Ever since former Suns owner and godfather sold the Phoenix Suns franchise in 2004 to banker Robert Sarver, the exodus from the valley to gold pastures has been the road more and more traveled.
First the once-downtrodden Golden State Warriors built Suns-west to win an NBA championship the way they said they could do. Now it appears that the Philadelphia 76ers are building Suns-east to do it their own way.
The fascinating part is that they each represent a slightly different successful Suns era and philosophy.
Former Suns General Manager (2007-2010) Steve Kerr's primary challenge when taking over as GM was to fashion a top-10 defense to the league's #1 offense by far. His reasoning was along the lines of "why not at least try?" Remember when the newly-minted Kerr asked coach Mike D'Antoni to interview this little-known defensive coordinator from Boston, Thom Thibodeau, after losing in the 2007 playoffs? Remember how Mike said "nah, we good"?
A year later, after Mike left in a huff in the wake of another playoff loss, Kerr went so far as to hire a defense-oriented head coach, Terry Porter, to replace him. The idea was to have Nash and company keep running their offense, but have Porter fashion a good defense behind them. Well that failed. Kerr briefly stepped off the "defense" podium after that.
But now in Golden State, Kerr finally got his wish along with a half-dozen other former Suns employees in various coaching, playing and front office positions. He inherited an immensely talented team and assembled a coaching staff that would get the very best out of them. Draymond Green filling in at center? Andre Iguodala off the bench? Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry good defenders? Yes to all those questions. Kerr found the right pot to stir, and stirred it perfectly.
Now in down-trodden Philadelphia, we see the formation of the other side of Suns lore about to take another stab at the promised land.
Three months ago, the Sixers abandoned The Process by hiring erstwhile Suns owner Jerry Colangelo to a power-sucking post away from GM Sam Hinkie. Colangelo immediately extended coach Brett Brown's contract, but also hired former Suns coach Mike D'Antoni to an Assistant Head Coach role to help Brett Brown.
All along, the Sixers owners promised they just wanted to cross the streams, and have team builder Colangelo help asset-builder Hinkie, and have offense-guru D'Antoni help detail-oriented Brett Brown on the court.
Now Hinkie is out, and Jerry's son is in. The two most powerful Sixers executives just happen to be the Colangelo tandem that ran the league's fourth-winningest franchise for more than 30 years.
Bryan Colangelo was GM of the Suns for a little over a decade, his swan song being the hiring of Mike D'Antoni in 2003 and signing of Steve Nash in 2004 to lead his young players deep into the playoffs. BC moved on to Toronto in the first of many sudden WTF exits under new owner Robert Sarver.
The Colangelos made a reputation of wheeling and dealing. If you think the Suns have had a lot of turnover in the past few years, you might not remember the turnstile in the 90s and early 2000s as well as you should. The difference between the Colangelos and McDonough or Hinkie, though, is that BC and JC worked on a much higher-profile level than either McDonough in Phoenix or Hinkie in Philly.
The Colangelos had tons of roster turnover, but were especially skilled at acquiring and swapping big names. If one big name failed, swap him for another. There was rarely a dearth of talent in the valley, usually as a result of shrewd free agent acquisitions and block buster trades.
Of course, there was the drafting of Steve Nash (15th), Shawn Marion (9th) and Amare Stoudemire (9th) that built the 2000s Suns. In the 80s, Walter Davis and Larry Nance made lifelong names for themselves. Jeff Hornacek and Dan Majerle too.
The Colangelos could draft very, very well. They just didn't have the patience to build through one channel. Most pre-2000 successful Suns iterations under JC and BC were built on the open market. The late-80s Suns were backboned by Tom Chambers (UFA) and Kevin Johnson and Mark West (trade). The early 90s by Sir Charles (trade). The mid to late 90s was a turnstile of mercurial hits and misses. Clifford Robinson. Jason Kidd. Anfernee Hardaway. Tom Gugliotta. Even the 2000s Suns were topped off by Nash (UFA).
Now with Jerry, Bryan and Mike in place in Philly, we get to see what they can do next. Sure Mike is just the Assistant Head Coach to Brett Brown. But you know as well as I do that the Mike is not a "beta". He's an alpha. Just as Jerry is.
This summer should be fun. No Colangelo can stomach 20-win seasons. The Sixers have tons of cap space to spend on free agents. They have loads of young assets to swap for middling veterans who can help win games. Don't be surprised if more than half the Sixers roster is turned over by August, and that the Sixers reach the playoffs next year.
I wonder how much time will pass before Amin Elhassan gets moved and assigned to the Sixers beat for next season...