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Report: Robert Sarver threatened to fire Earl Watson over relationship with Rich Paul in 2017

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Spoiler alert: Watson was fired anyway.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Of the 50+ years in Phoenix Suns history, 2017 may have been the low point for the franchise.

The club was coming off of a 24-win season, one that followed a 23-win season, and was preparing to embark in what would ultimately be a 21-win season.

Suns owner Robert Sarver was aggressively digging a hole with the Phoenix faithful, yet steadfastly refused to drop the shovel.

Suns head coach Earl Watson attempting to turn the tide in Phoenix with love and peace, not X’s and O’s.

Watson would not turn the tide.

And Watson’s agent, Rich Paul, sat in the middle of what was an extraordinarily tumultuous time for professional basketball in Phoenix. In addition to Watson, Paul represented former Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, who was angling for a new contract, and would eventually leave Phoenix in ugly fashion.

This week Dan Bickley of ArizonaSports.com reported that prior to Watson’s final season in Phoenix, one in which he coached just three games, Sarver threatened to dismiss the Suns coach if he didn’t sever ties with his agent.

From Bickley:

Agent Rich Paul went fishing for a contract extension for point guard Eric Bledsoe. He framed it as a way to soothe his client’s unhappiness over the Suns’ treatment of Bledsoe the previous season, when the Suns shut him down near the end of the season in an effort to tank games.

It became heated and personal between Paul and Sarver. Paul knows how to push buttons, Sarver doesn’t back away from confrontation and chaos ensued. It was increasingly awkward, as Paul also represented head coach Earl Watson.

Sources say Sarver took an extraordinary step, giving Watson 10 days to fire Paul or Watson himself would be fired.

Watson talked to his lawyer. He talked to former players. He decided, as a young Black head coach, that he could not fire a young Black agent just because the owner said so. Not without losing a big chunk of his credibility.

Sarver has a different recollection. He says he counseled Watson to fire his agent, as Paul’s adversarial dealings were again inflicting damage on the organization.

If you read this the way I do, its semantics. He says ‘counseled,’ he says ‘threatened.’

No matter. That was a long, long time ago. Today your Suns are the top team in the Association. The sting of that period in franchise history was wiped away with eight games in Orlando. The 2020-21 season can’t get here fast enough.