Robert Saver and the Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns have been poorly run since Robert Sarver bought the team in 2004. Just like James Dolan, there is another owner who has no idea how to properly run a sports organization. The past 16 years have been very frustrating for the Phoenix Suns, as they had all the talent to make a run for a title. But ultimately, they were stopped by one person—Robert Sarver. 

Robert Sarver is a genius when it comes to banking and creating revenue. In 1984 he founded the bank of Tucson. This bank would then grow state-wide, and Sarver renamed the bank to the National Bank of Arizona. Sarver would then sell the franchised bank and move into real estate where his company would join together with a few other firms. This would net Sarver a large personal profit, well over 200 million dollars. 

With all that said, Sarver is keen on making money. He seems to make the right business decisions regarding making revenue. However, Sarver has no concept of making a franchise competitive. The biggest problem that the Suns have as an organization is that they are considered a small-market team. The reason of course is that they are located in Phoenix.

Phoenix is not a small city by any means, but compared to coastal cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, Boston, and New York, it’s barely a rural town. Media coverage is also very lacking in Phoenix compared to the listed cities mentioned. The team rarely gets the big televised contracts, making players uninterested in signing with them in the off-season. 

In the NBA, when a small market has players that are talented, they are allowed to sign them for an extra year, and more money. This allows small market teams to become more desirable to players that were drafted by these teams. But, Sarver thinks differently than most casual people. He thinks with his wallet, and not with his passion for the game.

And this is what is wrong with the Phoenix Suns. They have an owner who cares more about saving money, then spending it. Why buy a sports franchise, if you are not willing to spend some cash on some players to win a championship. Does Sarver not understand that a winning franchise becomes more desirable for both fans and television networks?

Look at the Toronto Raptors for example, they were a middle of the pack organization. Before the Raptors title in 2019, the franchise was worth under one billion dollars. After winning the NBA title, the franchise is now worth 1.125 billion dollars. 

Sarver has had multiple incidents with his organization that left fans in awe. He would choose saving money over keeping personnel or talented NBA players. Imagine having a two-time MVP point guard, and asking him to take a pay cut. Sarver told Mike D’Antoni (who was their acting general manager and coach) to not pay Steve Nash the max contract. The best part about this situation is that everyone thought they were going to save that money to re-sign their young forward Joe Johnson and veteran forward Shawn Marion. 

Well, Joe Johnson would average incredible numbers the next four years. But not with the Suns. Johnson would sign with the Atlanta Hawks, and have his best years with them on a relatively-cheap contract for his talent. 

Marion would also have the same problem with Sarver. The owner told Steve Kerr that he would not pay their best all-around player. This could not have happened at the worst time for the franchise. The Suns had been a competitive basketball team throughout the mid to late 2000’s.

And what seemed to be another five years of possibly contending for a championship was ruined by Sarver. All because he did not want to pay a 30-year-old a contract that would take up less than 20-percent of the rosters cap space. So they would trade Marion, along with some bench players to the Miami Heat for an aging and cheaper Shaquille O’Neal. That trade, immediately failed. O’Neal only lasted 28 games before leaving Phoenix. 

The Suns would lose out on two star players that could have helped the organization take the extra step going forward. But Sarver, would rather save a few million dollars than win a championship. Because clearly winning championships is not as profitable as saving a few dollars. 

Sarver seems to have a ton of control when it comes to the player management. Most owners have a large say to how the team is run and organized. But this type of hold on management is different from what we have seen with other organizations.

Sarver has told either Kerr or D’Antoni to trade away their first-round pick for cash considerations. Why? Because Sarver wanted to save money. These were not late first-round picks. One of them was the seventh overall pick in 2004, where Sarver decided to trade it for a second rounder and three million dollars. 

He would use that money to help sign guard Steve Nash. Which you would think would be a great idea. Well, the Suns already have enough cap space to sign Nash that off-season. With the additional three million dollars, Sarver used that to not go over the luxury tax. So instead of drafting players such as Luol Deng, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith or even J.R Smith, they just traded out and refused to sign Nash or a top-flight rookie.

Within the past decade the Phoenix Suns have found themselves in a continuous train wreck. They haven’t been to the playoffs since the 2009-2010 season. Why? Sarver.

He has not paid anyone besides Devin Booker a max contract. This organization is built on finding players who are willing to take a pay cut. They made Steve Nash take a pay cut. They offered horrible contracts to Marion and Johnson, who would eventually leave and get paid elsewhere. And when they do decide to get talented players, they overload the position.

In 2014, they had signed Isasiah Thomas to a small contract in the off-season. But they already had talented guards in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. So why add another starting-caliber guard. 

The idea was to have a three-headed monster at the guard position, having one of the three guards act as a sixth man. That idea did not work at all, as all three players made it known to the organization that they were unhappy with their roles when coming off the bench. This only lasted half a season, when they would trade Thomas to the Boston Celtics, who would then become an MVP candidate with them. 

Booker has been with the team since 2015. He has yet to see a winning season. Booker has been recently named to his first All-Star game, and would most likely have more if he was surrounded with better talent. Winning is a big factor in All-Star voting. Coaches heavily consider a player’s success and their team success when picking the bench. Booker, who is dealing with a cheap owner has been snubbed in recent years because of his team’s lack of success. 

Sarver has not landed a big-name free agent in the offseason since buying the team. Nash, at the time of signing with the Suns, was not even considered close to being an All-Star. So with 16 years as an NBA owner, Sarver has been completely incompetent. 

The Suns will never be able to take the next step with Booker, because their owner will not pay another player a high salary. He already paid Booker a max contract, and with the track record that Sarver has, seeing him pay for more talent just seems unfathomable.

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