Sports Opinion & Analysis

An Article That’s Complimentary To Robert Sarver

In NBA on September 19, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Robert Sarver is many things to Phoenix Suns fans, and none of them have been very good.

He is the man who traded away Rajon Rondo, Luol Deng, Nate Robinson, Rudy Fernandez, and Marcin Gortat on draft day.

He is the man who wouldn’t pay Joe Johnson what he wanted.

He is the man who let Amar’e Stoudemire walk in free agency, then thought he could replace him with Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress.

He is the man who traded Steve Nash to the hated Los Angeles Lakers.

“I thought you said this was going to be complimentary?”

Yet, for all of the poor basketball decisions and mismanagement Sarver has inflicted upon the Suns, it’s maybe time for everyone who bleeds purple and orange to give the guy a break. Maybe the Robert Sarver of 2012 isn’t the same Robert Sarver who bought the team in 2004. Maybe there is hope for him as an owner after all.

No one in Phoenix can forget those first few years after Sarver bought the team. How, as Jerry Colangelo laughed all the way to the bank to cash the overpriced check he was given, Sarver stood at courtside in his bright orange shirt and oversized foam finger and yelled at the refs.

“Look at me!”

Sarver came to Phoenix fancying himself as the second coming of Mark Cuban: an uber fan with enough money to buy a franchise of his very own. So, like Cuban, Sarver interfered with his team’s on-court operations, and thought he knew best about everything. He was, after all, a powerful and successful business man who had succeeded in almost every avenue of his life. Why wouldn’t his top-down management approach work for his basketball team as well?

Joe Johnson will take what I give him. 

I’m not paying for rookies.

Shaq would be a great idea!

Yet, despite his actions and interference, his refusal to listen to his ever changing roster of GM’s (Bryan Colangelo, Mike D’Antoni and Steve Kerr), the team still won. Perhaps it was easy for Sarver to think his decisions were the right calls, especially after the team kept getting so close to their first Finals appearance since 1993, year after year after year. It might be easy to think that, when Nash was defying nature and continued to play the way he did, year after year after year. The team hit some rocky roads along the way, but they would be just fine, Sarver might have convinced himself. They would still find a way to win. They always had.

But then the good times dried up. Then year after year came and went without a playoff appearance. Then the boos were heard loudest during former coach John MacLeod’s Ring of Honor induction ceremony (especially when compared to the cheers Jerry Colangelo received seconds before). Then the good times were gone.

And so came the summer of 2012, when the team went into complete rebuilding mode. When they traded away loved ones and idols. When everything changed, and Sarver was no where to be found.

Who is absent from this photo?

In case you missed it, let me repeat that last part again: Sarver was no where to be found. 

There is no handbook or guide given to owners when they buy a team. They take from their experiences and approach their new venture with the lessons learned from the business of their lives. They know what has worked for them so far, and they apply those methods to the new model they are beginning, and hope it works again.

It was easy to criticize Sarver from the outside about the trades, the signings or the lack-thereof, but from the inside, all he saw was that his team was still winning. And isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about?

The whole world was rough on the guy for the way he acted at games, but he bought the team because he was fan first, and what fan hasn’t done crazy things for the team they love to root for?

Perfectly normal, perfectly healthy behavior.

Yet look at Sarver now, and you’ll find you can’t see him. You don’t hear him. He is, for all intents and purposes, absent from the day-to-day operations. The personnel decisions. The press conferences and courtside seats.

Sarver is finally acting like the other owners of the other teams. He has built a management group he has faith in, and has let them do their jobs instead of trying to do it for them. He has taken on a group of players who provide a high ceiling of potential. He has given the team the financial flexibility to make a move on a coveted free agent next summer (who in Phoenix isn’t hoping James Harden won’t make a hero’s return to the Valley?). This, of course, was only after he let his current GM, Lon Babby, make a move (albeit unsuccessfully) on a coveted free agent this summer (Eric Gordon).

Now that the veil of winning is finally gone, it’s as if Sarver is finally learning the lessons he should have learned years ago. It’s important to remember that everything we do or try to do has a natural learning curve to it. Being an owner of a professional sports team is no different.

Maybe Sarver just took eight years to get on the upswing.

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