Phoenix Suns decision on Lindsey Hunter will likely come last, after Babby and Blanks decided

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

While Suns managing partner Robert Sarver will likely decide Lon Babby's fate within weeks of the end of the season, don't put it past him to wait to replace Babby, Lance Blanks and/or Lindsey Hunter until late summer.

Fans want absolutes. Is Lindsey Hunter the coach or not? Is Lon Babby the President/GM or not? Is Lance Blanks coming back to run the draft another time or two, or not?

The players want to know, too, but they are more focused on the summer break at this point or upcoming free agency.

I'm sure the ones most interested in knowing are Lindsey, Lon and Lance. But they can't afford to spend any time thinking about it (though you know they do anyway).

It's the fans who think about it way more than is probably healthy.

But whether Hunter is coming back next season matters not, at least not yet. First, the front office has to be in place with new contracts. Otherwise, why go through a coaching search that might have to be done all over again? No new GM or President is going to want to be saddled with a head coach he/she didn't pick.

Lindsey Hunter's interim head coaching contract most likely expires on the last day of the season, before Lon Babby's, and certainly before Lance Blanks. What happens to Hunter on April 18? Does he revert to player development coordinator again, pending a coaching search? Or is he released entirely from Suns employment? That call is Robert Sarver's to make, and it almost certainly won't be a decision to make Hunter the permanent coach with a brand new contract before a lot of other decisions are made.

Not if Sarver is still considering making changes in the front office.

Babby's contract does not expire until after the draft and the first month of free agency. Blanks' contract goes for another year beyond that, but we all know that only matters in context of paychecks. If Babby is gone, Blanks is certainly gone. If Babby stays, it's still possible that Blanks is out. I mean, just look at this roster he's assembled. The second-worst winning percentage in franchise history, folks.

"Every player on this team is a guy we wanted to be here," Babby said in preseason. He felt (and I felt as well, showing how much I know about chemistry and talent) that this team was more talented than last year's.

Blanks and Babby brought in NINE new players this season, returning only one guy given full starter's minutes all season long (Marcin Gortat). The others - Jared Dudley, Markieff Morris and Sebastian Telfair - all saw their minutes cut over the course of the season (Channing Frye missed the entire season with a heart condition).

This truly is Blanks and Babby's team. And Hunter is truly Blanks and Babby's coach.

"You've got to have that leadership," Lon Babby told KTAR/Arizonasports last week in a radio interview. "You're looking for that coach [to lead the team]."

"I don't want to speak prematurely," he admitted further, when prodded. "But I think we're getting some of that from Lindsey Hunter. We can talk about that at the appropriate time, but I do think we've made progress in some of that area.

"Is the leadership at the same level as it was before [with Nash and Hill]? No. We are constantly keeping our eye on that. You cannot have a rudderless ship, and we've got to make sure we don't have a rudderless ship. From right up here with me and Robert, on down to the locker room."

It's up to Robert Sarver to decide how strong and true the rudder named "Babby and Blanks" has become. Lon is careful to use "we" in any context of team evaluation. He is not alone on his island, and doesn't want to be portrayed that way. Blanks made the call on Hunter and the last two draft picks (Morris and Marshall). According to Babby, all of them made the call on Gentry and on the team itself last summer and for the past three years.

But if it's a question of bringing in new talent evaluators or losing his job, will he break ties from Blanks and Hunter? Will he care about the job enough to compromise character and integrity? Who knows.

It's also unknown WHEN the decisions will start being made, beginning with Lon Babby.

It's certainly possible that Sarver rides out this current front office through July since they are already under contract, but is that likely? Is it likely he has a new staff inherit the work of the prior regime without the opportunity to shape the roster before their first season in power?

Sounds crazy, but he's done it twice before. He did it in the disastrous summer of 2010, when Babby and Blanks were not hired until the heavy lifting had been done already, absolving them of any blame but also castrating them for 1/3 of their contracts. He also kind of did it in 2006 when Bryan Colangelo went to Toronto. Sarver simply promoted D'Antoni to GM without engaging in a GM search.

The only time he hired a President/GM in a timely fashion (ie. before the draft and free agency) was in 2007, when he hired minority owner and broadcaster Steve Kerr to run the front office ahead of longtime assistant GM Dave Griffin. But that wasn't under the gun. He simply stripped the tag from Mike D'Antoni and put a rookie in place.

So sure, it's possible that Sarver won't hire a new permanent front office until late summer, after the heavy lifting once again. He clearly doesn't (or, at least, didn't) think a permanent, veteran GM is vitally important during the draft and free agency.

We can assume Sarver and Babby will have a heart to heart on Babby's next contract when the season ends, and not much beyond it. The smart play is to decompress a bit and wait a couple weeks before sitting back down to discuss their future. That way, you're not working on adrenaline. That's what got Mike D'Antoni in trouble. He quit before stepping back a bit.

But if it's Lon's decision, he will have them collect their thoughts a bit before making any decisions.

"I have made some notes in a journal that I keep," Babby told me two weeks ago. "So that when I sit down with Robert I'm not going on what happened that day but on what happened all along. And hopefully Robert will do the same."

If the two decide to part ways, though, don't put it past them to keep Babby in the office until his contract ends. Babby is a man of integrity who values honoring contracts. It's certainly possible he and Blanks remain in their positions until Babby's ends.

Which just delays the hiring of the new President, new GM and new coach until late summer.

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