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Going Gorilla: Robert Sarver is not escaping his role as villain with radio spots

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Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver has received (at least) his share of criticism over the years based on missteps that have proved costly to the organization. On Friday he took to the airwaves (again) to "clear the air" on the Eric Bledsoe contract situation... and I'm ready to criticize him again.

He would make a good spokesgorilla...
He would make a good spokesgorilla...
Image provided by Dustin Watson

I don't think Sarver is doing himself any favors going on the Burns and Gambo show.  I know that John Gambadoro and he are as thick as thieves and the station serves as a great platform for him to push his agenda and let propaganda proliferate, but his message rings hollow to me.

Sarver went on the show before the free agency period and talked about how the Suns wanted to spend big.  They haven't.

Sarver went on the show again last week (when he called in impromptu) to attempt to quell rising doubts about the state of the Eric Bledsoe negotiations. He didn't.

There was nothing he said that wasn't expected and couldn't have been just as effectively conveyed by someone else in the organization. What would people expect besides rhetoric? That the situation had escalated into a greasefire? That Eric was being petulant? That the team lowballed him?

It isn't hard for me to demagogue on this subject. Robert is sort of an easy target to traduce.

To many people Sarver is still the villain.

To many people Sarver is still a cheapskate.

I don't think that is representative of his body of work, but sometimes a few defining moments blot out the bigger picture.

The Suns losing Joe Johnson over $5 million dollars (total) on a six year contract, the disregard for in-house growth that was epitomized by the trading of Kurt Thomas and two first-round picks for salary cap relief, and the speculation of money playing a factor into Steve Kerr's decision to vacate his position as Suns' GM after the 2009-10 season are what people remember.

It doesn't register that the Suns were one of the higher spending teams during their contending window from 2007-2010. Or maybe it's just that the mistakes were so egregious that they do in fact completely nullify the positive talking points

The villification of Sarver isn't completely unfounded. There are valid arguments that roil the blood of fans. Here's another one - it's been a long ass time since the Suns spent big on a player.

The last time the Phoenix Suns were in negotiations for a contract north of $40 million was in 2006 when they signed Boris Diaw to a five year, $45 million extension in October of 2006.

It's been that long.

Laughably, since that agreement was reached nearly eight years ago the largest contract the Suns have doled out was five years and $34 million to Josh Childress. A deal that Sarver had his fingerprints all over.

Since then, Frye and Dragic have each garnered $30 million dollar deals. That's it.

Personally, I would point at the team's catastrophic failure to draft well (or at all) and bring in quality free agents as the overriding factor in why the Suns haven't inked any big deals. The team just went on a long run of having nobody worth giving any money to.

It wasn't a matter of frugality, it was a penury of talent. The team wasn't cheap. It was merely incompetently managed.

But the parsimonious label has stuck with Sarver.

Fair or not.

Sarver said something very applicable himself, but with respect to Eric Bledsoe...

It's not necessarily us to determine what he thinks is fair; it's him to determine that.

It doesn't matter whether Sarver's been cheap or inept (those are basically the choices, right?); a large segment of people have determined it's both.

And when you go on the radio telling people you want to spend money and then don't do it... well, yeah. The Suns are still well below the cap. Pending a trade the team should be well below the line for the second straight season. While this does give the team flexibility and it's nonsensical to spend money just to spend money, it's easy to spin this as Sarver tightening the purse strings.

The Suns have avoided paying veterans in recent seasons.

The Suns in effect traded Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards for Tyler Ennis. Gortat is a quality starting center in the NBA and the Suns let him go for a potentially small return. In the grand scheme of things I don't think that Gortat in his thirties is a good fit for what the Suns are doing. I actually applauded that trade and still do. I'm also nonplussed by the spendthrift contract (five years, $60 million) he coaxed out of the Washington Wizards. But once again the Suns saved money.

It's hard to argue that Channing Frye wouldn't have made next season's team better (actually it's not hard at all to argue, just difficult to do so effectively). I certainly don't claim to know anything about the team's interaction with Frye, but is it possible they could have reached a deal before Frye even hit the market? Could the team have signed him to a more palatable deal and forestalled Channing ever getting the four year, $32 million dollar contract offer from the Orlando Magic?

Instead Frye, with a reputation for being a class individual, ripped the team on his way out the door. Appropriate or not, it's another blemish that reflects right up to Sarver.

The contracts those two received would rank as the highest and third highest contracts handed out by the Suns since 2006.

Sarver doesn't need to put himself in the public eye, either. He has managed (I think) to put together a very capable staff beneath him - from PBO to GM to head coach.

Lon Babby stood against the firing squad last season while Lance Blanks was occupied with whatever the hell he was doing instead of his job. Babby took his beating with as much composure and candor as could possibly be expected.

Let him share the team's vision with the fans.

Ryan McDonough is dripping with confidence and charisma. He has built up a great deal of credibility in a very short period of time.

Let him talk. People will listen.

Those are the guys who I want handling this situation in the media and in the bargaining room. I don't know about you, but the vision of Robert Sarver sitting at a table trying to negotiate a contract with Rich Paul is absolutely terrifying.

Sarver has these people working for him that are eminently more qualified to act as spokesperson for the franchise, yet he feels the need to take chances to expose himself to criticism.

If he really wants to increase his likability, ending the team's playoff drought would be a good place to start. By missing the playoffs in four consecutive seasons the Suns have managed a dubious feat that even the drug scandal team couldn't accomplish. The Suns have missed the playoffs as many times in the past six seasons (five) as they did in the previous 31. That's a three followed by a one.

This paucity of postseason appearances threatens to match the struggles of the franchise's first seven seasons.

Of course the case could be made that the Suns are improving and were painfully close to the playoffs last season. Maybe even that they were unjustly left out (please change the format).

Well, in the 1970-71 season the Suns missed the playoffs despite having the fourth best record (48-34) in the entire NBA. The next season (1971-72) they were left out in the cold with 49 wins. If the Suns had made the playoffs either of those seasons the current team could already be building on a record drought.

It has been pretty damn awful here recently by the Phoenix Sun standard. Last season provided plenty of hope for the future, but for a franchise measured by playoff appearances the team is still wanting. Where does the blame for this stygian stretch fall? Ultimately, accountability goes to the top.

And until he's finished cleaning up his mess I don't think Sarver is helping his case with the fans. Winning will speak volumes and is the single biggest thing that will improve his image. The Suns need to be back in the playoffs.

I don't want to hear Sarver on the radio talking about how he's going to spend money. I want him on the radio talking after he has spent the money.

I don't want to hear Sarver on the radio talking about how he's going to sign Eric Bledsoe. I want him on the radio talking about how he just signed Eric Bledsoe.

I'm much happier when the Suns are kicking ass and Sarver has his hands on a foam finger and not personnel decisions.

Empty promises and doublespeak don't push the needle. Results do.

I'm waiting.