Earl Watson

Pacific Notes: Sarvers, LeBron, Lakers, Caruso, Kuminga

After Baxter Holmes of ESPN published a report accusing Suns owner Robert Sarver of racist and misogynistic conduct, three former team employees received messages from Sarver’s wife, Penny Sarver, Holmes writes in a new ESPN story. She called one former Suns employee “a liar,” said another was “crushing my families’ lives,” and accused a third of being “very bitter,” as Holmes relays.

“Please put your hatred aside and realize the hurt you are causing by spreading lies and fabrications,” she wrote to the third former employee. “Is your time in the spotlight that important? If something happens to one of my children, I will hold you and (former Suns head coach) Earl Watson personally responsible. Think about your own child for a second and imagine the tables turned.”

Reached for comment, Penny Sarver said she wanted to “set the record straight and to share how disappointed and hurt I am by the lies that are circulating about my husband and the Suns organization.” However, one of the former employees contacted by Sarver told Holmes it was hard to interpret the message as anything “other than as a threat.”

Meanwhile, Alex Prewitt and Jon Wertheim of SI.com have obtained video of Robert Sarver telling sexually explicit jokes and anecdotes during a posthumous “roast” of former Suns minority owner Dick Heckmann, who passed away in October 2020. While explicit material is expected at such an event, some of Sarver’s comments may have crossed a line and are consistent with complaints from many of Holmes’ sources about the Suns owner’s penchant for inappropriate workplace humor.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • In an appearance on ESPN (video link), Brian Windhorst said that LeBron James‘ abdominal strain is “not a severe injury” and won’t keep him out for an extended period. The Lakers star has been out since last Tuesday and the team hasn’t provided a timeline for his recovery or return.
  • Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report explores whether the Lakers made a mistake not re-signing Alex Caruso and what the cost of doing so would’ve been after accounting for tax penalties. While matching the Bulls’ four-year, $37MM deal for Caruso would’ve helped shore up L.A.’s backcourt defense and given the team a very movable contract, Pincus estimates that the Lakers’ overall 2021/22 payroll (salary and taxes) would’ve increased by about $33MM with that deal on the books.
  • Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said this week that No. 7 overall pick Jonathan Kuminga, who hasn’t seen much NBA action so far, will have to be patient and will benefit from getting G League reps with Santa Cruz. “He had a lot of guys who were drafted right before or right after who are all playing a lot,” Kerr said, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic. “So it’s not easy for him, but he understands he’s on a very good team and he’s got to pay his dues and learn from the guys and there’s a lot to be said for that route in terms of development. I think he understands that and he’s working really hard.”

Suns Notes: Williams, Booker, Paul, Sarver

Asked on Thursday night about the allegations of racism and misogyny leveled against Suns owner Robert Sarver, several of the team’s on-court leaders acknowledged the severity of those allegations while also stating that they’ll wait for more details to come out before jumping to any conclusions. As Tim Bontemps of ESPN relays, head coach Monty Williams and star guards Devin Booker and Chris Paul were among those who addressed the subject.

“As someone who is the caretaker of a program, I find all these things that are being said serious in nature,” Williams said, noting that the incidents described in the ESPN report occurred before he arrived in Phoenix. “It takes courage to come out and express yourself. But at the same time, I’m aware there are two sides to this equation. … We still have to wait to see how clear the facts can appear.

“… If any of that stuff happened while I was here, I wouldn’t be in this seat. The league is doing an investigation, and we’ll know more obviously once that is settled.”

[RELATED: NBA, WNBA To Launch Investigation Into Sarver’s Conduct]

Booker said that he hasn’t noticed any racist or misogynistic behavior from Sarver since joining the team in 2014, but he also disagreed with the team owner’s portrayal of former Suns head coach Earl Watson as an unreliable source. Watson was one of the individuals who went on the record with allegations against Sarver. Asked if he considered his former coach credible, Booker replied, “Earl? Yeah. That’s my guy.”

Watson, who is currently an assistant for the Raptors, issued a statement of his own on Thursday stating that he’s “not interested in engaging in an ongoing battle of fact” and that he doesn’t want to spend every day reliving what was a “traumatic experience” for him.

Here’s more on the Suns and the investigation into the Sarver allegations:

  • Paul and Booker said the team is trying to keep its focus on the court and to “control what we can control,” per Bontemps. Booker suggested that Williams is the “perfect person” to help the club navigate the situation. “He’s the best at that, at managing situations, controlling the room and keeping people focused forward,” Booker said of his coach, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. “That’s what he’s done with our team, we’ve talked about it as a team. You can feel everything he says. We’re sticking behind him and we’re going to keep playing hard for him and winning basketball games.”
  • The Suns continue to publish statements in support of Sarver on their official website. Today, they issued one signed by 12 members of the team’s ownership group, including longtime NFL star Larry Fitzgerald. “To a person, we dispute the characterization of Mr. Sarver and the organization as racist and sexist,” the statement reads. “We support Mr. Sarver’s leadership and stand with him.” It’s unclear exactly how many of the team’s minority shareholders didn’t sign the statement — Baxter Holmes’ ESPN report suggested the ownership group consists of approximately 20 members.
  • One of the team’s minority stakeholders, vice chairman Andy Kohlberg, issued a separate statement of his own in addition to signing the aforementioned letter. Kohlberg said he has been business partners with Sarver for more than 17 years and has “never seen nor heard Robert make any statements that I experienced as racist, sexist or misogynistic.”

NBA, WNBA To Launch Investigation Into Sarver’s Conduct

The NBA and WNBA issued a joint statement announcing that a “comprehensive investigation” will be launched regarding the conduct of Suns owner Robert Sarver, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports tweets.

“The allegations contained in today’s ESPN article are extremely serious, and we have directed the Wachtell Lipton law firm to commence a comprehensive investigation,” the statement issued by NBA Communications stated. “The NBA and WNBA remain committed to providing a respectful and inclusive workplace for all employees. Once the investigation is completed, its findings will provide the basis for any league action.”

ESPN published a detailed report regarding Sarver’s conduct on Thursday. It was based on interviews with more than 70 current and former Suns employees, and painted a picture of a toxic workplace culture under Sarver, who is accused of using racially inappropriate language and engaging in inappropriate and misogynistic behavior.

The law firm is the same one that conducted the 2014 investigation regarding former Clippers owner Donald Serling, Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic tweets.

The organization issued a statement from Sarver, who indicated he’d welcome an investigation while denying the allegations. Sarver also took shots at former head coach Earl Watson, stating that Watson created a “toxic atmosphere in our organization.”

“I continue to be shocked by the false reporting from (reporter) Baxter Holmes,” Sarver’s statement read. “While there is so much that is inaccurate and misleading in this story that I hardly know where to begin, let me be clear: The n-word is not part of my vocabulary. I have never called anyone or any group of people the n-word, or referred to anyone or any group of people by that word, either verbally or in writing.

“… Instead of reporting the truth, Holmes’ story is based on misrepresentations from former Suns coach Earl Watson and other unnamed “sources.” Mr. Watson created an unprofessional and toxic atmosphere in our organization. He is clearly not a credible source. Despite hearing from witness after witness that disputed Mr. Watson’s stories, Mr. Holmes completely disregarded the truth here. Now we are in the position of trying to disprove things that did not happen.”

The team’s president and CEO, Jason Rowley, also issued a statement which in part questioned Holmes’ integrity.

“The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury organization vehemently reject the claims made in today’s ESPN article,” it read. “Our two organizations have always worked hard to create an environment that is respectful and diverse; where racism, sexism and damaging behavior of any kind are not condoned. Today’s story contains false information and narratives perpetuated by a reporter who has struggled unsuccessfully to match the facts to a story he decided he wanted to tell a year ago. He twisted statements and circumstances to fit his preconceived narrative. He broke every rule of journalism by first deciding on his findings and then cherry-picking events and unreliable sources to prop up his demonstrably false claims.”

However, the team’s part owner and vice chairman, Jahm Najafi, struck a different tone in a statement of his own, Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today tweets.

“The conduct he is alleged to have committed has stunned and saddened me and is unacceptable,” Najafi said.

ESPN Report Portrays Toxic Work Environment Under Suns Owner Robert Sarver

The ESPN report that prompted the Suns and team owner Robert Sarver to issue a series of public statements and denials before its publication is now live. Having spoken to more than 70 current and former Suns employees, ESPN’s Baxter Holmes paints a picture of a toxic workplace culture under Sarver, who is accused of using racially inappropriate language and engaging in inappropriate and misogynistic behavior.

“The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale,” a Suns co-owner told ESPN, referring to Sarver’s conduct. “It’s embarrassing as an owner.”

Holmes’ report, which is very much worth reading in full, is jam-packed with anecdotes from over the years, many of which Sarver and his lawyers outright deny or claim are being misrepresented.

For instance, former head coach Earl Watson claims that Sarver entered the coaches’ room after a game against the Warriors to complain about Draymond Green being able to use the N-word, and repeatedly used the word himself, even after Watson asked him not to. Sarver said that characterization is “absolutely untrue.”

“During this conversation, I said ‘N-word’ without saying the full word,” Sarver said. “The word itself never crossed my lips. Let me be crystal clear: I never once suggested on that night (or ever) that I should be able to say the N-word because a player or a Black person uses it.”

According to Holmes, at least a half-dozen Suns staffers recalled instances where Sarver heard a story from a Black player and then retold it using the same language, including the N-word. One high-level team executive said that in 2013, Sarver also used the word to explain why he preferred Lindsey Hunter over Dan Majerle to coach a roster made up largely of Black players.

“These (N-words) need a (N-word),” Sarver said, according to that executive.

Again, Holmes’ story is worth reading in full, since we can’t relay every eyebrow-raising allegation from within it, but here are some of the other notable details from the report:

  • According to Watson, he told Sarver during his first year as head coach that the team could benefit from more diversity, to which the owner replied, “I don’t like diversity.” Sarver allegedly told Watson that having a diverse staff makes it more difficult to reach agreements. Sarver denied this claim.
  • Over a dozen employees told ESPN that Sarver made lewd comments in staff meetings. He allegedly made comments about his wife performing oral sex on him and claimed he needed to wear extra-large condoms. One female former staffer said she was made to feel as if women had “very little value” to Sarver. “Women are possessions,” she told ESPN. “And I think we’re nowhere close to where he thinks men are.” One former female employee told Holmes that her time with the Suns “wrecked my life” and that she contemplated suicide.
  • A former female marketing employee told ESPN that Sarver would often use phrases like, “Do I own you?” when asking whether someone worked for the team. Several employees also recalled instances where Sarver referred to employees as “inventory.” The former marketing employee added: “He makes you feel like you belong to him.”
  • Now-former Suns staffers told ESPN that when Phoenix was recruiting LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015, the team knew he had young children in Texas and that playing near them would be appealing. Sarver allegedly suggested to two basketball operations staffers at the time that the Suns needed to have local strippers impregnated by NBA players to give the team an edge in free agency.
  • That sort of attempt at humor often made employees feel demeaned and uncomfortable, according to Holmes, who points to another example from the 2009/10 season, when Sarver entered the Suns’ training room and asked forward Taylor Griffin if he shaved his legs, then followed it up with, “Do you shave your balls too?” Former Suns account executive David Bodzin also told ESPN that in 2014, he was “pantsed” by Sarver in front of more than 60 team employees. Afterward, an HR employee allegedly said to him, with a smirk, “Please don’t sue us for sexual harassment.”
  • Behavior from other members of the Suns’ executive team also contributed to a toxic workplace environment in Phoenix, as Holmes outlines. Two former employees told ESPN that one white male executive repeatedly referred to a Black co-worker as “Carlton” and asked him to “do the Carlton,” despite being told to stop. “Super racist,” one former employee told ESPN.
  • Multiple staffers told Holmes that they were unwilling to bring issues to the Suns’ HR department because they feared retaliation. According to people with direct knowledge of the interactions, some employees who reported allegations of inappropriate conduct to HR were soon told they were no longer fits in the organization.
  • One former HR rep said that the Suns were generally quick to settle with employees who threatened legal action. “They didn’t want the press,” the former rep told ESPN. “There were people that were wrongly terminated. And then the people who had the know-how to threaten to sue would get paid. But the ones who just couldn’t maneuver that landscape would just go away. … I would hope they would sue, because I knew they would get money. So whenever we (would) see the claims come in, I would just be like, ‘Well, at least that person’s going to get some money.'”
  • During the first decade of Sarver’s tenure as Suns owner, some of the team’s part-owners explored whether it would be possible to have him removed, Holmes says. However, outside legal counsel informed them that Sarver’s position was fairly ironclad, barring serious criminal conduct or similarly egregious actions.

Eastern Notes: Griffin, Nets, Harris, Cavs, Raptors Staff

The Nets plan to re-sign unrestricted free agent Blake Griffin and are also looking to add depth at center as the free agency period begins, general manager Sean Marks told ESPN’s Malika Andrews and other media members (Twitter link). Money does not appear to be an object — Marks said the Nets are “married to the luxury tax” and owner Joe Tsai is willing to spend whatever it takes to win.

We have more from the Eastern Conference

  • A report that the Sixers are shopping Tobias Harris isn’t accurate, a source familiar with the situation tells Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice. It’s likely that the Harris trade rumor is old news, since his name came up as part of a larger deal with the Rockets earlier this year before James Harden was dealt to the Nets.
  • Along with the pending acquisition of Ricky Rubio, the Cavaliers could look to add another veteran or two in free agency, particularly on the wing, Kelsey Russo of The Athletic writes. Doug McDermott and Reggie Bullock are two names to watch with Cleveland dangling all or part of its mid-level exception for their services. The Rubio deal with the Timberwolves can become official on Friday.
  • The Raptors have added Earl Watson, Trevor Gleeson and Nathaniel Mitchell to Nick Nurse‘s coaching staff. However, former assistant Nate Bjorkgren, who was fired after a season as the Pacers’ head coach, will not return to Toronto, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports (Twitter links).

Coaching/Front Office Notes: Watson, Raptors, Kokoskov, Mavs, More

Former Suns head coach Earl Watson appears set to return to the sidelines for an NBA team, as Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reports (via Twitter) that Watson is finalizing a deal to join the Raptors. Watson – who was pursued by multiple teams, according to Haynes – would be an assistant on Nick Nurse‘s staff. Watson hasn’t coached in the NBA since 2017, but Devin Booker has credited the former Phoenix coach for his accelerated development at the NBA level, Haynes notes.

Here are a few more notes on coaching and front office hires from around the NBA:

  • Veteran assistant Popeye Jones, who spent over a decade in the NBA as a player, will leave the Sixers to take a job on Michael Malone‘s staff with the Nuggets, according to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated (Twitter link). Marc Stein first reported (via Twitter) that Jones – a former Nuggets player – was emerging as a strong candidate to be hired by Denver.
  • Turkish club Fenerbahce officially announced today that head coach Igor Kokoskov won’t return to the team next season. As previously rumored, the former Suns coach is on track to take a job on Jason Kidd‘s staff with the Mavericks, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN. In Dallas, Kokoskov will get the opportunity to reunite with Luka Doncic, whom he coached on the Slovenian national team in 2017.
  • Speaking of the Mavericks, they’ve hired Nets salary cap strategist Andrew Baker for a senior role in their front office under new president of basketball operations Nico Harrison, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.
  • Fischer also identifies Nets assistant GM Jeff Peterson and Pelicans assistant GM Bryson Graham as two potential targets for the Celtics as they seek a general manager under new president of basketball operations Brad Stevens.

Pacific Notes: Suns, Tatum, Warriors, Kings

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum spoke this week about being enamored by the Suns leading up to the 2017 draft and hoping to fall to Phoenix at No. 4. According to Tatum, a meeting with the Suns’ then-coach Earl Watson a few days before the draft helped sell him on the organization. Speaking on Monday to Jay King of The Athletic, Watson confirmed that he was high on Tatum during the pre-draft process.

As Watson tells it, he wanted Tatum badly enough that he had some “uncomfortable” conversations with team owner Robert Sarver, who preferred Josh Jackson. Watson tells King that he tried to get the Suns to do whatever it took to get in position to land Tatum.

“I was pushing Tatum,” Watson said. “Like, we had to move up for Tatum, we had to get Tatum. And ownership chose Josh Jackson. … I knew the two players were dynamically different, but my vision was what’s the best fit for Devin Booker. Booker and Tatum, I think a combination like that right now would have been completely different than anything in the NBA at that age.”

Although Watson’s story is compelling, John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 pushes back against the former head coach’s recollections of the 2017 draft. According to Gambadoro (via Twitter), the Suns had Tatum ranked ahead of Jackson on their board and would have drafted Tatum if they’d had the opportunity to do so.

As Gambadoro explains (via Twitter), since the Celtics initially controlled the No. 1 pick and had Tatum atop their board, the Suns had no avenue to move up to select the young forward. Presumably, when Boston swung a deal to move down to No. 3, the C’s had assurances that the Sixers and Lakers wouldn’t be trading out of the top two spots, which would have been Phoenix’s only path to Tatum.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • Teams around the NBA are reopening their practice facilities for individual voluntary workouts, but that won’t happen anytime soon for the Warriors, who are tentatively aiming for June 1, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic. As Slater observes, the last-place Dubs won’t have the same urgency to return to their building as some other California teams might, so they’re “waiting for the (government) order, not influencing it.”
  • After Klay Thompson recently cautioned against assuming the Warriors‘ dynasty is over, fellow Splash Brother Stephen Curry conveyed a similar sentiment in an interview with Jermaine O’Neal (video link via Chris Montano). “It’s going to look different. It’s going to have a new cast of characters that are going to contribute at a high level,” Curry said. “But the DNA and the chemistry that us three (Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green) have, we’re going to be in good shape coming out of this.”
  • Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee takes a look at the financial toll that COVID-19 is taking on the Kings, who are preparing for the possibility of “tens of millions of dollars in uninsured losses.”

And-Ones: Age Limit, Watson, Loyd, Overseas Signings

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is calling on the NCAA to develop a plan in response to the NBA’s expected rule change that would lower the draft eligibility age from 19 to 18, relays Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. The NBA has submitted a proposal to its players union that would make the change effective in 2022.

“The NCAA is not prepared right now,” Krzyzewski said. “They need to be in concert with the NBA in developing a plan that is specific for men’s college basketball. And that should include what an athlete gets, how he’s been taken care of, whether or not there’s a re-entry if something – really, it’s deep. And if we only look at it shallow, then we’re doing a disservice to the kids. And that’s why I would hope that the NCAA has someone leading this to figure it all out.”

Krzyzewski asked whether the G League would start attracting blue-chip players and providing more competition for college basketball and how the NCAA will adapt once the one-and-done rule is gone. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo shared some of the same concerns and worried that too many players will be pressured to turn pro before they’re ready.

There’s more NBA-related news to pass along:

  • Former Suns coach Earl Watson has interviewed for the head coaching position at UCLA, tweets Jordan Schultz of ESPN. A former Bruins player, Watson was fired by Phoenix three games into last season. Schultz reports that longtime college and NBA coach Larry Brown would join Watson as a top assistant.
  • Jordan Loyd is this year’s 2 Ways & 10 Days pick for NBA G League MVP, writes Adam Johnson. He’s the second straight player from the Raptors 905 to claim the honor, following Lorenzo Brown‘s MVP season in 2017/18. Loyd is playing on a two-way contract and has appeared in 10 games at the NBA level.
  • Three players with NBA ties have signed contracts overseas. Hollis Thompson, who played four NBA seasons and was with the Pelicans two years ago, is joining Crailsheim Merlins in Germany, according to Emiliano Carchia of SportandoXavier Rathan-Mayes, who appeared in five games for the Grizzlies late last season, has signed with Bnei Herzelia in Israel, tweets Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports. Brad Newly, whose rights are owned by the Lakers, has signed with Sydney in Australia, Smith adds (Twitter link). Newly was drafted in 2007, but has never played in the NBA.

And-Ones: Trade Deadline, Goodwin, Watson, Williams

There probably won’t be significant activity prior to the trade deadline, according to Keith Smith of RealGM (Twitter links). The biggest trades this season may have already occurred, one source told Smith, because teams are intent on preserving salary-cap space for 2019. Still, some expiring contracts could be moved and there’s always a possibility that a team “might get desperate” and do something bold, the same source suggested.

A front-office member from another team believes many of the trades coming before the deadline could be motivated by trying to stay below the luxury-tax line, even if it results in a talent downgrade. However, that executive also believes that there should be more sellers in a month than there are now. “Some of us will get real about our chances and start moving guys,” the source said to Smith.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Guard Archie Goodwin has returned to the United States to join the G League’s Maine Red Claws, the team announced in a press release. Goodwin most recently played in the NBA during the 2016/17 season, when he appeared in a combined 15 games with New Orleans and Brooklyn. The shooting guard played his first three seasons with Phoenix. The Red Claws acquired his returning player rights in a trade prior to the season. Goodwin lost his roster spot with China’s Zhejiang Golden Bulls to former Spurs guard Brandon Paul in late December.
  • Lakers guard and former UCLA star Lonzo Ball has endorsed former Suns coach Earl Watson to be the Bruins’ next coach, Tania Ganguli and Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times report. UCLA recently fired Steve Alford and replaced him on an interim basis with assistant Murry Bartow. “I know Earl personally,” Ball said. “I think he has coaching experience in the league. Obviously, he went there, he’s alumni, so I think he’s a good fit.”
  • Veteran big man Alan Williams is in advanced talks with China’s Xinjiang Flying Tigers, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. Williams was waived by the Nets this week to allow him to pursue the overseas opportunity. He was on a two-way deal after getting released by the Suns during the offseason. Williams was playing well in the G League but did not make an appearance with Brooklyn.
  • Forward Okaro White, who was waived by the Wizards last month, has signed with the G League’s Long Island Nets, according to NetsDaily.com. Long Island acquired his G League rights last year. The Nets are not using their available two-way slot on White, according to the report. White made three appearances with Washington this season.

And-Ones: UCLA Coach, Withey, Delfino, NBAGL

With Steve Alford out as the head coach at UCLA, and the program launching a search for Alford’s replacement, a pair of former NBA head coaches have already been linked to the position.

Marc Stein of The New York Times tweets that there have been “persistent rumbles in NBA coaching circles” that the Bruins would pursue Fred Hoiberg, though it’s not clear if Hoiberg would be open to returning to the NCAA. After he was let go by Chicago earlier this season, reports indicated that Hoiberg wanted to remain in the NBA.

Meanwhile, a source tells Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated (Twitter link) that former UCLA guard Earl Watson would have interest in the job. Watson, who coached in Phoenix from 2016-17, has strong AAU ties and was close with Bruins legend John Wooden, Spears notes.

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • Veteran NBA big man Jeff Withey had been playing in Turkey this season, but he and Tofas Bursa have parted ways, as Emiliano Carchia of Sportando relays. Withey, who has logged more than 200 regular season NBA appearances, played in nine games for Dallas in 2017/18.
  • An NBA forward from 2004 to 2013, Carlos Delfino had been playing with Fiat Torino this season, but his time with the Italian club came to an abrupt end last week. According to Carchia, Delfino had a heated argument with Fransesco Forni, who is Fiat Torino’s VP and the son of the team’s owner. Forni issued a statement saying that Delfino “almost assaulted” him, and the club opened disciplinary proceedings against the veteran after cutting him. Delfino disputed the notion that there was any sort of physical confrontation and explained his side of the story to Carchia.
  • Former first-round pick Rashad Vaughn has changed NBA G League teams, with the Delaware Blue Coats acquiring him today from the Texas Legends, per a press release.
  • Speaking of the G League, Adam Johnson of 2 Ways & 10 Days recently took a look at some of the challenges facing Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who is taking over as the NBAGL president.