NBA owners were forbidden from commenting about labor negotiations during the lockout, forcing Suns owner Robert Sarver to absorb the slings and arrows from the national media, and even the re-tweeting by Steve Nash of a harsh Bill Simmons criticism, without being able to respond.
With the lockout officially ending last week, Sarver is now free to defend his reputation. Today, both he and commissioner David Stern spoke favorably of Sarver's involvement in the negotiating process, according to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic.
Sarver's reputation can certainly use improvement among the Suns fan community, as he is widely blamed for the team's current mediocrity, and for trading stars such as Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion, and allowing Amare Stoudemire to sign with the Knicks.
But the potentially more damaging hits occurred when national media members painted Sarver as being one of the main antagonists among owners during labor negotiations, and that his hard-line position might impede the Suns' efforts to land and retain free agents.
Sarver recognizes the potential problems his damaged reputation may have caused.
"I was concerned, and that was probably the toughest part about not being able to get the record straight," Sarver said. "It's important that Phoenix is viewed as a place players want to come to."
It should be noted that in the first few days of free agency, the Suns have re-signed Grant Hill and signed Shannon Brown, both players who had other options but chose to play in Phoenix. Hill even told Phoenix radio station XTRA that, "I liked my teammates. I like the coaching staff, management, ownership, and just...I don't know. I just felt like we had something to prove."
Brown signed with the Suns for a one-year deal after the Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat were reportedly interested in him.
So far, so good with free agents being willing to sign with the Suns, but Sarver felt the need to clear the air anyway.
"I was consistently at the forefront of trying to get a deal done, knowing it was important for our fans to see NBA basketball again this season," Sarver said.
Interestingly, commissioner David Stern, with whom Sarver has had previous conflicts, supported Sarver's defense. Per Coro:
"He's very honest and direct," NBA Commissioner David Stern said of Sarver. "I'm not sure I'd nominate him for the diplomatic corps, but I would want him with me on anything important, as far as anything with business, directives, integrity or creativeness."
Stern said Sarver always advocated compromise and that his banking background helped the league analyze the cost of a lost season against a shortened one. Stern said Sarver's drive for compromise was "opposite" of public perception.