Phoenix Suns add top lieutenants Lester and Connelly to supplement front office staff

After adding the kind of guys he wanted to add, new Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough now has some decisions to make on the permanent structure of his front office. What are the right roles for Lester, Connelly and Treloar?

First reported by Paul Coro of azcentral.com, the Suns hired two front office guys to unspecified front office roles to supplement McDonough and current Director of Player Personnel John Treloar. Now the Suns have a large contingent of scouts to evaluate the Suns' most important period of drafting since the 80s.

Ronnie Lester

Ronnie Lester, 54, was the Assistant GM in LA for 10 seasons after 14 years as a scout and front office member. His contract, along with at least 20 other Laker personnel, was not renewed when it expired during the 2011 lockout. Lester was a lifer with the Lakers, and was very disappointed when the Lakers cut so many ties in 2011.

Lester worked next to Mitch Kupchak for a decade as they rebuilt and reshaped the Laker team around Kobe Bryant that won two championships, and was the "loudest voice in the room" when the Lakers took chubby high school C Andrew Bynum the #10 pick in 2005. Lester scouted Bynum personally that year, and told Kupchak there's no way they could pass him up if he was still available when they drafted.

The supremely talented Bynum helped the Lakers win two rings as he earned a max contract extension as one of the three best centers in the game. Bynum was traded to the Sixers in the deal to acquire Dwight Howard last year, a year after Lester was cut out of the picture. Bynum, still only 25 years old, is now a free agent with major health and commitment issues.

Other than Bynum, the Lakers' drafts were hit and miss during his tenure as leader of the scouting staff for 10 seasons. Draftees with solid NBA careers:

  • first rounders (none higher than #19) Brian Cook, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Javaris Crittendon, Toney Douglas
  • second rounders Luke Walton, Ronny Turiaf, Von Wafer, Patrick Beverly

None but Bynum were stars, but only Bynum was drafted higher than #19 overall.

Lester has not worked in the NBA since being let go by the Lakers in 2011.

Pat Connelly

Pat Connelly graduated college in 2002 and was in the Wizards front office for the past seven years, starting as a scout. He was promoted to Director of Player Personnel three years ago when his brother - the prior Director of Player Personnel - was hired away from the Wizards to become the Assistant General Manager of the New Orleans Hornets. His rapid rise and contingent of brothers holding various sports front office roles sound quite similar to the career path of McDonough himself.

Generally speaking, to get a person out of their current contract requires either (a) a mutual parting from his current employer ("Thanks for taking him!") or (b) a promotion.

Last week, new Suns GM Ryan McDonough said that hiring anyone currently under contract was a dicey proposition because they are so ingrained in their own team's draft preparations. Connelly's forte, per the Wizards media guide, was college and international scouting, along with analytics and salary cap management. He wasn't the top personnel man in Washington. They have a large contingent of titles in the basketball operations group, including a Vice President of Player Personnel to whom Connelly had reported.

Connelly was never the biggest voice in the room, and has not been credited with any one draft pick. The Wizards have drafted high for years, and since he became Director of Player Personnel the Wizards drafted a huge bust in Jan Vesely at #6 before taking Bradley Beal at #3 a year ago.

Small front office of "Master Evaluators"

When he was hired, Ryan McDonough was clear in his vision to follow the blueprint of the Celtics front office, which is smaller than most. He wanted only a few lieutenants who were master evaluators - who would scout at all levels, who would be able to compare and contrast a current NBA player to a draft prospect to an NBDL player to a guy toiling in Europe.

Now he adds Lester and Connelly to the existing staff led by current Director of Player Personnel John Treloar.

Looks like the Suns have hit another couple of ground rule doubles to supplement the two home runs they've already smacked out of the park (McDonough and Hornacek). Lester and Connelly have solid NBA front office experience and can only help.

Stay tuned for official announcements on all the latest hirings, including Hornacek's staff.

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