Is it time to forgive Robert Sarver?


Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns franchise nearly 17 years ago in 2004. Most Suns fans hold him in high disdain, but with the Suns looking like title contenders for the first time in a decade, some have changed their opinion. I want to take a holistic look at the Phoenix Suns franchise during the Sarver era to help determine whether it’s time to forgive him.

In Sarver’s first year as the owner, the Suns tied the franchise record for wins in a season with 62, had the best record in the NBA, and Steve Nash won his first MVP. Replacing Stephon Marbury for Nash right after buying the team was the big move that helped the Suns pull off one of the biggest win increases in NBA history from one season to the next.

How much of that success can be attributed to ownership? After Nash, the next three most important players, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, and Joe Johnson, were already on the roster when ownership changed hands. Sarver took a risky bet signing an older Nash to a big contract, and it absolutely paid off, but after that, the majority of big moves during the Seven Seconds or Less era were not as successful.

Phoenix remained contenders from Sarver’s first year in 2004-05 until 2009-10, the last year with Amar’e Stoudemire. After that, the Suns got consistently worse year by year save for one unexpected fun season in 2013-14, until finally being great again this season. Below is a graph of the Suns cumulative record every year since the change in ownership.

So, when we look at the aggregate of every season in the Sarver era, what do we get? The Suns with Nash accumulated a phenomenal record, and the post-Nash Suns slowly whittled it down until, in the 2018-19 season, the Suns’ record under Sarver dipped to below 0.500. This year, in their recent statement win over the Lakers, they pulled back over 0.500 again, and currently sit at 662-660 since Sarver bought the team.

Being basically a 0.500 team over 17 years is not what anyone hopes for. How much blame is it fair to give Sarver? As the owner, he has the final say in every decision if he chooses. His primary role on the basketball operations side of things should be hiring the right executives. Coaches are normally hired by those executives, but I think it’s likely Sarver also had a strong voice in deciding each of the coaches to hire. Here is a chart displaying the head coaches and general managers of the Suns since Sarver bought the team.

Seeing these names and dates should bring back a lot of memories- some good, many bad. At the end of the day, though, during nearly half of Sarver’s time as owner, he employed two objectively horrible general managers in Lance Blanks and Ryan McDonough to run the team. Their incompetence took the Suns from being a great, proud franchise to one of the laughing stalks of the NBA.

Leadership

That was then, but now the Suns are led by James Jones as the General Manager and Monty Williams as the head coach. Those two have taken the Suns from an awful state to fringe title contenders in just a season-and-a-half. The team has been a joy to follow this year.

So, now that the Suns are back to winning, my question is- are you ready to forgive Robert Sarver? There have been reports that he has improved greatly as an owner by trusting his executives to function without him interfering. Only those who have been close with the team for the last 1.5 decades can know if that’s really true, but if it is, it means the current success is sustainable.

In addition, Sarver has shown an increased willingness to spend money to make the team great. Phoenix is operating as an over-the-cap team this year for the first time in many seasons, and he spent a large amount on the new arena and practice facilities. Even the players seem to be getting along with him, as evidenced by a video from Jae Crowder’s Instagram where a shirtless Sarver is wearing Deandre Ayton’s necklace on the team plane.

If you’re the type of person who likes to focus on the future and forget the past, you have every reason to forgive him. I, personally, am not that type of person. Anyone who knows me knows that I revel in the history of the Suns, even the years from before I was born.

The fact that Sarver dragged this great franchise through a decade of ineptitude is essentially unforgivable to me. The only thing that could possibly change my mind about Sarver is if the Suns were to win a championship under his watch. Even, then, I’m not sure if I could do it.

Regardless of how anyone feels about Robert Sarver, we should all enjoy this season as much as possible and never take for granted the chance to root for a contender. We’ve earned this.



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