COMMENTARY | Ask any Phoenix Suns fan how he or she feels about owner Robert Sarver, and you're likely to get zero positive feedback.
Fans dislike the man so much, they organized a Facebook group back in 2007 entitled, "Suns Fans Unite to Buy Out Robert Sarver."
While virtually impossible to achieve, it shows the level of distaste that the Phoenix faithful have for Sarver. His business-first background doesn't endear him to fans who (incorrectly) believe he should spend as much as it takes to win the NBA championship.
Does Sarver deserve all the hate?
When Sarver took over on July 1, 2004, for Jerry Colangelo, the Suns had just come off of a horrible 29-53 season. Despite having Stephon Marbury, Amar'e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson and Anfernee Hardaway, the team just didn't jell and needed change.
The Suns unloaded Hardaway, Marbury and Tom Gugliotta in an effort to shed salary in two separate trades during the 2003-04 season. The value they got in return could have been something, but we'll talk about draft picks later on.
The Suns scored the No. 7 pick in the 2004 NBA draft and took Luol Deng. They then traded Deng away in a move that would become very commonplace (note: Sarver officially took over after the draft was over).
The first transaction to officially happen under Sarver's reign was a major positive, as the Suns signed Steve Nash as a free agent. The new era of Suns basketball was set to begin.
A TERRIFIC START
Sarver put the perfect point guard together with a group of athletic players and a coach who was the perfect fit. After going 62-20 and losing in the conference finals to the San Antonio Spurs, the Sarver era seemed like it was going to be a huge smash.
After averaging 110.4 points per game to lead the league, the Suns knew they had a terrific opportunity to make a run at the NBA championship. They also realized they needed some interior help if they were to beat teams like the Spurs or Los Angeles Lakers.
In the 2005 NBA draft, the Suns selected Nate Robinson No. 21 overall and Marcin Gortat No. 57 overall. Then, they traded them both away and the only real value they got back was Kurt Thomas. So much for the quality big man they needed.
LET'S JUST BE GOOD INSTEAD OF WIN A TITLE
The decision to trade Joe Johnson during the summer of 2005 for Boris Diaw and two first-round picks could have worked out. Yes, Johnson was a key contributor that looked to be taking the next step toward being a star, but the Suns needed frontcourt help and now had more assets to work with.
After another conference finals appearance and another defeat, the Suns drafted Rajon Rondo at No. 21 and Sergio Rodriguez No. 27 overall in the 2006 NBA draft. Wait, no big man? Nobody to guard Tim Duncan?
Then, you guessed it. Sarver and company traded Rondo for a first-round pick and sold Rodriguez. The Suns didn't keep Johnson for salary reasons, and then didn't use their assets to improve the team.
In 2007, the Suns drafted Rudy Fernandez No. 24 overall before trading him for ... cash.
When teams like the Spurs were stashing talent overseas, the Suns were keeping an eye on the bottom line. This was a catastrophe, as the Suns could have continued to build or at the very least protect their future.
SHAQ WILL SAVE US
Sarver and his management team learned from their previous mistakes. They figured out they couldn't pull big men out of the bargain bin and expect them to perform at a high level. So, they went out and got a surefire Hall of Fame center -- who was 35 years old.
Don't get me wrong, Shaquille O'Neal could still dominate from time to time. Unfortunately, those times were few and far between. He didn't fit the system well and although he was a fan-favorite, he wasn't (and never was) the answer. The Suns would trade him for Sasha Pavlovic, Ben Wallace a second-round pick and.more cash.
ONE LAST RUN
The 2009-10 Suns were the third team in the Sarver era to make the conference finals. They were led by 35-year-old Nash and still didn't have a real center (sorry, Robin Lopez). Even though the Suns knew they needed one extra piece, Sarver and company balked at going over the cap.
It's as if they were happy with winning a lot during the regular season but wouldn't trade profit for championship. Sounds like a businessman running an NBA team, doesn't it?
WASTED POTENTIAL (BUT NOT PROFIT)
The Suns didn't waste the prime years of Steve Nash as some would have you believe. He did win back-to-back MVP Awards. The Suns did win 62, 54, 61, 55, 46 and 54 games over their six-year run. It was an exciting (but frustrating) time to be a Suns fan.
Would a better owner (and management team) have brought a championship to the valley? Absolutely. Poor drafting and a business-first model caused the Suns to miss out on their opportunity. Who is responsible for all of that? The man who signs the checks, Mr. Robert Sarver. He's a nice and philanthropic man, but he deserves all of the blame for this one.
Michael Dunlap is an NBA credentialed writer who covers Phoenix Suns practices and games for the site he founded, HoopsHabit.com.Follow @iambabyd13 on Twitter!
- Sports & Recreation
- Phoenix Suns
- Robert Sarver