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With Sarver out (for now), who is making final decisions for the Phoenix Suns?

Utah Jazz v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Suddenly, as of this week, the Phoenix Suns are temporarily without a final decision-maker on big roster decisions if a juicy trade comes up.

Suns managing partner Robert Sarver — the guy who makes the money-related decisions for the Suns ‘Legacy Partners’ ownership group — has been suspended by the NBA and WNBA for a full year from all team activities, including basketball operations. He cannot be involved in any team-building moves until re-instated next September.

Soon, the Legacy Partners group will have an interim decision-maker in place who can make final decisions on things like trades and free agent signings, but the question is how soon.

According to Baxter’s tweet, Sarver himself — yes, the disgraced and suspended one — will be working with the NBA to appoint an interim governor.

We can assume that the interim governor will come from among his partnership of fellow owners. While Sarver owns the largest portion of the team (some say 35%), there are other interested owners who would surely love to be in charge for a year.

The names we are aware of, in public discourse, are:

  • Sam Garvin, with Sarver from the beginning on this ownership endeavor
  • Larry Fitzgerald, recently retired future Hall of Fame receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, who bought a small stake in the team and last year was seen riding bikes with Sarver on Catalina Island in California
  • Jahm Najafi, a minority owner who’s been outspoken in opposition to Sarver over the years and much more since last fall’s bombshell report

There are others. Many others. We only know of a few. They don’t all like each other, and Phoenix Magazine wrote on this last year after Holmes’ report came out. I can’t imagine Sarver telling the NBA, ‘yeah, put Jahm in there.’

Sarver has supporters among the ownership group, among those who signed a statement in support of him last year

prompting a denial of the allegations from Sarver and a statement of support signed by members of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury ownership group, including such high-profile names as Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and real estate and banking moguls Steve Hilton and Byron Roth.

But guess who’s name was NOT on the signed statement?

One notable person who didn’t sign the statement was sitting courtside at the game, however: Jahm Najafi, the Suns’ co-vice chair and its second-largest investor. An Iranian-born, Harvard-educated private investment billionaire who lives in Arcadia with his wife, lifestyle guru Cheryl, Najafi had recently told the Associated Press he was inspired by the racial justice protests of 2020 to devote his philanthropy to “diversity, equity and inclusion.” After the ESPN bombshell, Najafi issued his own statement on Sarver, saying in part, “The conduct he is alleged to have committed has stunned and saddened me and is unacceptable.”

Read the Phoenix Magazine story, linked above, for more.

Now that’s the very same ownership group who can potentially decide to vote Sarver off the team by themselves — independent of the NBA.

Imagine the in-fighting right now between Sarver, working behind the scenes with his cronies, trying to circle the wagons to keep Najafi out of power.

Is it a good thing, for normal persons like us, that Najafi is NOT well-liked by Sarver and his friends? Maybe.

As of now, according to Holmes, the NBA is happy enough with Sarver that they are letting him participate in who runs the Suns for the year that he is out. Why is the NBA allowing this to happen? Because, I suspect, they’ve promised him that the team will be waiting for him a year from now and he’s convinced them that the ‘wrong’ person could cause a mutiny that Sarver won’t like.

Either way, whether it’s a Sarver supporter or foe, a new governor will be put in place in the coming weeks.

I’m worried about right here and now. What happens if James Jones gets an acceptable deal for a new, important player?

What happens if he negotiates a deal with the Hawks for John Collins, or with the Kings for Harrison Barnes?

Who signs off, from the ownership group?

I recall a contentious time for the Atlanta Hawks ownership group back during the early Joe Johnson years, and it ruined the Hawks for a while because the GM couldn’t get answers fast enough on potential deals — and sometimes got conflicting answers from different ‘claims’ to the throne. I don’t have time to dig all that up this morning, but I’ll just leave it here that we are potentially looking at a problem — both right now, and over the next year.

In James We Trust, maybe, but who is it that James can trust?

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