Charles Barkley’s thoughts on Suns’ open GM job speak to larger problem
Charles Barkley yearns to be a general manager. To prove a point. To earn the championship ring missing from his finger.
Would he be more of a risk than hiring Lindsey Hunter or Earl Watson to coach your NBA team?
Or hiring Lance Blanks as general manager?
Or employing Lon Babby to run a professional basketball franchise, a defense attorney who rose to fame defending the man who shot Ronald Reagan?
Laugh at the idea, if you want. Barkley is still angry that the Magic didn’t hire him as GM last season, instead giving the job to “another one of those analytical idiots instead of just getting the best players.” Besides, laughter is Barkley’s greatest gift, along with a rare personality that make sports matter to everyone. If James Jones is nothing special, Barkley should definitely be considered as the next full-time GM of the Suns. He has all the credentials that Sarver prefers.
No previous experience. Out of the box. His hiring wouldn’t even crack the top-10 list of recent ownership tomfoolery.
To the contrary, Barkley would make money and heighten interest. He would bring television crews to every game and every practice. Eventually, he will hire Dan Majerle as his head coach, a move that feels like destiny. It sounds like the greatest gift a wayward owner could bestow upon his fan base.
One problem, though:
“Robert would have to say to me, ‘I’m going to stay out of it. I’m never going to bug you,’” Barkley said. “And I would have to have complete control.”
The knee-jerk firings of Watson and Ryan McDonough in successive years speak to ownership instability and more. Sarver admitted as much. He speaks with hints of growth and contrition. He is also the owner reflects the power of sports, an unwieldy meritocracy that doesn’t always bow to the whims of the wealthy.
But how much has really changed around here?
After McDonough’s firing, the irrefutable Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN published more unflattering words:
Sarver has earned a long-standing reputation for aggressively involving himself in basketball decisions, but it’s become harder for coaches and front-office staff to manage in the past two years after the Suns became Sarver’s primary business interest.
Suns coaches became accustomed to regular beratings and demands of strategy and lineup changes, league sources said. Rival executives could sometime hear Sarver yelling in the background on negotiation calls with the Suns’ front office. Agents tell stories of private conversations involving Sarver without the front office’s knowledge.
This is an important matter. Shortly after Jay Triano’s promotion, I heard McDonough confronted Sarver on his meddling ways, pleading with the owner to stay out of the front-line process. And it worked. Until it didn’t.
McDonough’s firing seems to be contradictory to Sarver’s reported growth, harsh treatment for a GM who lost a chunk of his locker-room credibility by adhering to a tanking philosophy, the dirty work that led to Deandre Ayton and Josh Jackson.
And while Sarver would never cede control of his organization to a wildly-popular critic who represents a previous generation of Suns, Barkley’s employment conditions remain the elephant in the room:
Any highly-skilled executive with real leverage will never work for the Suns without full autonomy. During Sarver’s chaotic stewardship of the Suns, we all know that will never happen.
“The rumors persist that he is too much hands-on, too much involved,” Barkley said. “I’ve heard that from Steve Kerr. I’ve heard that from Grant Hill, guys I’ve worked with at Turner Sports. You can’t hire people and then not let them do their jobs.
“But firing a general manager after a great offseason? I mean, I’m really excited to watch the Suns play. I mean, I can’t remember the (last) time I wanted to see the Suns play.”
McDonough had no real fan base in the Valley. His departure isn’t mourned. Maybe he was wrongfully fired after what Barkley called one of the best offseason performances in the NBA. He’s also responsible for Alex Len, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, the three-headed Hydra at point guard and other fatal missteps.
One question remains: Will Sarver ever employ and empower a game-changing GM or head coach, gaining power by giving power? Will he liberate his NBA franchise, even if it means his way was the wrong way?
Good news is, the NBA is a kingdom ruled by great players. The Suns might have two of them now, providing hope for the future and redemption we all seem to crave for the current owner.
Because in the end, this isn’t his franchise.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.