay cut. Even if he did,
Kerr is too classy of a guy to throw the owner under the
bus, so he gave other reasons for his decision. Still the
idea, as ridiculous as it may have seemed,
fit right in with how the banker does business. So, fool
me once, shame on you. Fool me a dozen times, well, I’m
done with you.

Over the last 48 hours it has come out that Sarver’s
contract offer to Kerr was absurd, and there are more
stories about how, even after a year where the team made
money, Sarver is refusing to take care of his employees.
Hell, Alvin Gentry is making pennies compared to coaches
who have done far less with much more.

If I had to guess, I’d say there are plenty of reasons
behind Kerr’s decision to leave the team. Sure, his family
played a role, but it never gets to that point if Sarver
doesn’t do his best to alienate the one guy who could
probably build a contender. No, Sarver’s refusal to
compensate Kerr in a way that is commensurate with his
performance opened the door for Kerr to leave, and I’ll
bet that Sarver’s unwillingness to spend the money that it
takes to win in the NBA is what pushed him through it.

So congratulations, Robert Sarver. One move at a time you
destroyed the team I grew up with. Whether it was letting
talent leave to save money or being a jerk to those in the
organization, you’ve done nothing to make people believe
in you. In the past I was too blind to see it but now, as
the team’s future is cloudy my vision is perfectly
clear, and I can finally see how bad you are for the
Phoenix Suns.

Adam can be reached with your questions and comments by
e-mail

here.
, and you can follow him on Twitter @theAdamGreen