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Round table: A look back at best/worst of Sarver’s tenure over Phoenix Suns

Eighteen years. Let’s put a bow on them.

NBA: Playoffs-New Orleans Pelicans at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For many here, Robert Sarver has been the managing partner of the Phoenix Suns for the entirety of their fandom. So this transition to a fresh 40-something billionaire(ish) owner in Mat Ishbia is a first-time experience full of excitement and anticipation for better days ahead.

Finally, the Suns are out from under the cloud of mismanagement and disgrace brought on by Sarver and his close confidants, some of whom still hope to survive the transition though former President and CEO (of the business side of the franchise), Jason Rowley, was finally disavowed of that hope this week. Expect more clear-outs in the days to come, especially on the business side. On the basketball side, expect a supplemental hire or two — but not Isiah Thomas — to join James Jones’ staff for the rest of the season to be Ishbia’s day to day ‘voice’. No tension there, right?

Sarver had an 18-year tenure with some of the 54-year organization’s highest highs and lowest lows.

On the plus side, the Suns under his tenure reached as many NBA Finals (1), won as many Conference titles (1) and reached as many Conference Finals (4) as any previous owner.

On the down side, he presided over the franchise’s worst on-court decade and cultivated such an extremely reprehensible and misogynistic workplace environment that he was (gently, but eventually) forced out of ownership by his own peers in disgrace. And that’s saying something, considering those peers. Lifelong thanks to Baxter Holmes!

Now the Suns are under new ownership. There’s no guarantee that new 40-something billionaire will fare any better on the court than his predecessors, but we can at least hope he won’t be a public embarrassment.

I asked my fellow writers here at Bright Side to recall their absolute favorite Robert Sarver memory, and their absolute worst Sarver memory.

Here goes:

John Voita

Favorite thing Sarver did: It’s hard to fine tune exactly what the best thing Robert Sarver did/accomplished in his tenure while owning the Phoenix Suns. The negative far outweighs the positive. Dave has made this tricky, hasn’t he?

I’ll recognize the hiring of James Jones and Monty Williams as bright spots during Sarver’s tenure. You may recall when Sarver first took over the team and how he relished the early success during the Seven Seconds or Less era. He wasn’t responsible for much of it, and he gradually disbanded that team.

He then presided over the organization’s worst decade in basketball. His hiring of James Jones and Monty Williams, combined with his willingness to step back from day-to-day organization management, freed up the general manager and coach to do their jobs. This greatly aided the organization’s revitalization.

The duo brought credibility to Phoenix and developed an on-court culture that was attractive to the rest of the league. The off-court culture? That was another story. They took the team from being a perennial joke and lottery team to the NBA Finals. This occurred under Sarver’s watch.

Worst thing Sarver did: Oh, where to begin? There’s a slew of allegations against him, from inappropriate and racially charged comments to sexual harassment in the workplace. How can you choose one over the other and say that one is more disgusting and inappropriate? I’ll group them all together and simply state that the worst thing Robert Sarver did was harm his coworkers and create an unsafe and unacceptable workplace.

We all are part of the workforce. At least most of us. I’m pretty sure Dave is close to retirement. But we can understand and empathize with what those associates must have gone through and our hearts are with them. No one deserves a work environment like the one Robert Sarver created. The organization was in his locker room, and he treated it as such.

Good riddance and bye. there is no “good” in front of that word for him.

Khaleel Abdullah

Favorite thing Sarver did:

I mean… did we really like anything that Bob did? This fan base has basically wanted him out almost from the time he got in. That’s saying something. The Nash days gave him some wiggle room if that’s what you want to call it but we have been waiting for someone new for… too long.

During his tenure, over $20 million (don’t know exact amount) has gone to Phoenix Suns charities. That has at least something to do with him and even it’s only partially to his credit, a good deed is just that.

Worst thing Sarver did:

It is incredibly difficult to find a starting spot but there is a reason he is out. As John said, the workplace was simply unacceptable and no one should have to go through what he made so many endure. Good riddance! I hope the door hit him on the way out and Ryan McDonough came back just long enough to put goats in his car and return the favor.

Kyle Glazier

Favorite thing Sarver did:

The best thing that Sarver did in his tenure was recognize that what he was doing wasn’t working. Between the last hurrah of the Steve Nash Suns in 2010 and the hiring of James Jones in 2019, Sarver ran the team very actively his own way. And the results were miserable. His arrogant, dismissive, and obnoxious attitude filtered down through general manager Ryan McDonough to remake our beloved Suns as a franchise plagued by locker room conflict and a reputation for being the most player-unfriendly front office in the league.

It took far too long, but Sarver eventually found the ability to set aside his hubris and allow James Jones and Monty Williams to restore the Suns’ reputation and create the stability needed to foster a winning culture. The fact that it took Sarver nine years of crushing failure (one surprising 48-win season aside) to realize this is unacceptable, of course, but at least he came around in the end.

Worst thing Sarver did:

It goes without saying that the worst thing Sarver did was create a hostile workplace by indulging in casual racism and sexism around the office. There’s no excuse for that.

But since that’s been very well covered I’ll add that the worst thing Sarver did from a basketball perspective was his handling of the head coach position.

His regime forced Jeff Hornacek to fire his top assistants as a condition to remain employed, but then turned around and promptly fired Hornacek anyway. He then hired Earl Watson, a well-meaning but hopelessly inept coach who had less than a year of experience as an NBA assistant under his belt, a decision that is difficult to justify from any angle. After letting interim coach Jay Triano be the punching bag for most of the year following Watson’s firing less than two weeks into the 2017/2018 season, Sarver hired Igor Kokoskov only to fire him after one miserable season.

This laughable carousel of coaching rejection more than anything else contributed to the image of the Suns as a franchise in chaos, highly unattractive to any accomplished NBA veterans. Had Sarver handled these decisions more deftly, Suns fans might have been spared the worst of the dark decade.

How about you, readers?

What was the best and worst about Sarver?

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