DAN BICKLEY

The time for the Suns to spend money on the roster is now

Jun 17, 2019, 6:20 PM | Updated: Jun 18, 2019, 2:52 pm
Brooklyn Nets guard D'Angelo Russell gestures toward the crowd after hitting a three-point shot dur...
Brooklyn Nets guard D'Angelo Russell gestures toward the crowd after hitting a three-point shot during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers Friday, March 22, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Nets won 111-106. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

After 51 years in business, the Suns are still searching for their first NBA title. Too many important people have yet to receive their just rewards.

Jerry Colangelo deserves a statue in downtown Phoenix. Mike D’Antoni deserves a championship for sparking a basketball revolution. Alvin Gentry deserves a purple heart after working for Donald Sterling and Robert Sarver, only to have his most recent season poisoned by doomsday agent Rich Paul.

And after just 87 regular-season victories and zero All-Star berths in four awful seasons, Devin Booker deserves the three P’s: A platform, a playoff team and a point guard to showcase his transcendent skills.

Welcome to another crossroads on Planet Orange.

It’s not enough that Sarver has backed his anti-meddling stance with two key hires. Jeff Bower gives the organization another top executive, another line of defense between the locker room and a notorious hands-on owner. Monty Williams gives the franchise a head coach with real experience and real power, the kind that comes with a five-year contract.

If Sarver wanted to play a shell game to protect his own self-interests, the latter would’ve never happened. History proves what kind of coach he prefers, namely those who are controllable and cost-efficient. Williams is neither, and irrefutable proof of progress.

But now the Suns have to spend real money on players, not just their head coach. They ranked 25th in team payroll in 2018-19. They were 28th the previous season. They were 25th the year before that. They were 26th the year before the year before. On and on it goes.

It’s not that Sarver is cheap. He just doesn’t like to spend freely. There are countless examples, from Joe Johnson to Kurt Thomas. He chose fiscal prudence over Amar’e Stoudemire’s knees and a chance to win a championship in 2010-11.

He might’ve been right on the player. But he hasn’t been to the playoffs since.

Sarver’s teams always make money. They have increased in value by over $1 billion since he purchased the team for $404 million in 2004. That’s because Sarver is a world-class businessman who has built an empire with his acumen, ambition and attention to detail.

But his teams don’t win nearly enough basketball games. Because he’s been a bad owner, a smart guy who can’t get out of his own way. At least until now.

The final frontier is Sarver’s tolerance for financial loss and high-risk poker. Like if D’Angelo Russell becomes available on the free market, a restricted free agent who might not be in Brooklyn’s long-term plans.

Russell would cost a lot of money. He’s also a rising star, a point guard and one of Booker’s closest friends. That would instantly secure Booker’s future in Phoenix in a way his contract never could. It’s the kind of acquisition Sarver’s predecessor would make without blinking.

Let’s see if the Suns pull that off. Or if they continue to blame a litany of a tired list of excuses, like not fitting the team’s chemistry or timeline.

Mike Conley is also available. He is a veteran with a massive contract, a player readily available in a trade. You might not get your money’s worth out of an aging floor leader like Conley, but he’ll make the Suns a lot better in the short term. That’s the sacrifice Sarver must one day reconcile, the prohibitive cost of fielding a really good team, leading with the heard and not the head.

Maybe Jones has another surprise in store for all of us. While the ballyhooed acquisition of Kelly Oubre Jr. was a happy accident and nothing more, the hiring of Williams was a masterful stroke. You hope there’s marquee player hiding out in his back pocket as well, a player who has already decided to pin his future on an uprising in Phoenix.

You also fear a team that goes into the 2019-20 season with Tyler Johnson and some other immature rookie at point guard. Because while the future looks bright, history is not on Sarver’s side. Sooner or later, our rabid hunger for a NBA championship will be anchored to the dollars the owner is willing to spend. It might be this season or five years from now.

And every minute we wait is one minute too late.

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

Dan Bickley

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray leaves the field after an NFL football game against the ...
Dan Bickley

Resilient Cardinals get by Texans, set up Thursday showdown vs. Packers

The hardest games to win look the easiest. The most dangerous opponents are the bad teams still playing hard. The Cardinals escaped both.
2 days ago
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) looks to pass as Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (...
Dan Bickley

Suns’ season starts off uneasy, just like Deandre Ayton’s contract situation

Welcome to a new year in Phoenix, when Deandre Ayton’s contract status is part of every narrative, one that’s not going away anytime soon.
6 days ago
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz sits on the bench during the first half of a preseason NFL ...
Dan Bickley

Zach Ertz trade is proof the Cardinals are all in for 2021

Zach Ertz has pedigree. He has a Super Bowl ring. His presence is a declaration. He is proof the Cardinals are all in to win in 2021.
11 days ago
Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (99) celebrates a defensive stop against the San Francisc...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals earn forgettable win over 49ers to stay atop NFC West

Victories last forever. Even when they’re instantly forgettable. The Cardinals played one of those games on Sunday.
16 days ago
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during the second quarter in the game ...
Dan Bickley

Kingsbury’s turnaround with Cardinals starting to silence some doubters

Six weeks ago, Kliff Kingsbury’s seat was the hottest in professional football. Now he is among the early favorites to win Coach of the Year.
17 days ago
Owner Robert Sarver stands with the Western Conference Championship trophy after the Suns beat the ...
Dan Bickley

Sarver’s past makes stalled Deandre Ayton contract talks alarming

The Suns are playing a dangerous game. They are perilously close to contaminating elite team chemistry. They might kill the vibe entirely.
21 days ago
The time for the Suns to spend money on the roster is now