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Though surprised by Suns’ success, Sarver didn’t see tanking as a good option

LISTEN: Robert Sarver, Suns owner

The main storyline of the Phoenix Suns’ 2013-14 season has been beaten like a dead horse.

Like a broken record, we’ve heard over and over: no one saw this coming. The whole thing, from beginning to end, was a drawn out surprise.

And, reflecting on the out-of-nowhere season that ended with 48 wins, the team’s owner placed himself among the throng of surprised.

“I didn’t think it was going to be as bad as most people thought, but I didn’t think we’d win 48 games,” Suns owner Robert Sarver told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM on Friday. “But I remember sitting during the first game and watching Miles Plumlee and my 14-year-old was looking at me like, ‘Holy smokes! Where’d we get these guys?'”

For Sarver — the man signing the checks and presiding over the entire organizational rebuild — the plan was never to lose. But to win at the rate his team did — that threw even him for a loop.

“The idea was to try to have players who could be a part of the next (great) Suns team, not trying to intentionally get bad,” he explained.

Prior to the season, most pundits branded the Suns as prime candidates to “tank” — intentionally selling off their best talent in order to position themselves for a high draft pick. Sarver, president of basketball operations Lon Babby and general manager Ryan McDonough bucked against that philosophy, though.

“We wanted to play with young players, but we wanted to play good with young players. We also wanted to see what some of our younger guys could really do,” he said.

“I wouldn’t call it tanking, but we were playing with youth in the rebuilding process.”

The Suns explored the idea of tanking by studying past teams in similar situations to theirs who chose that route for their rebuild, as the owner described to the show.

“We went back and did a study (of) the last 24 years of all teams who went through what we call the tanking process — defined as really trying to get bad — and the average team took seven to eight years to get back into the playoffs,” he said. “So we didn’t really think that was a good option.

“There’s no guarantees you’re going to win the lottery. There’s no guarantees you’re going to draft the right people. You may end up with a bunch of young players but you still may not be good.”

The Suns, on the other hand, proved that they already were good. Their 48 wins were the second most ever by a team that didn’t qualify for the playoffs. Only the 1971-72 Suns, who won 49 games, had more victories without clinching a playoff berth.

And although Sarver was surprised by the final win tally, he says he knew his young team would be good after seeing them play just three games.