The Suns hired Lon Babby a couple weeks ago to be their President of Basketball Operations, acting as the #1 voice for the foreseeable future in the Suns front office. Every deal that happens from now on will be with his blessing (and Sarver's, of course).
Babby's talent is in the world of contracts. He is a long-time, highly respected player agent. So he should have solid footing in the area of negotiations and legalese. He should know what players and agents want to hear, when pitting contract offers against each other. A little incentive here, a little bonus there. He should be able to close the deal.
But WHO should Babby be signing, other than first-year players that shined in summer league?
That's not Babby's strong suit, and he knows it. He's looking for a talent-evaluator extraordinaire. He's looking for that guy to convince him Player A is the best player to sign, the number one option. And then Babby will swoop in and start negotiating.
So, who is that talent evaluator going to be? And what is their track record?
Paul Coro, Suns beat writer for azcentral.com and Arizona Republic says:
We often hear that this person will be a basketball skill evaluator and many feel it will be an ex-player who communicates well. One of Steve Kerr's best qualities as GM was his ability to connect with everyone with sincerity. He addressed issues with all employees in the organization and kept players content and away from any front office nonsense.
Babby himself has said:
"I want to have somebody who I know is a crackerjack talent evaluator," said Babby, the Suns' new president of basketball operations. "I need to make sure we're strong in the areas that I'm not. Again, I'm not claiming to be something I'm not."
Rumors of names are circulating.
Lance Blanks - Assistant GM, Cleveland Cavaliers
The only one 100% confirmed as a candidate, because he had an interview last week with the Suns, is Lance Blanks. Before Danny Ferry was fired this summer, Blanks was the #3 talent evaluator in the front office.
I question that front office's track record though. Sans LeBron James, who they got as a gift 7 years ago for being the worst team in basketball, that current roster is a mishmash of role players who probably won't make the playoffs. Add in Ferry's poor choices of high-priced talent to pair with LeBron (Shaquille O'Neal, Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams and previously Larry Hughes, Damon Jones and Ben Wallace), I have to question the work of that front office as a whole.
Now, it's possible the Lance Blanks was the voice of reason, but how can we know that? In the draft, they haven't found any diamonds in the rough, though JJ Hickson looks like a keeper and many years ago Anderson Varejao was a good pickup. But Boobie Gibson? Christian Eyenga? Who else made it to the rotation?
Jeff Bower - former GM, New Orleans Hornets
This was reported by yahoo last week, who previously has reported no less than 3 front-runners for the Suns GM position. Bower worked in the Hornets organization for 15 years until last month, kind of like their version of former Suns' assistant GM Dave Griffin.
Bower was widely respected as a GM over the past several years, and put together the Hornets squad that made surprising noise in the playoffs a few years ago. He oversaw the drafting of several high-quality players (including All-Stars David West and Chris Paul, and last year's surprise rookies Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton). But he also missed on C Hilton Armstrong (whose extra-long neck was the difference between 7'0" first-rounder and undrafted status) and SF Julian Wright (highly talented but uncredibly undisciplined), among others. Still, that's a very strong drafting track record.
In recent seasons, he's made one bad trade after another thanks to his ownership's insistence on staying at or below the luxury tax line (Sarver * 10 here), while Peja Stojakovic aged precipitously and Chris Paul got injured. But even with those guys healthy, that team set a record by losing a deciding playoff game by 50+ points. Ouch.
Tommy Sheppard - Assistant GM, Wizards
Also reported by Yahoo last week. Sheppard has spent the past 7 years in the Wizards front office, 15 total years in the NBA.
In recent years, that front office has signed a very talented player in Gilbert Arenas, acquired talented Jamison and Butler, and drafted Nick Young, Brendan Haywood, JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and others. A good haul, in terms of talent.
But there's been a common theme amongst all these players: character issues. Not one of them is a "great team player" and not one of them carried the team to more wins than they deserved. Do we really want a talent evaluator who worked in a front office that doesn't value character and inner drive? The Wizards have been one of the worst teams in the league in the past several years, and this was a great cause of it.
Dave Pendergraft - Assistant GM, Atlanta
Mentioned by the Hawks GM Sund himself, plus reported by multiple outlets. Pendergraft has been the Asst GM of the Hawks since 2008. Before that, he spent 11 years with Seattle (8 as a scout, 3 in the front office).
Since 2008, the Hawks have been hit and miss in the draft. They picked Al Horforf (no-brainer), but I guess that's a step up from the prior regime, who took Marvin Williams and Shelden Williams in consecutive drafts after taking Josh Smith and Josh Childress before that. They never found a good PG though, acquiring Mike Bibby from Sacramento (who were glad to get rid of him) and drafting Acie Law (bleh) and Jeff Teague (meh).
Seattle, before Presti arrived, went through a horrendous stretch of drafting - taking every 7-foot talent-less player they could find for several straight years. Saer Sene, Johan Petro, Robert Swift, and Nick Collison. Only Collison has been servicable. Rashard Lewis was a second-round find.
In terms of trading and free agency, Seattle (turned OKC) didn't get good at that until Presti came around and Pendergraft went to Atlanta. Not to say those were directly linked, of course, since he was only one voice of many.
Milwaukee Bucks Asst. GM Jeff Weltman and LA Lakers Asst GM Ronnie Lester were previously interviewed, as were Dennis Lindsey and Dell Demps (Spurs), but only Demps was interviewed by Babby directly. It's been reported that those guys are now out of the running, but nothing has been made official except for Demps (took the vacant NO job). If you compare the track records of these front offices (Lakers, Spurs and Bucks), they are MUCH better than the candidates above, except for Bower (Hornets).
Others available are all "big names" who have been fired by their last teams. So how great can they really be? Kevin Pritchard and Tom Penn (Portland) and Mark Warkentein and Rex Chapman (Denver). None have been specifically linked to the Suns' GM search by a Suns source, since the hiring of Babby.
Methinks those "big" names/egos are too big to play second-fiddle to Babby. But who knows? Babby said this last week, without naming names:
"The job hasn't been offered to anybody," Babby said. "The process has just begun this week. To this point, nobody has expressed any concern about the structure of the front office."
I'd go back to what Coro said, and expect a young guy who hasn't been a GM before. Someone who can evaluate talent, or at least convince Babby of his ability to do so.
To close this post, it looks like it might be a while before we hear anything. No one is a front-runner right now.
"It's not a horse race," Babby said. "There are no frontrunners. We're going to have a thorough and systematic process, and it'll be at the end of that process that we'll move to evaluations.
"I've committed to myself and the candidates that I wouldn't move forward to a decision until I've completed the interviews. Therefore, there can't be a frontrunner."
Wanna talk about this?