The Phoenix Suns have rolled through three general managers, three coaches and a slew of All-Stars and talented role players since 2005. After the sale of the franchise from long-time sports owner Jerry Colangelo to businessman Robert Sarver, this question looms: How much time does a team under new ownership need to settle down?
Composing winning teams in the NBA means team ownership must pair talented players with adaptable coaches. But championship-caliber teams keep those pieces static. Retaining players and coaches requires that the ownership have patience and trust in everyone in the organization –- no panicking allowed.
Such hasn’t been the case for the Suns and ultimately, Sarver. There’s been a recurring theme of risky moves followed by either immediate regret or panic.
When the Suns shipped Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark to the Orlando Magic for Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat in Saturday’s blockbuster trade, it was a cost-cutting shake-up that hinted at regretful decisions.
The mediocre Suns were doomed this season with or without the move, but it was the result of past mishaps that led to the deal.
As for the feeling in Phoenix, Arizona Republic columnist Dan Bickley said this of the trade:
It’s an unspoken concession that the team should’ve swallowed hard after losing [Amar'e] Stoudemire, stockpiling salary cap space for the future.
It’s a rough transition period for Suns fans. Regrets will linger as long as a motivated Stoudemire powers his way to MVP consideration. The necessity of players like Garret Siler and Earl Barron early in the season, along with the flirtation with the sorry Erick Dampier, was proof of a half-baked game plan. And in some ways, it’s the end of an era.
Yikes. Admitting mistakes is dandy, but it’s happened repeatedly in the last half-decade.
Ever since two-time MVP Steve Nash made his return to Phoenix, the Suns have shown flashes of greatness. But after each near-Finals appearance, the Suns’ upper management have made drastic changes. That resulted in high roster turnover and little chance to gain the years of continuity that teams like San Antonio, Boston and Los Angeles generally cultivate.
Want some painful examples?
After their 2005 Western Conference Finals run, the Suns failed to retain a greatly-improved Joe Johnson — he had asked for a deal worth approximately $50 million during the season and Phoenix refused — and sent starter Quentin Richardson to New York.
Despite Stoudemire missing the year with microfracture surgery the following year and the addition of tough guys in Raja Bell and Kurt Thomas, the Suns went a game deeper into the playoffs than in 2005, losing to the Dallas Mavericks in six games during the 2006 Western Conference Finals.
Despite that success and a second round loss in six to the eventual champion Spurs during 2006-07, the 2007-08 season saw a whirlwind of change.
Newly-hired general manager Steve Kerr, who replaced Bryan Colangelo, traded long-time Sun Shawn Marion for Shaquille O’Neal and as the new fit didn’t match, head coach Mike D’Antoni left after the 2007-08 season amid a possible rift between himself and upper management.
Then came the Terry Porter disaster. Replacing D’Antoni, Porter attempted to implement a slow-down, defensive-minded scheme despite the Suns offensively gifted duo of Nash and Stoudemire, and the plan quickly went south. Porter was fired 51 games into his tenure and replaced by current coach Alvin Gentry as the Suns missed the 2009 playoffs.
O’Neal was traded for cap space before the 2009-10 season and this past year, distrust in resigning Stoudemire and his balky knees coincided with Kerr stepping down from his GM post. This all despite the Suns again falling two games short of the NBA Finals. Then came the Turkoglu trade for Leandro Barbosa and the near-immediate dump Saturday, just 26 games into the year.
It was another part of the trend for Phoenix: hire someone and watch them leave within a a few year’s time or less. And Bickley’s column summed it up nicely a day after the most recent trade: “If nothing else, the Suns know when to cut their losses.”
What do you think?
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