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With team on the right track, Phoenix Suns’ Lon Babby reflects on transition

LISTEN: Lon Babby, Suns President of Operations

The transition wasn’t always easy.

It wasn’t always moving forward, and certainly didn’t go as quickly or as smoothly as some would have hoped.

But for the Phoenix Suns, it appears the change from the very successful Steve Nash era to the next good team is underway, if not yet already completed.

“We’re in the middle of a transition or the beginnings of a transition but we’ve come through the worst part of it,” Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby told Doug and Wolf as part of Newsmakers Week on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday. “I look back and I still think we handled it the right way.”

Babby said he always felt it was up to him to be the “face of the franchise” during the tough times, and if the frustrations of fans and criticism of media went to him, so be it.

“And now that things are going well, the people who are making great decisions and doing a great job like Ryan and Jeff should be front and center and basking in that glory and I’m happy to be riding on the side of that because that was my job when I got here.

“We haven’t accomplished anything other than get us on the right track, and I think we’ll move forward now. It may be fitful at times, but we’re going to move forward towards the level we want to get to and finally bring an NBA championship to Phoenix.”

Over the course of Babby’s first three seasons with the team, the Suns won 95 games and lost 132. They missed the playoffs three straight years — coming close to the final spot the first two before bottoming out in 2012-13 and finishing nowhere near the postseason picture.

The team parted with GM Lance Blanks and interim head coach Lindsey Hunter, though, and replaced them with Ryan McDonough and Jeff Hornacek, respectively.

The results have been as surprising as they are impressive.

The Suns are currently 30-20 with the sixth-best record in the Western Conference and ninth-best mark in all of basketball. The roster has young talent, the team has a bevvy of draft picks coming its way, and there projects to be plenty of cap space going forward.

They’re in an enviable position, and that’s not something one would have said even 365 days ago. Another year before that, and it may have been a tough sell to say Babby and the organization could get back on the right track, especially given the downward spiral they appeared to be in.

But alas, that’s no longer the case, as the organization finally appears to have the right people in place to build a successful team.

“Where you’re in this job you defend people that you’re working with as long as you can until you make the decision that it’s time to make a change, and I think we did that,” he said. “But if you look at the arc from when I got here to where we are now, it’s been a relatively short period with some very painful moments. But the length of the pain wasn’t very long, relative to the arc of a normal NBA transition.”

Indeed, there are teams out there who languish near the bottom of the standings year after year, seemingly stuck in lottery land with little hope of escaping. The Suns, though, only spent three years outside of the playoffs, and were moderately competitive in two of them.

So the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota TimberWolves they are not, even if things seemed to have been really bad for a stretch.

“Ryan always talks about the fact that they lost 18-straight games in Boston and they thought they were all going to get fired, and that summer they were able to trade for Kevin Garnett and my client Ray Allen, and they won the championship,” Babby said. “So that’s the nature of this job and I think if you look, hopefully when I leave here we’ll look back on it but we’ll say that was a painful season they had in 2012, but it was one season.

“I will defend for as long as I have breath the decision to let Steve Nash and Grant Hill and those guys run it out and we had two seasons that were, I guess by any definition, mediocre, but we were .500 and in the playoff race until the last week of the season and if Channing Frye didn’t get hurt each year we would have made the playoffs, and that would have been a respectful end to that era.”

The Suns missed the playoffs in 2011 by six games and in 2012 by three.

Babby added that at the same time they were doing that they were also trying to set the team up for the future. It wasn’t always easy.

“If you look back on it now it all makes sense, but living through it was torture sometimes, no question about it, and last year in particular was very, very rough,” he said. “But here we are today, and it makes it that much more gratifying.”

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