New-look team represents a hard reset for Robert Sarver, Phoenix Suns
The Valley has a bright future in professional sports. The Diamondbacks have enough general manager to win a World Series. The Cardinals have enough quarterback to win a Super Bowl. The Coyotes have enough fresh money to reverse decades of thrifting.
One question lingers:
Do the Suns have enough owner to pull off one of the last great sports stories in America?
Our NBA team kicked off its preseason on Tuesday, at a time when the league seems dazed and wobbly, in a weird state of flux. China is no longer an ally or an ATM. The Warriors are no longer a dynasty. James Harden is shooting three-pointers on one leg. Zion Williamson is about to set a record for the percentage of dunks shown on ESPN.
And here in Phoenix, we welcome the new premium on maturity, experience and professionalism. It’s a commitment we haven’t seen in a long time.
The 2019-20 season represents a profound opportunity on Planet Orange, a hard reset for Robert Sarver, who has become wildly wealthy and roundly reviled during his tenure Phoenix. That can’t be a comfortable mix.
To his credit (so far), Sarver has relented. For nearly two years, those closest to him swear he’s trying hard not to meddle. He paid for a top-line coach in Monty Williams, after squandering his shot at Mike Budenholzer the previous season. He overpaid for a battle-tested point guard in Ricky Rubio because Devin Booker requires nothing less.
He’s letting James Jones call the shots, which is liberating and occasionally dangerous. Jones has credibility among veteran players and admirable long-term vision. But he lacks chops and gives away assets for pennies on the dollar. He gifted T.J. Warren to the Pacers. He gives LeBron James whatever he wants. But guess what?
It’s still better than the owner making basketball decisions.
In the months ahead, Booker will be as compelling as Kyler Murray is right now. The Suns star has been accused of compiling empty numbers by analytic nerds and ignorant national media. He has been excoriated for complaining during pickup games, as if double-teaming a guy in recreational basketball was something normal. Even worse, he has been criticized for not singlehandedly transporting the Suns to the playoffs.
Check the history. Check the rosters. Booker has starred on most every big stage provided. The night in Boston. The duel with Kobe. The games in Mexico City. The 3-point shooting contest trophy he won at the All-Star Game. Give him a talented supporting cast and you might be nurturing the next great NBA superstar.
Those jeering from a distance have no idea of the weight that has been put on the bar, the clueless kids Booker been asked to lift along the way.
If this works, Sarver could be the rare bad owner that writes his own redemption story, the owner who changes his ways before it’s too late. To wit:
There was a funeral before the Suns’ preseason opener. It was for Bill Bidwill, a good man who was bad at sports, a good man who was ultimately vindicated by his children.
Mostly because of his son, Michael, the Cardinals are no longer the laughingstock of the NFL. They are a model franchise in many ways. They nearly won a Super Bowl with Kurt Warner. Their image has changed dramatically from the barren years, so much that Mr. B was honored with a moment of silence in opposing stadiums on an NFL Sunday.
That stuff is priceless. And it’s time Sarver serves his soul and his community, and not just the bottom line.
The Suns are over a half-century old. They have lost two classic NBA Finals. They represent our first love, the first professional sports franchise to sprout in Arizona. Their first championship will be one of the great moments in NBA history.
If the owner can make it happen. It’s about time.
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.