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ESPN’s Arnovitz on Suns’ Sarver: ‘I don’t think there’s a villain here’

“Inside the Phoenix Suns’ messy and dysfunctional front office” might read as a brazen takedown story about an NBA team that will likely fail to win 25 games for the fourth consecutive season.

But while the piece that appeared Monday on ESPN might have shed poor light on the Suns and owner Robert Sarver — it at least did more to confirm the perception of the team — author Kevin Arnovitz believes it’s more of a diagnosis rather than a written death sentence on the franchise.

In other words, there’s a lot of nuance to the situation.

“I never think there is one thing,” Arnovitz told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “I was very interested in people characterizing it as a takedown of this guy or a takedown of that guy. No, I think it was just a diagnosis.

“I don’t think there’s a villain here. It’s just a diagnosis. I want to get that across. I had nothing but really positive interactions with what I thought was a very courteous, thoughtful gentleman.”

While many of the anecdotes told to Arnovitz in his reporting came from nearly two dozen unnamed sources, Sarver also spoke on the record with ESPN. From that, Arnovitz saw an owner who is quite aware of his failures.

“The organization hasn’t functioned to the level of mine or our fans’ expectations, and that’s on me to change,” Sarver told Arnovitz for the story. “If I look back, at times I’ve tried to use a formula I’ve used in business where I’ve hired younger folks and tried to mentor them. In my other business, that’s been successful. But in this business, I’ve sometimes underestimated the challenges of the management responsibilities in today’s NBA and the experience level it takes to do that.”

The standings, of course, don’t lie.

Arnovitz believes Sarver’s awareness about the dire situation came recently. That might be why the owner decided to fire general manager Ryan McDonough days before the 2018-19 season — after McDonough led Phoenix through the 2018 NBA Draft and the hiring process that landed with Igor Kokoskov as head coach.

The Suns’ internal expectations, quite obviously, weren’t reached in what was supposed to be a year of improvement.

In writing and reporting his piece, Arnovitz called Sarver courteous and generous with his time, and he understands how Sarver’s reported instances of meddling could be coming from a place of passion.

“I think there’s something about the competitive juices, whether you’re a player or coach. An owner, it’s funny, they’re not on the floor in a uniform, but is there anyone more vested in the Phoenix Suns than Robert Sarver? I say this for any owner,” Arnovitz said, adding that he got the feeling Sarver will indeed hire an experienced front office leader after this season.

“I (tend to) be an optimist in most things and I do think there is real change coming,” Arnovitz said. “There are conditions to that change. One of the things that have to happen … an interventionist owner’s going to probably have to be a lot less present, as much as it pains them, to allow somebody to take that job, work it, maintain it and succeed in it.”

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