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Suns’ Sarver exhibits rare patience by extending McDonough

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Suns managing partner Robert Sarver extended his GM’s contract even after their 7th consecutive season out of the playoffs.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan McDonough remains the only Phoenix Suns general manager that ownership has given a contract extension before the “lame duck” final season of his contract had already commenced.

If a GM gets extended, you’d think it’s a reward for proving their ability to put together a playoff team borne out by a deep run or two into the postseason. But in Phoenix, it’s quite the opposite.

The Suns announced yesterday that McDonough has been given a two-year extension to run his contract through the 2019-2020 season, giving McDonough some breathing room for patience during the current rebuilding phase.

“Doing what we’re trying to do and what I think we’re on the path to doing requires some patience, it does for sure,” McDonough said at the press conference on Wednesday. “We’re trying to primarily bring players in through the draft, not only through the draft but primarily through it and develop them together and grow the core of the team together... There are going to be some growing pains along the way, and we know that.”

The Suns have missed the playoffs for seven years in a row and, since his last extension, Suns GM Ryan McDonough has architected two of the worst seasons in team history, finishing as a bottom-four team (out of 30) in each. And now he’s promised another rough season or two, targeting 2020 as their playoff goal, which would extend their franchise-record non-playoff string to nine seasons.

THIS is where the team’s ownership, led by managing partner Robert Sarver, have decided to stick to the plan and give out his first early extension.

“I think consistency is important,” Sarver admits now. “I learned that over my last 14 years, and I think the consistency with Ryan here and following through on our plan we put in place a few years ago, in terms of how best to compete for a championship. I think that consistency is important.”

Let’s take a look at Sarver’s history with lead basketball minds under his watch since 2004.

General Managers / Presidents

  • Bryan Colangelo - no extension - left in February 2006, four months before contract expired. The Suns were about reach their second consecutive Conference Finals.
  • Steve Kerr - no extension - contract expired June 2010, had wanted to come back but simply walked away. The Suns had just reached the Conference Finals.
  • Lon Babby - yes, extended in 2013, two months before contract expired, given two year extension. The Suns had missed the playoffs for three consecutive years under his watch.
  • Lon Babby - yes, as part of a restructure. Extended in 2015, weeks before his contract expired, given a one-year extension to work a part-time role. The Suns had missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons under his watch.
  • Ryan McDonough - uncertain, given larger role in 2015 as Lon Babby semi-retired, but no contract change was announced. An assumption can be made that his original contract would have expired before now, so there must have been an extension involved, and that extension would have been granted prior to starting his final contract season. The Suns had missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons under McD’s watch, but were above .500 overall.
  • Ryan McDonough - yes, extended in 2017 with a full season left on his contract, by two years to keep him under contract through the 2019-2020 season. The Suns have missed the playoffs for four consecutive seasons under McD’s watch.

He has stuck with McDonough for four seasons now, committing to three more through 2020. That would mark the longest tenure of any GM under Sarver’s reign.

Since McDonough took over, the roster has been rebuilt several times over as the team waffled between playoff contention and rebuilding. Some would say he torpedoed his own career by getting lucky in his first offseason, intentionally making moves to rebuild but surprisingly winning 48 games to become one of the only teams in history to miss the playoffs after a thrilling 48-34 season.

Since then, it’s all been downhill thanks to poor player management and lack of top end talent to carry the team. The win totals have regressed from 48 to 39 to 23 and then 24 wins.

On the plus side, the Suns now have a promising young core of players that have convinced management and ownership to stick with the rebuild to see how these pups develop, at least for one more season.

“I’ve learned through some things that went well and learned through some of my mistakes,” Sarver said. “And right now I just think I have a clear vision of what we want to do and how we want to get there.

“So, I have no choice but to be patient.”

Next offseason, the Suns will be one of the few NBA teams with significant cap space for free agency while the free agent crop looks stronger than it has in years. The way this season progresses could heavily inform the Suns on how to approach that summer.

Let’s hope McDonough can use #TheTimeline to hold Sarver’s patience in check and limit the expectations to reaching the playoffs only “some time” before the summer of 2020.