Phoenix Suns managing partner Robert Sarver has lain a bit low this year. No comments on millennials. No conflicting comments on embracing youth while contending for playoffs at the same time.
This week, though, he met with season ticket holders and shared his thoughts of the team’s future. According to this account on reddit.com, he repeatedly said the team was shooting for contention in 2020 and that they would not be big players in free agency this summer.
Suns owner to season ticket holders: No big free agents this summer, contend by 2020https://t.co/j7un2GXaOP— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) March 11, 2017
Sarver has gotten a good deal of gruff from Suns fans over the years, and until he stewards a complete rebuild to contention AND spends the money necessary to keep that team together he will continue to receive it.
No matter how you slice it up, the totality of the Suns’ fade to ignominy over the past seven years can only be traced the one person who has not changed: the managing partner.
The league’s 4th winningest franchise has failed to the make the playoffs for seven straight seasons, and this year might not win more than 25 of 82 games for the third time in five years.
A decade after sending three players to the All-Star game (Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion), the Suns are going on their fifth consecutive year of not sending even one.
It wasn’t until this past offseason that the Suns finally made the personnel moves to go young, and despite fits and starts they now have the youngest playing rotation in the league since the All-Star Break - with four players 21 or younger (and seven 24 or younger) among the 10 rotation players.
The Suns have been bouncing down the side of the cliff (no, I won’t make you watch the eagle and mountain goat video again) for years now.
When will the team begin to climb back up?
In the near term, the young Suns are playing surprisingly well. A 3-5 record since the Break on the backs of guys not even old enough to buy adult beverages is a step in the right direction and gives everyone hope that the new direction is a good one.
According to Robert Sarver, they are willing to continue the slow roll for at least another year. He hopes the Suns will contend again by 2020 - three years from now - and promises they won’t make any big splashes in free agency this summer while they develop the youth.
He knows that contending teams have at least three All-Star players, while the current Suns have none. He cited Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe as players with potential to reach that height, and he mentioned the Suns’ teenage rookies Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender as having high potential as well. He also talked about this summer’s draft having great potential.
On the “stop kicking every player in the ass on the way out the door” front, Sarver repeated what we’ve heard on other fronts about Tyson Chandler and P.J. Tucker.
Apparently, P.J. was told a few days in advance that he was likely to be traded to a playoff team and though he did not want to be traded, his other option was riding the bench the rest of the season so they could evaluate the younger players. Coming up on the biggest summer of his life as an unrestricted free agent, they agreed that trading him was the best option.
Tyson was also told of the trade-or-sit plan, and chose the option to sit out the rest of the season if necessary rather than being traded. Easier to decide when you’ve got two more years of guaranteed salary coming.
All in all, it sounds like Robert Sarver is saying all the right things, echoing what GM Ryan McDonough has been saying all season long.
Remember McD talking to Bright Siders on ‘Bright Side Night 2016’?
“I think you’ll see a lot better team in April than you do today,” McD told us. “Let’s do it the right way. Let’s not bury Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender and play the veteran guys 40 minutes a night to get [wins].”
The Suns are committed to building through the draft and with players on rookie scale contracts.
Both Tyler Ulis (second round) and Derrick Jones Jr. (undrafted free agent) were signed to team-controlled four year contracts this past offseason - a pair of moves that now look like bargains.
With the new CBA in place, the Suns can keep all their young players as long as they want - Alex Len and Alan Williams will both be RFAs this summer, but T.J. Warren has one year left on his rookie deal, Devin Booker has two, and Chriss, Bender, Ulis and Jones all have three remaining. All have proven, to varying degrees, they are NBA rotation players. The question remains whether any will be special, transformational players.
“One of the things that’s been important to us is trying to build through the draft,” McD said on Bright Side Night. “I know the Suns historically haven’t done that as much, or at least not to the level that we are doing it, but I feel like it’s the most sustainable way to build a contending team in today’s NBA. Especially since the salary cap is going up, individual contracts are going up.”
Have patience, Suns fans.
Focus on which players will rise to the top of the NBA in the coming years, and hope that at least two of them wear purple and orange.