If you’ve stayed in, or regularly visited the town you grew up in, you’ve probably experienced what I’ve been going through lately.
As a lifelong East Valley guy, I’ve been noticing lately how many things have slowly changed before my eyes. Buildings and storefronts remain but their inhabitants, and the quality of them, have changed more than a few times since I was a kid. Other places, like Fiesta Mall, have gone from the places to be, to desolate places that are unsafe to be at at all.
It’s like slowly the place I’ve called home my whole life has become an echo of what it once was. A transformation I didn’t fully comprehend until it was too late.
The same has befallen the Phoenix Suns.
The team many of us have grown up with has slowly faded into NBA oblivion. No longer are they the fourth winningest franchise in league history, something the organization clung on to like Tom Hanks to a makeshift raft in Castaway for much of the last decade. No longer are they viewed as a model franchise for others to emulate. Nor are they a point of civic pride like they once were. Just see how ownership and the Phoenix City Council are moving heaven and earth to avoid a public vote on an arena renovation as proof.
Talking Stick Resort Arena — then known as America West Arena — for more than a decade and a half was the place to be and be seen. It had the vibe of a Scottsdale nightclub mixed with a rock concert. It was a place stars were born or found a new home. The place where you had to show up for starting lineups and stay all the way to the final buzzer just to see what happened. It was a building where Pacific Division banners were almost as common as the purple seats the fans sat in.
Today it’s the sports equivalent of the Fiesta Mall (or almost any older shopping center). At its height in the 1990s with a brief resurgence in the 2000’s and a swift decline that many didn’t see coming.
The on the court product hasn’t fared any better. A franchise that players once took a massive discount to play for — see: Manning, Danny— has become the place opportunistic veterans come to cash in on one final payday — see: Ariza, Trevor and Chandler, Tyson. An owner who was revered in all basketball circles has been replaced with one who is jeered by the same people. An offense known for its innovation has become all about stagnation. The roster has gone from all-stars to virtually no stars and all-time great point guards to no point guards at all.
Like the cities and towns undergoing times of change, the Suns need to implement a declination project. They need to hire a President of Basketball Operations with experience that is well-respected around the league, that has won, give him full autonomy, and it’d be a bonus if he had ties to the Suns past. A guy like Dave Griffin fits the bill, that is if Sarver can mend the relationship that was frayed almost a decade ago.
It would be a radical departure from the current culture and structure of the Suns. It’d require Sarver to change his meddling ways.
The likelihood of that happening seems slim. Sarver has had multiple opportunities to adjust and show he’s learned the hard lessons of the past. Yet, he hasn’t. And that’s his prerogative as he’s the one who forked out hundreds of millions to acquire the team. A fact he’s not shy about admitting.
So, for the ninth straight year I’ll look at the franchise that’s been around my whole life and barely recognize it. Like the town I’ve grown up in, the Suns are merely an echo of what they once were and I find myself longing for the way it used to be yet again.