Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why Robert Sarver Sucks

The Phoenix Suns should be the best team the NBA has ever seen. The Suns should be better than anybody in the stacked Western Conference. The Suns should have already won something around two of the last four NBA Titles. And we havn't because of Robert Sarver and his excessively tight wallet. And I'm going to prove it.

When Sarver bought the team in May of 2004, the Suns had just come off of one of their worst seasons in history, a season in which the Suns had won just 29 games, and had traded away two of their best players (Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway) at the deadline to the Knicks for next to nothing. Granted, this deal turned out to be one of the heists of the century, but only because Bryan Colangelo managed to turn the cap space we got after the season into Steve Nash. Sarver was set up with a team that had a low salary cap figure, three future stars in Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, and Amare Stoudemire, and good draft picks to build a great team. So what did he do? He refused to spend money, and doomed the team to hovering around the top of the league, but never being able to get past the NBA's elite when it mattered. I'll break Sarver down move by move, tracking his impact and how it caused the team to suffer in the long-run.

The Joe Johnson Fiasco:

After that 29 win season, everyone knew that Joe Johnson was going to be a star. He had made ridiculous strides in his scoring ability since Marbury had been traded away, was young, athletic, had size, and could flat-out shoot the ball. So, instead of offering Johnson a contract extension that would have locked him up for somewhere around $6-8 million per year, the Suns waited, hoping that somehow Johnson would play his value down through some means - injury, struggles, etc. Whenever you hope for one of your prime scoring options to struggle, you're making a huge mistake. That kind of young talent is something that you lock up as soon as possible. But, instead, the Suns waited for Johnson to become a restricted free agent the following summer, when the Suns were comming off an amazing rebound season of 62 wins, and a playoff series where Johnson played with a mask to protect his broken eye socket. He had made even more strides in his three-point shooting due to the open looks he was getting from Steve Nash, and had managed to raise his value to around $14 million per season. He wanted a 5-year, $70 million contract, which, quite frankly, he had earned. Yes, it would have caused the Suns to go significantly over the cap, and would have made keeping the rest of the team intact difficult financially with the salary cap. But the Suns offered a joke contract of 5-years and $50 million, and ended up giving away Johnson for draft picks and Doris Diaw. The contract they offered Johnson was not going to be accepted, and they knew it. This was Sarver's first error, and his future mistakes would only end up making it worse and worse.

The '04 Draft Pick Sale:

The Suns walked into the 2004 NBA Draft with the #7 overall pick in the draft. They were set up to add another key piece to a team that was rebuilding quickly, and would be contending within a few years. So, when their pick came around, and the options for them included Luol Deng, who was coveted by teams around the league like Chicago, and Andre Iguodala, the U of A prospect who would have been a great addition to the team. This gave the Suns two choices, sell out on the pick in hopes that you could get another one next season, save money, and even get a few million bucks out of the team you're giving the pick to, or take the best available player for the team (this was Iguodala) and build the roster. The Suns, and Sarver, sold out. They dealt the pick to Chicago for (I believe) cash, Chicago's second-round pick that year (Jackson Vroman...), and Chicago's first-round pick in the following season's draft. Sarver didn't want to spend the appox. $3 million salary for a high-lottery rookie, and decided that the idea of adding a bit of cash to his bank account sounded irresistable. So we ended up giving Deng to Chicago, and watching them go on to have a resurgence season as the Baby Bulls made a run in the playoffs, giving us the 21st pick in the draft in '05. But the Suns weren't done with their mistakes. They traded Quentin Richardson, their second major acquisition in the summer of '04 that wouldn't have needed to be made if Iggy was drafted, allowing us to possibly acquire a solid, useful veteran, and that pick, Nate Robinson, to New York for Kurt Thomas and the rights to Dijon Thompson. And, as will be detailed later, Thomas was dumped off for salary-cutting purposes along with two future first-round picks for a trade exception (which we won't use). So, to track the final score of this set of moves inspired to cut costs: Andre Iguodala, Quentin Richardson, and two first-round picks in exchange for Jackson Vroman, Dijon Thompson, and a trade exception. Stab me.

The Bryan Colangelo Firing:

Let me start off by saying that Bryan Colangelo is a fantastic General Manager. So when he wanted a raise from the Suns to counter the offer he had received to take over Toronto, he should have been given the money, no questions asked. Instead, Sarver wouldn't fork the money over, and Colangelo was simply allowed to walk away. Instead, he was replaced with Mike D'Antoni in one of the worst GM hirings in years. D'Antoni loves his players, and thinks they're worth far more than they really are. As a result, D'Antoni forked over $9 million per season to Doris Diaw and $5 million to Leandro Barbosa. The Diaw signing is simply appalling, given that Diaw can't stay in shape, and Barbosa is simply ineffective come playoff time. So why are we paying $14 million per season to those two? D'Antoni, as decent as a coach that he is (note I said decent, not good), was a terrible GM. And Sarver is the reason why D'Antoni was allowed to screw up this team.

The Late First-Round Pick Firesale:

Anybody who has followed the NBA at all has noticed how the Suns have had a firesale on their first-round draft picks over the past four drafts. After having two first-round picks in '03 (the bust of Zarko Cabarkapa and the heist of "Leandrinho" Barbosa from S.A.), the trend started in '04 (what a coincidence) with the already-detailed Deng selling to Chicago. The next year, '05, Phoenix managed to end the day with three first-round picks out the door. Phoenix's original pick's departure can't be blamed on Sarver, that pick was sent to San Antonio from the Barbosa deal in '03 (the pick was then sent to New York - they picked the one guy on their roster who they like, David Lee). Phoenix also had Cleveland's first-round pick that year from a trade they made a long time ago (I think this was the Cleveland/Phoenix/Denver 1997 trade where the Suns acquired Antonio McDyess, but I can't seem to find out the exact details), where guys like Rashad McCants and Danny Granger were available. They sent that to Charlotte so that the Bobcats would take Jahidi White off their hands the previous year in the expansion draft (a double salary dump, nice one Sarver!). And of course, as previously written, the first-round pick they got from Chicago in the previous year's draft went to New York for what would eventually become next to nothing. Not to mention this was also the year where they sold their second-round pick, Marcin Gortat, to Orlando for cash. Granted, the chances of him amounting to anything are slim, but not even being willing to take a Euro hit-or-miss prospect, choosing cash instead, is cheap to a fault. In '06 the misery continued, with the Suns giving Rajon Rondo to the Celtics for a future first-round pick in order to dump Brian Grant's expiring contract on the Celts. Also, the Suns straight-up sold the rights to Sergio Rodriguez to Portland, when we could have gotten a big man like Craig Smith, Paul Millsap, or Leon Powe (if you're laughing, you know nothing about basketball). No future picks, just money. And, of course, the selling of last year's 24th overall pick to Portland, again for nothing but cash, when guys like Carl Landry, Glen Davis, U of A prospect Marcus Williams, and sharpshooter Morris Almond were all available.

The Kurt Thomas Dumping:

This I can't stand. Sarver, last summer, ordered Steve Kerr to dump Kurt Thomas' salary before the season started. How else do you explain giving away an expiring contract and two future first-round picks for a conditional second-round pick (which we won't get, by the way - the idea of making it conditional is that we don't get it) and a trade exception (which we again won't use, because it would cause us to spend more money, and Sarver won't). So we gave up two first-round picks and a guy who is reknowned for his post D and sweet mid-range stroke for... nothing. Giving up Thomas' post presence is what caused the Suns to have such a gaping hole in regards to interior defense, and made the Suns have to swing a deal for Shaq. Granted, I'm for the trade based on the build of the roster at the time of the deal, but Thomas would be a better alternative. And even if we didn't want to keep Thomas, we could have done exactly what Seattle did at the deadline and trade him to someone (Seattle chose our main rival, San Antonio - smooth move, Sarver) for picks and expiring deals. So, when you balance this out, we essentially just sold three more first-round picks for.... NOTHING!!!

Now, let me justify Sarver in the faintest, lamest way possible. Sarver is a businessman. He became the majority owner of the Suns for a reason, and that was because it was yet another business venture for him, and if the team was successful, that was a sweet bonus for him. So let this lead to the moral of this entire column - The best NBA owners treat the idea of owning a team like a really expensive hobby. The best NBA owners are guys who will spend the big bucks that they have already made in whatever previous business ventures they have undertaken in order to be able to say that they spent the money to build a great team. Great owners are like James Dolan of New York, just without the side order of Isaiah Thomas. Sarver is not that, he is worried way too much about the financial state of the team, and, as detailed above, it has had a direect impact on the possible shape of this team. Assuming that all other non-Sarver influenced free-agent moves and trades made over this time would have been made anyways (except the useless ones), this is the roster the Suns could have if Sarver were willing to spend money.

The Not-So-Bizarro-Suns

Starting 5:

PG: Steve Nash
SG: Joe Johnson
SF: Andre Iguodala
PF: Amare Stoudemire
C: Shaquille O'Neal


PG: Rajon Rondo
Leandro Barbosa
D.J. Strawberry
Grant Hill

SG: Leandro Barbosa
Raja Bell
Eric Piatkowski (or Sean Marks)

SF: Grant Hill
Danny Granger
Alando Tucker

PF: Danny Granger
Carl Landry
Craig Smith

C: Carl Landry
Craig Smith
Sean Marks (or Eric Piatkowski)

I am thouroughly convinced this is the best roster ever assembled. You have a starting lineup of three sure-fire All-Stars (Nash, Johnson, Stoudemire), with two potential All-Stars with them (Iguodala, O'Neal), four guys on the bench who could be Sixth Man of the Year contenders (Hill, Rondo, Barbosa, Granger), three rookies with solid potential (Landry, Tucker, Strawberry), and two scrappers (Bell, Smith), one of whom clotheslined Kobe Bryant (Bell), and a Token White Guy (Piatkowski or Marks)(in case you're wondering, the Skinner signing wouldn't have happened, this team has the max 15 players and he was signed simply to fill a roster spot). Notice that a lot of the guys on the bench are found in different positions in what seems to be a pretty jumbled up order - this is because this team, along with being one of the best ever, is also one of the most versatile ever. They can march out with Shaq and Amare and play big, or put in a bunch of shooters and a guy like Amare or Landry at center and go small. The depth of this team is ridiculous. And don't act like this is a pipe dream, or some sort of best-case scenario situation. This could have easily happened. The only debatable part about this is whether or not we draft the young guys in here (Rondo, Landry, Granger, Smith) that we ended up giving to other teams. Even if we only get one or two of those guys, this is still a team that separates itself even among the ridiculous Western Conference, and has already won multiple titles in recent years. This is what could have been, everybody. Suns fans need to be more upset about this - I know I am.

1 comment:

Ryan's Ramblings said...

You are dead on, man. Nice post.