Robert Sarver

Suns Notes: Morant, Oubre, Warren, Bender

Suns owner Robert Sarver and many of the team’s front office executives attended the Ohio Valley Conference tournament, according to Jonathan Givony of ESPN (Twitter links).

That’s noteworthy because they were taking a closer look at Murray State sophomore guard Ja Morant. Interim GM James Jones, assistant GM Trevor Buckstein, director of player personnel Bubba Burrage and director of basketball analytics Jake Loos were also in attendance.

Phoenix currently has the second-worst record in the league behind only the Knicks. Morant is ranked third on ESPN’s Top 100 prospect list and first among point guards, a position of major need for the Suns. He scored 36 points against Belmont in the OVC title game to carry the Racers into the NCAA Tournament.

We have more on the Suns:

  • Forward Kelly Oubre Jr. reached his starter criteria and is eligible for a $4.9MM qualifying offer, ESPN’s Bobby Marks tweets. He met the criteria by averaging 2,000 minutes during the course of the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons. His cap hold of $9.6MM in the offseason remains the same, Marks adds. Oubre is averaging 16.1 PPG and 4.9 RPG in 28.8 MPG over 36 games since he was acquired from Washington.
  • It might be time for the Suns to shut down T.J. Warren, Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic writes. Warren missed his 19th consecutive game on Sunday due to right ankle soreness. The injury can be more accurately characterized as a bone bruise, Rankin notes. Coach Igor Kokoskov indicated no decision had been made on Warren’s season status. “I don’t have that answer,” he said. “My approach is whoever is available to play, I’m going to try to use and incorporate in the game plan and the rotation and try to see if he can help us win games.”
  • Power forward Dragan Bender has seen his minutes uptick in Warren’s absence, Rankin points out in the same piece. Bender has averaged 16.0 MPG in five March games, though he has posted a modest stat line of 3.6 PPG and 2.8 RPG. Bender, the fourth pick of the 2016 draft, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer after the club declined his fourth-year option prior to the start of the season.

Suns Notes: Front Office, Sarver, J. Jones

In an interesting, in-depth piece for ESPN.com, Kevin Arnovitz explores the Suns‘ front office, going into detail on the messiness and dysfunction in Phoenix over the last several years. Within the story, Arnovitz makes the case that the Suns have “no discernible direction,” as the roster, front office, and coaching staff have all undergone frequent changes since the club’s last playoff berth in 2010.

Arnovitz’s report includes several notable notes and rumors on the Suns – plus a terrific story involving live goats – and is worth checking out in full, but here are a few of the highlights:

  • After speaking with nearly two dozen NBA insiders, including current and former Suns players and employees, Arnovitz suggests that there’s a general consensus on some of the factors plaguing the franchise. He describes them as follows: “An interventionist owner (Robert Sarver) with more authority than expertise, a front office marred by instability, an undermanned scouting department, and a dated facility that isolates the decision-makers from the players and coaches.”
  • While former Suns GM Ryan McDonough was described by Arnovitz’s sources as having a “deep knowledge of scouting and information-gathering,” his communication and people skills weren’t considered to be as strong. Arnovitz’s sources also believe McDonough tended to value job security over his personal convictions, and would be more likely to defer to Sarver than to forcefully argue his case on personnel matters.
  • The “final straw” for McDonough’s tenure in Phoenix was his inability to fill the point guard spot during this past offseason, sources tell Arnovitz.
  • While co-interim GM James Jones has received praise for his ability to communicate with players, he’s often not in attendance at strategy and scouting meetings, deferring to fellow co-interim GM Trevor Bukstein, who is more a cap specialist. While Jones tells Arnovitz that he doesn’t want to get in Bukstein’s way, Phoenix’s front office structure has confused rival teams, who aren’t necessarily sure whom to call when they want to do business with the Suns.
  • The Suns parted ways with several members of the scouting department when they dismissed McDonough in October, and haven’t replaced those execs and scouts, per Arnovitz. Jones has the authority to hire replacements, but has elected not to do so. “One thing to think about was whether or not the size of the scouting staff was adequate, and whether they were efficient or productive,” Jones said. “It’s more than having people flying all over the country just to say that we are visible and say we were there. If you’re utilizing more video and technology, you may not need as much manpower and man-hours.”
  • Although Arnovitz has spoken to some execs who agree with Jones’ stance on scouting, others believe it “denigrates the value of information that can be gathered on-site” at a time when lottery picks are Phoenix’s best road back to contention.

Suns’ James Jones Talks Rivers, Ariza, Oubre, PGs

League executives were puzzled by the Suns‘ decision to waive both Tyson Chandler and Austin Rivers so early in the season, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. As Windhorst observes, even though the Suns may be tanking and weren’t interested in taking on multiyear money, parting ways with Chandler and Rivers – who were both on expiring contracts – closes the door on possible trade opportunities at the deadline.

In a discussion with Gina Mizell of The Athletic, interim co-general manager James Jones indirectly addressed those criticisms, explaining that Phoenix wants to do right by players. “We should be a place where every party, everyone involved, feels invested and feels connected,” Jones said. In the case of Rivers, Jones said that the team and Rivers’ camp mutually agreed that it “would be best if he found an opportunity that fit him better.”

Jones also weighed in on a handful of other subjects during conversations with Mizell and Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic, so we’ll round up some of his most noteworthy comments here:

On whether it was true that team owner Robert Sarver wouldn’t allow Trevor Ariza to be sent to the Lakers:

“No. Throughout all of this, Robert has been adamant that his focus is on what helps the Suns grow and be the best. That was inaccurate. Actually, if something could have worked out, Robert would have been a huge proponent, just because of that investment and understanding that Trevor and his family are (based) on the West Coast. If we can do right for both parties, it should make sense. There’s no reason why you wouldn’t do something that benefits both parties.”

On what he expects Kelly Oubre to bring to the Suns:

“Exactly what he’s demonstrated in the past. He’s young, but he’s experienced. He’s played in a lot of games. He’s played in the playoffs. He’s had tremendous success against some of the best players in the Eastern Conference, some of the best players in the NBA as a whole. His athleticism, his activity, just his competitiveness is something that, as we look at building the identity of this team, those are the foundational characteristics of all the players that we target. Do they play hard? Do they compete? Are they selfless? Do they sacrifice to win? He embodies that, and that’s why we’re excited to have him.”

On what happened with last Friday’s failed three-team trade involving the Wizards and Grizzlies:

“I’ll leave it as just a miscommunication. Going forward, we’re excited to have Kelly. Through everything, we have Kelly. We have a guy we know fits with us and we’re excited about.”

On the Suns’ ongoing search for an answer at point guard:

“For us, as free agency hit (during the 2018 offseason), you talk about that tier of starting caliber point guards, they chose other destinations that were a better fit and better suited to compete right now. As far as trades, I always say it takes two to tango. That’s not something you can control.

“For us at that position, we need someone who will compete defensively, can be impactful and can play well off our other perimeters… [De’Anthony Melton]’s been doing that and we’ll keep pushing him to get better.”

Robert Sarver: Suns Won’t Move Out Of Phoenix

Suns owner Robert Sarver delivered an important message to fans on Thursday, denying that he’ll move his team out of Phoenix if Talking Stick Resort Arena doesn’t undergo a $230MM upgrade.

“The Phoenix Suns are not leaving Phoenix,” Sarver said. “I am 100% committed, and have been for the last four years, to find a solution to keep them in downtown Phoenix where they belong.”

A Suns city council member told Laurie Roberts of the Arizona Republic that Sarver threatened to take the team to Seattle or Las Vegas if the new arena deal isn’t approved, but the council member has since walked his comments back on the two cities, according to Roberts. However, Suns CEO and President Jason Rowley acknowledged the possibility of moving the team somewhere else in the Valley or out of state only as a last resort.

Sarver purchased the Suns for $401MM back in 2004. The franchise has made the postseason just five times in that span, with their last appearance coming during the 2009-10 season. They have the league’s worst record at 4-24 through 28 games.

“I’m a strong proponent — as evident by the term sheet I signed last week — that we should renovate the Talking Stick Resort Arena and once again restore it to a world-class facility,” Sarver said. “In addition, it is important for the Phoenix Suns to build a first-class practice facility so the players of the Suns and Phoenix Mercury can continue to develop. I am 100% all-in on keeping this team right here where we stand, and I want to make sure that message comes across crystal clear.” 

Talking Stick Resort Arena — formerly known as the US Airways Center — has been the home of the Suns since 1992. The Phoenix city council will vote on January 23 on the proposal, which could also extend the Suns’ contract to play in the arena until 2032, according to Fox 10 Phoenix.

Pacific Notes: Rondo, David, Clippers, Sarver

Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo will be examined by a hand specialist on Thursday to determine the next course of action for his injury, Mike Bresnahan of Spectrum SportsNet tweets. Rondo didn’t travel with the team to its road game against Houston. He broke his right hand nearly a month ago and underwent surgery on November 15th. He was given a 4-to-5 week timetable for his recovery but has continued to experience swelling during the healing process.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • A former Kings executive has agreed to plead guilty for funneling $13.4MM from two of the team’s sponsors and spending it on beachfront homes in Southern California, Sam Stanton of the Sacramento Bee reports. Jeffrey David, the team’s former chief revenue officer, agreed to a deal in which all of the money diverted from the Golden 1 Credit Union and Kaiser Permanente will be recouped. Prosecutors plan to argue for a sentence of 8 1/2 years, while his attorneys are expected to argue that he should serve no more than two years. David held a similar position with the Heat when the scheme was uncovered. The funds that were diverted came from advertising contracts the companies signed with the team.
  • Ample cap space, a free-spending owner in Steve Ballmer and some quality pieces already in place are the main reasons why top-level free agents will seriously consider the Clippers, Steven Loung of Sportsnet.ca argues. The Clippers have been keeping close tabs on the top two free agents next summer, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard.
  • Phoenix city council members should take Suns owner Robert Sarver’s threat to move the team with a grain of salt, Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic opines. Sarver has dropped hints he’d consider moving the team to Las Vegas or Seattle if the team’s current arena isn’t upgraded. Sarver and his partners should pay more for those renovations, according to Somers, and the City of Phoenix shouldn’t buckle under his idle threat. Any move would have to be approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors and Sarver isn’t well-liked among his peers, Somers adds.

Suns Notes: Arena, Griffin, Ownership, Warren

Responding to news that a Phoenix City Council vote on funding for arena renovations was set to be postponed in order to accommodate public hearings on the proposal, Suns president and CEO Jason Rowley issued a statement today, which reads as follows:

“We have learned that a request has been made to continue the agenda item on the arena renovation until a council meeting on January 23. We very much look forward to publicly discussing the many ways in which Talking Stick Resort Arena benefits Downtown Phoenix and our community at large, and answering any question the Council and their constituents may have about the arena and the proposed renovation.”

Rowley’s statement also included an indirect response to rumors that owner Robert Sarver has threatened to move the franchise to Seattle or Las Vegas if the Suns can’t reach an agreement with the city of Phoenix on funding for the arena renovations.

“Our priority remains being in Downtown Phoenix long term, and we’re excited about the opportunity that lies ahead,” Rowley said.

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • Bob Young of The Athletic makes the case for why the Suns should make former Cavaliers GM David Griffin their next head of basketball operations after firing Ryan McDonough earlier this fall. Young also reports within that story that some of Sarver’s minority partners  are “understandably disgruntled about the direction of the team.” However, the structure of Phoenix’s ownership group means there’s little they can do.
  • Despite having failed to crack the 24-win mark since the 2014/15 season, the Suns are still building from the ground up and don’t appear to be on the verge of reaching the next stage of their rebuilding process, as Gina Mizell of The Athletic details. “We don’t have a foundation to maintain,” head coach Igor Kokoskov said. “We have nothing to polish. We have to build.”
  • Elsewhere in Mizell’s story, she notes that there have been multiple instances this season where players forgot what to run or didn’t execute a play as intended during out-of-timeout sets. Ryan Anderson said he has asked Kokoskov to reiterate a play in case his younger teammates “are afraid that they’re gonna appear to not be locked in” if they make a similar request.
  • Suns forward T.J. Warren was fined $15K for directing inappropriate language toward a referee following his ejection on Monday, the league announced today in a press release. It was Warren’s first game back from an ankle injury.

Sarver Threatens To Move Suns To Seattle Or Vegas?

In the midst of a battle with the city of Phoenix over funding for arena renovations, Suns owner Robert Sarver has told some city council members that he’ll take the franchise to Seattle or Las Vegas if he can’t reach a deal in Phoenix, reports Laurie Roberts of The Arizona Republic.

As Jessica Boehm of The Arizona Republic outlines, the Phoenix City Council had been set to vote on a proposal that would see the city pay $150MM on a $230MM renovation plan for Talking Stick Resort Arena, with the Suns contributing the remaining $80MM. The deal would have also ensured that the Suns were committed to staying in Phoenix through at least 2037.

However, in the wake of “backlash from the community,” it appears that vote will be postponed. According to Roberts, delaying the vote will allow time for a pair of public hearings on the project, whereas if the Phoenix City Council shot down the proposal today, it might kill future prospects for a deal. There are seven city council members and at least three are currently opposing the arena renovation plan.

As Boehm explains, the Suns’ current arena lease runs through 2032, but that agreement includes a provision that would allow the franchise to opt out in 2022 if its building is considered “obsolete.” If the renovations are approved, they’d take place between 2019 and 2021, ensuring that the arena is modernized.

Given the nature of the situation, Sarver’s threats to move the franchise could simply be a way of regaining the upper hand and forcing city council members to seriously weigh the ramifications of turning down the funding plan for those arena renovations. If the Suns were to leave Phoenix, the city would have to take over operations and maintenance of Talking Stick Resort Arena, Boehm notes.

While the NBA reportedly has no plans for expansion in the next several years, there are several cities interested in a franchise, led by Seattle, which recently secured an NHL team. With relocation looking like the only viable way to get an NBA franchise to Seattle anytime soon, team owners seeking public funding for new arenas or arena upgrades may try to use the threat of a move to the Pacific Northwest as leverage during the next few years.

Taking that into account, I don’t know that we should take Sarver’s threats too seriously for now, and I wouldn’t expect the NBA to idly stand by if he attempts to move his team out of one of the country’s largest cities, but this is a situation worth watching closely going forward.

Lawrence’s Latest: Rockets, Butler, Stotts, Suns

The Timberwolves didn’t show much interest in the Rocketstrade offer for Jimmy Butler that featured four first-round picks along with Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss, Mitch Lawrence of The Sporting News confirms. According to Lawrence, Tom Thibodeau views Knight and Chriss as “dead weight” and would prefer a deal that includes Eric Gordon and/or P.J. Tucker.

Meanwhile, Lawrence is also the latest reporter to identify the Sixers as a potential dark horse in the Butler sweepstakes. Lawrence suggests Philadelphia had hoped to trade the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder in a deal for Kawhi Leonard and could offer that pick to the Timberwolves in a Butler package.

Here’s more from Lawrence:

  • According to Lawrence, league executives think that Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor will bring in someone with strong ties to the franchise to run the front office next year. Lawrence identifies Chauncey Billups as one possible candidate.
  • Although Terry Stotts appears safe as the Trail Blazers‘ head coach for now, there are rival GMs and scouts that view his position as “tenuous,” says Lawrence. Stotts, whose contract runs through 2019/20, sought an extension in the offseason but was turned down by owner Paul Allen, according to Lawrence. Allen has since passed away and his sister Jody has always been more involved with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks than the NBA club, resulting in speculation about a Blazers sale, Lawrence notes. That could create further uncertainty for Stotts.
  • One Western Conference president on the Suns, according to Lawrence: “The minority owners are furious that [owner Robert] Sarver decided on his own to fire [GM Ryan] McDonough.”
  • Lawrence echoes an earlier report, writing that the Wizards are showing no inclination to break up their team or to fire head coach Scott Brooks. However, one Eastern Conference executive cautions that could change. “Brooks’ seat could get hotter if they don’t win and management thinks the team is better than it really is,” the exec tells Lawrence.

Suns Leaning Toward Promoting James Jones To GM

With Ryan McDonough no longer in the picture in Phoenix, former NBA forward James Jones is currently heading up the Suns‘ front office along with assistant GM Trevor Bukstein. And according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, there’s a good chance that Jones’ interim duties as co-GM will evolve into a permanent role as the club’s head of basketball operations.

[RELATED: Suns fire GM Ryan McDonough]

As Wojnarowski reports, Suns owner Robert Sarver, who is high on Jones, is leaning toward promoting him to the general manager role. Wojnarowski cautions that Sarver “has been known to change his mind” on personnel decisions, but the team’s owner has left little doubt in conversations this week that he envisions Jones as the eventual head of basketball ops. Jones has already begun to work on assembling his own scouting staff, sources tell ESPN.

According to Wojnarowski, Sarver has a reputation for poor leadership and aggressively inserting himself into roster decisions, which would make it challenging to recruit a top-tier veteran executive to replace McDonough. As Woj details, agents have told stories about having private conversations with Sarver without the front office’s knowledge, while rival executives say they could sometimes hear Sarver yelling in the background during phone calls with Phoenix’s front office.

Sarver has also never shown much enthusiasm for spending big money on a general manager, further limiting the appeal of the position to outside candidates. However, landing the role would be a big deal for Jones, whose career as an NBA player only ended in 2017. He was hired as the Suns’ VP of basketball operations last summer to help improve the front office’s relationships and communication with players.

If Jones is ultimately named the Suns’ new general manager, it will constitute a mini-trend — both Jones and Elton Brand, who was named the Sixers’ GM last month, played in the NBA within the last few years and are still in their late-30s.

Suns Considering ‘Handful’ Of Options For Top Pick

While the early consensus is that there are two players in the running to get drafted first overall, the Suns are considering a handful of options ahead of the big day. Adam Zagoria of ZAGSBLOG writes that the club met with No. 3-ranked Marvin Bagley III at the Draft Combine.

It is difficult and I think people are jumping to conclusions as far as [thinking] there’s only one or two guys in the mix for us,” general manager Ryan McDonough said in an interview with ESPN. “There are more than that. There are a handful of guys.

Of course it will be hard to imagine the perceived values of DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic dropping enough that the No. 1 pick goes to somebody else, even if that means the Suns end up trading it.

If you look around the NBA as far as the veteran players, there are probably a few players we would consider trading the pick for,” McDonough said. “It will be a busy month for us.

Perhaps that’s just McDonough doing his diligence and broadcasting that he’s open to high-value offers involving young stars with multiple years of team control left on their contracts.

For now, it’s reasonable to assume that the team will take advantage of the luck bestowed upon them at the Draft Lottery and, with that in mind, it’s worth noting that not only was Suns VP of Basketball Operations James Jones in attendance to watch Doncic play in the EuroLeague Final Four (h/t international hoops reporter David Pick) but franchise owner Robert Sarver was too (h/t Jonathan Givony of ESPN).

Couple that with the first-overall buzz that for months has surrounded Ayton, the Arizona Wildcat with whom the Suns are already quite familiar, and it’s hard to imagine the team turning down the opportunity to draft a potential franchise player at No. 1.

It’s still early and plenty can change in the weeks leading up to June 21. For now, it’s worth recognizing that Ayton and Doncic remain the conventional choices for the top two picks but that any team in the Suns’ position would be foolish not to explore all possible options.

If, when the dust settles, the team somehow still isn’t convinced about either Ayton or Doncic, there’s always the possibility of McDonough taking a page from Danny Ainge‘s book and swapping the first overall pick for a lower pick and additional assets, as Luke Adams wrote in a Suns feature yesterday.