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Dan Bickley

Sarver calling Colangelo brings new level of belief in Suns owner

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The Suns have a new kind of credibility. A real adult is in charge, in full control of the locker room.

That guy is Monty Williams, the new head coach who won his debut press conference in Phoenix without trying to impress anyone, while harping on his own flaws and previous weaknesses. That’s real talent and real leadership. That’s how it’s done.

But the biggest change with our NBA franchise revolves around three numbers.

The first is the No. 5. That’s the length of Williams’ contract in years. The second is the premium salary Suns owner Robert Sarver paid for Williams’ pedigree and experience. Together, they arm and empower the new head coach against all doubters and dissidents.

He’s proof you get what you pay for in the NBA.

“If you look at the commitment (Sarver) made to me and my family, that’s a huge commitment in this day and age,” Williams said. “There are coaches around the league who’ve won more than I have who haven’t gotten that kind of commitment … it says a lot about what he wants to do.”

But the biggest reason for optimism involves the numbers in Sarver’s cellphone, the ones he hasn’t used in years. They represent the phone call made to Jerry Colangelo, when Sarver asked the former Suns owner for his opinion on Williams.

You can’t quantify or overstate what this means to the Suns, Colangelo and an army of Suns fans yearning to feel special all over again.

During the years that Sarver has sailed alone, he rarely picked up the phone and called his predecessor. He never called for advice, and maybe that’s understandable. Or maybe it’s the pitfalls of pride, ego, jealousy and arrogance. Truth is, numerous situations and free agents came and went without Colangelo’s input, without advice from one of the most powerful men in the NBA, without enlisting the man who could help more than anyone else.

I have known Colangelo for over two decades. Like everyone else, I respect his story, his legacy and how he built the Suns into the best small-market franchise the NBA had ever seen. I’ve seen his anger, his clout and the respect he garners when walking into a room. And I’ve never met anyone with so much power who wields it so generously, so gracefully, for the betterment of others. All you have to do is ask.

It took a while for Sarver to get to that point. But he’s here now, and for Sarver to finally pick up the phone and call Colangelo for guidance is all I need to believe in a new era of Suns basketball.

Like Colangelo, I have fought many battles with Sarver. I have been highly critical of his meddling nature and he’s been highly critical of my work in return, once marching into the publisher’s office of the Arizona Republic to demand relief from their loudmouth sports columnist.

I have long wondered if his success and acumen as a businessman made him immune to his obvious shortcomings as a NBA owner. To wit: How does a man who buys a team for $404 million, only to see it expand into a $2 billion asset, look in the mirror and see failure?

Would you?

But this sequence of events feels different. Maybe Sarver was prodded by NBA commissioner Adam Silver to cut the nonsense. All of these recent changes – from the hiring of Jeff Bower to the phone call placed with Colangelo – came after consecutive hit pieces from the national media that that painted Sarver in a terrible, petulant light, most notably the deployment of defecating goats in the office of former GM Ryan McDonough.

Maybe Sarver has grown tired of his previous self and all the losing. Because real change can happen with real self-awareness, real self-loathing and the real desire to find a better way.

“You can make excuses or you can make progress,” Williams said during an interview that had nothing to do with Sarver. “But you can’t do both.”

Williams is the perfect symbol moving forward. He gives the Suns a man who knows everything about the NBA experience. He’s anchored by his faith. He’s endured unspeakable tragedy, losing his first wife in a car accident. Kevin Durant adores him, and Williams’ presence in Phoenix almost guarantees the Suns a seat the table in Durant’s free agent recruitment, no matter how long the odds.

Somewhere along the line, the new coach clearly touched Sarver. During their interview in Philadelphia, Williams was so open about his shortcomings that it prompted Sarver to do the same. And Williams walked away feeling the call of duty, sincerely believing in Sarver’s intentions. He will liberate a locker room full of NBA players weaned on instability, who will finally know what it’s like to have a professional coach who can make a profound difference in their lives.

But for long-suffering Suns fans, nothing compares to the glorious end of the Cold War between Sarver and Colangelo, when the current owner finally felt comfortable enough to pick up the phone and call the icon who made all of it possible.

And when the day comes when Colangelo’s statue finally sprouts from the ground outside the arena, commissioned by Sarver himself, we will finally be healed, whole, unstoppable.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier