Speak no evil, Mr. Sarver and perhaps no trades either.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Welcome to the Front Office Edition of the 2010-11 Phoenix Suns Player Evaluations. We here at Bright Side of the Sun have assembled a cast of writers to put together alternative views and biased views and amazing views on the players, front office, and head coach. Your favorite and least favorite Suns will no doubt get plenty of attention, and the compliments or criticism they deserve.

It's not easy building a championship team or even a team that finds itself in the NBA Playoffs 19 out of the last 23 years as the Suns have done. It is, apparently, easier to take a team that's two games away from the NBA Finals and make their big May event be the NBA Draft Lottery instead of a must-win playoff game.

The front office of the Phoenix Suns organization (for the purposes of this evaluation) consists of Robert Sarver, Lon Babby and Lance Blanks. But much of what happened between Game 6 of the 2010 Western Conference Finals and the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery falls on the head of Sarver. 

From the time Steve Kerr shockingly announced that he would be leaving the team, there's very few moves the front office made that can be considered successful by the normal definition of the word. Of course, it's easy to say that now with the benefit of hindsight.

At the time they were made, many of us were on board with the decisions. 

Can we blame Sarver and his people for screwing up when we didn't disagree at the time the deals were made? Yes.

Is that fair? No.

But the buck stops with him and the bottom line is the bottom line and the bottom line is the 2011 NBA Draft Lottery.

Here's a refresher on what went down.

Kerr leaves

Just two weeks after giving every indication he would be coming back, it was announced that Steve Kerr would be leaving the organization. There was a lot of back and forth about the reasons (money, Amare, money) and to this date I don't think we have a definitive answer.

What matters is that the team lost a guy who'd taken his lumps on the Shaq deal and Terry Porter hiring but bounced back by assembling a coaching staff and roster that was pretty damn good and was executing on a plan for the future.

Almost a full year ago I wrote about Kerr's departure, "[...]it is a sad day to be a Suns fan. There is nothing positive in my mind that comes from this. Nothing."

With time to reflect back on that statement, I still feel the same way. Nothing good has come from Kerr's departure except his return to TV which surely is an easier job for him and boon for our viewing pleasure.

It's only been one year and Kerr wasn't exactly brilliant in his first year either. It's far too soon to write off Blanks and Babby. This offseason is when they will make their bones.

Amare leaves, the race to replace him follows

July 1, 2010 was a pretty wacky day. Right in the middle of the Amare free agency rumors, the Suns were also negotiating a new deal with Channing Frye and it's the first day we heard Hakim Warrick's name linked to the Suns.

If you want to relive the madness, check out this rumor thread for that fateful day. Fun stuff.

We quickly found out that Amare was going to New York and that the Suns offered him a five year partially guaranteed contract and he took the fully guaranteed money from the KnicksHere's a fun chart Trevor put together that explained the entire Amare saga.

Since that time and having seen just how much the Suns fell back with the loss of Amare, many people (in retrospect) blame Sarver for not paying Amare. At the time however, 71% of you (us) agreed with Robert's decision.

On the same day Amare was leaving, Channing Frye was staying for a five-year, $30m deal. On the next day Hakim Warrick was signed. That didn't turn out so well, but at the time...

my recollection of (Warrick) is of an athletic power forward with a decent mid-range game. Not known as a defender or rebounder, one could imagine a platoon of guys getting minutes on the Suns front line as opposed to one guy who can both score, defend and rebound.

The Suns, wisely, won't try and replace Amare with one guy but will have a group approach and seek a longer term "star" solution down the road. Given the options at power forward in this market, that's the best approach.

Gut reaction, I like the deal. It was decisive and fills a roster need without making a long or large commitment that will limit flexibility to go after better players should those opportunities arise.

There are people who say the Suns should have gone after David Lee as the Amare replacement. Two things to remember. 1) David Lee picked the Warriors because the wanted to play there. 2) David Lee got a six year, $80m deal which IMHO is too much.

If you are keeping score at home (and you are), over the course of about 48 hours the Suns let Amare go, resigned Channing Frye and picked up Hakim Warrick in a deal that cost them a 2nd round draft pick and a 3yr/$12m contract.

Not horrible although you could certainly imagine the Suns being worse without Amare. Still, 76% of you (us) thought the Suns would be a playoff team at this point.

Then the other shoe fell and it came from Toronto...and Greece.

Hedo and Childress, what a mess 

The Suns weren't done with Frye and Warrick. Oh no, they certainly were not...but if only they had been.

I was in my hotel room in Las Vegas after a day of summer league fun when word came down that Leandro Barbosa would be heading north and Hedo Turkoglu was coming south. At the same time, Josh Childress would join the list of wings that was getting mighty long and despite protestations to the contrary, would prove to be problematic.

Again, here's the contemporary record from that fateful night:

Breaking Down Suns Acquisitions Of Hedo Turkoglu And Josh Childress - Bright Side Of The Sun
The Josh Childress deal is fantastic. He's a dynamic player who's been coveted by many teams and at 27 years old is coming into his prime. To get him for only a second round pick is a steal. He provides depth at two positions that both happen to be occupied by guys (Hill and Richardson) who have only one year left on their contracts.

 A + for pulling off this deal.  

Hedo Turkuglo is going to take some more convincing. He's a very unique player, but as stated above, will likely struggle defensively at the power forward and create even more problems on the defensive glass. If he eventually moves back to small forward when Hill retires and the Suns find a better option to start at the four, then that will probably make more sense.

The jury is still out on Childress but on balance it's hard not to view his contract as more liability than asset.

He was in a difficult position this season in part because of the roster situation. The other part, however, was his diminished (or overrated) defensive abilities and his inability to fit in the Suns system that wanted him to be a spot up shooter when his strength is moving without the ball and slashing to the rim. 

Hopefully, the Suns will figure out how to use Josh and get more out of the $6m/yr he's getting paid.

Hedo...well that story has been written a few thousands times over. Asking him to play the four was a mistake. Not giving him the ball enough to maximize his play-making abilities and move Nash off the ball as promised didn't help his attitude either. 

Could Hedo have worked out as a Sun given more time or did his lack of production with the Magic prove that this was one salary that had to be dumped no matter the cost?

We'll never know.

Vinsanity arrives

In the first deal that can be attributed to Lon Babby's regime with no lingering questions about possible behind the scenes involvement on behalf of former clients (Hedo and Josh), Babby quickly pulled the trigger on the trade with Orlando.

The Magic got Jason Richardson and Earl Clark and the right to pay Hedo $39m and the Suns got Vince, Mickael Pietrus and the one true center to save them all, Marcin Gortat.

At the time I didn't like the trade and looking back on my thoughts, I tend to agree with my thenself still:

Phoenix Suns Massive Trade Thoughts, Reaction And Analysis - Bright Side Of The Sun
Personally, my reaction yesterday was not positive, but has softened throughout the day from "HATE IT" to "Skeptical." Mid-season trades rarely work out for the teams involved and I have a hard time believing this deal will make the Suns better this season.

Long-term, the addition of Gortat should be a plus, but it is highly unlikely Vince is part of the team's future plans and Pietrus has a player option for next season, which might well be lost to the lockout anyway.

So in short, it feels like the Suns gave up on Hedo and this season too soon, but didn't go all the way towards rebuilding by moving Nash. Limbo.

I suppose I should soften that a bit and lean a tad more towards this deal helping the Suns by dumping Hedo who likely would have been an albatross around the team's neck for many years to come. It's still hard to praise a team for successfully dumping the salary of a player they traded for just a few months prior.

Side note: Sucks to be Orlando stuck with both Hedo's and Gilbert's contract. Yikes.

Dragic killed it, Brooks not so much

The most recent and final deal of the Babby era was the trade deadline move that sent triple-double machine Goran Dragic to the Rockets along with a first round pick for the right to see Aaron Brooks get suspended for throwing a ball at an official.

Ugh is all I am going to say here and I challenge you to say it better.

Where now brown cow

It is very difficult to assess where this team goes from here. That past 12 months was such a crazy mix of deals and decisions.

Do you blame Lon Babby for working behind the curtain to bring in Hedo or do you praise him for dumping the contract on Otis Smith's Magic? Will Josh Childress turn into the player we all thought he could be or did the fast-acting Robert Sarver jump too fast in his temporary role as GM? What does the Brooks deal tell us about Lance Blanks ability to evaluate talent?

There are far more questions than answers at this point. It seems like Nash and Hill will both be back next season but we already know that there's a limit to how far those two aging warriors can carrier a team. Perhaps Sarver's grand plan of assembling attractive and movable contracts will pay off once the new CBA is in place and the Suns will be able to land a big fish. Or maybe limbo is how we are going to look back on the final years of Steve's career.

It's really only blind faith in Sarver and Babby that can produce optimism. Then again, blind faith is what being a sports fan is all about. Faith on, brothers and sisters. Get your faith on here.


On May 15th, 2011, Phoenix Suns president and CEO Rick Welts revealed that he is gay. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, David Wallace)

As a franchise, the Phoenix Suns have not shied away from taking a stand on controversial issues on some of the biggest national stages. In the midst of the Phoenix Suns' sweep of the San Antonio Spurs, the team elected to wear its Latin Nights "Los Suns" jerseys in protest of Arizona's anti-immigration law SB1070.

This year, the Suns again took a stance on one of the most controversial and taboo issues in professional sports: homosexuality.

Just weeks after Kobe Bryant was fined by the NBA for directing an anti-gay slur at a referee, ESPN reported that Rick Welts, president and CEO of the Suns, had announced that he is gay. The same day, a PSA for the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) featuring Suns players Grant Hill and Jared Dudley ran during the Eastern Conference Finals. Was it coincidence that the two aired on the same day? Maybe. But the timing of the commercial could not have been more opportune for a league, and profession, that needed to hear it most.

Professional athletes have more of an influence on the culture and minds of the nation more than any other public figures. There is a reason "The Decision" of LeBron James was one of the most widely viewed sports events of last summer. People cannot seem to get enough of the inevitable drama that seems to follow some of the world's most popular athletes.

That's not to say that these athletes are to be utterly vilified for making a mistake. There are bound to be mishaps and boneheaded statements when you take a 19-year-old boy and throw him into one of the biggest international spotlights. Yet, with all the resources, funds and personal assistants available to these stars, one would think that a momentary lapse in judgment could be avoided.

Take Kobe Bryant's case for example: in the heat of a highly contested game between two of the Western Conference's top seeded teams, the Lakers' star picked up a technical foul. Sent to the bench after picking up the tech, Bryant sits down, visibly upset, and throws a towel. This story could have ended there. Unfortunately, it does not. Kobe collects himself, and makes the seemingly conscious decision to call out to referee Bennie Adams and shout an offensive homophobic slur.

Also unfortunately for Bryant, TNT's cameras were fixated on the star and caught every bit of the phrase on tape. Immediately after reading Bryant's lips, one of the announcers calling the game said, "You might want to take the camera off him, for the children watching."

It was an unfortunate moment for Kobe Bryant, the Lakers, and the NBA. Bryant was fined $100,000 for his words. After the incident blowing up on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, Kobe Bryant offered a swift and sincere apology to the Human Rights Campaign, but the words still remained. This reason, among others, is why the PSA made by the GLSEN, Grant Hill and Jared Dudley is more pertinent than ever.

"We're accountable for the things that we say, and words have meaning," said Grant Hill while on the shoot of the commercial. "We have to be careful with the things that we say and be sensitive to others, so hopefully we can get that across."

For Suns president and CEO Rick Welts, the importance of an ad that creates awareness on the issue of homosexuality are of paramount importance. According to a report by ESPN, Welts met separately with NBA Commissioner David Stern, Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, Hall of Famer Bill Russell and WNBA president Val Ackerman to determine how he wanted to make his sexual preference known.

Welts has been respected in the basketball world for some time. In 1984, he was credited as one of the creators of the modern day NBA All-Star Weekend, adding the Slam Dunk Contest and Old Timers' Game to the All-Star Game, making the weekend an entire event. In 1997, he helped create the WNBA. Widely regarded as one of the more brilliant marketing minds in the entire league, Welts has definitely left his mark on the league.

Now, by revealing his sexual orientation, he hopes to leave an even bigger mark by reaching out to the gay community that may be intimidated by the thoughts of a career in the sports world.

"When it comes to homophobia in the sports world, it's come a long way, and I think that people realizing that you need to respect one another," commented Suns forward Jared Dudley. "You have to respect peoples' values and what they are because we're not here to judge ... and it starts with the NBA. A lot of these people look up to the stars, these role models, and kids want to be you, and if they see how you're acting toward this, it'll definitely sway a lot of people."

Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry also offered words of encouragement to Welts in a recent interview with ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard. When asked if he knew Welts was gay, Gentry said, "I had a feeling about it. To me, what does it matter? I know he's great at his job; he's very organized and he does a brilliant job. To me, [his sexuality] is irrelevant."

While the NBA playoffs may rage on without the presence of the Phoenix Suns, the effect of the team is still being felt league-wide. It takes courage for a franchise and its players to make such bold stances on controversial issues. With the reception of these actions being held in high esteem, the Phoenix Suns may just be setting the example to how a successful sports franchise can integrate itself into the issues other franchises are afraid to touch.

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The Grizzlies continue playing on house money as the #8 seed taking their Western Conference semi-final series with the Thunder to a game 7. It will be a loud, charged arena in Oklahoma City today to watch these two teams settle it. Later in the Eastern Conference, the conference finals start today as the Heat, fresh off their win over the Celtics that left them celebrating as if they had already won a title, face the Bulls in game 1 of what promises to be an intriguing series.

Notes:

  • Since I essentially wrote the Grizzlies off Friday night, I'm not backing off of that now. I still say the Thunder take care of business on their home floor today, but it's a star's league and the respective production of Kevin Durant and Zach Randolph will play a huge part in deciding things.
  • Chicago fans haven't forgotten that Dwyane Wade flirted with the prospect of signing with his hometown Bulls last summer. Wade can expect an unpleasant greeting from Bulls fans today. 

Today's games:

Grizzlies at Thunder, 12:30 PDT, ABC. Series tied 3-3.

Heat at Bulls, 5PM PDT, TNT. Game 1.

Behold what I consider to be the best #8 seed moment in NBA playoff history.


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Welcome to the Head Coach Edition of the 2010-11 Phoenix Suns Player Evaluations. We here at Bright Side of the Sun have assembled a cast of writers to put together alternative views and biased views and amazing views on the players, front office, and head coach. Your favorite and least favorite Suns will no doubt get plenty of attention, and the compliments or criticism they deserve.

In the world of sports, as your team goes, so does the general public opinion of its head coach. For the Phoenix Suns, the situation is a bit more complicated. Going from the Western Conference Finals and being one fateful putback away from potentially becoming an NBA Finalist to missing the playoffs altogether has the fanbase a bit perplexed. Was the team really that dependent upon Amar'e Stoudemire? Was Alvin Gentry the beneficiary of a team that played above its collective head? Was last season's success merely an aberration?

While the answer to the first question is a resounding "yes" - the jury is still out on our beloved head coach. Alvin Gentry has repeatedly shown that he has the tools to make his mark in this league as a head coach, but he comes with his flaws. He has shown an incredible ability to draw up plays coming out of timeouts, but makes confusing decisions when it comes to his rotations. Maybe it's all part of the bigger plan and maybe the lineups he rolled out there were really the best this team had to offer.

Fans are willing to give a pass on some things while the team is winning, but are more inclined to criticism when the team is losing. In a season where your team is underperforming (especially compared to last season), all the coach's moves are going to be put under a microscope. So, fans, after putting him under your microscope, is Alvin Gentry the real deal or is he a one hit wonder?

In a season where your team falls from being the third seeded team in a competitive Western Conference to the tenth place team with aging stars, one of them having the post supernova style of play*, there are going to be question marks. Part of the job description of being a head coach is to answer these questions to the masses, be it by interview or postgame press conference.

Unfortunately for Alvin Gentry, these two mediums did not prove to give us fans the insight we needed.

All season long, Gentry was preaching patience. He noted that it would take some time for the newly acquired Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick to really gel with the team. However, when the anticipated "few weeks" turned into a "few months," Hedo and Jason Richardson were shipped out for a merry band of Magic men - and the Suns were left with more players to try and integrate midseason.

Then, the past repeated itself: after a disappointing follow up to his breakout playoff performances, Goran Dragic was shipped out for the disgruntled Aaron Brooks. Again - it was another player Gentry had to try and figure out how to use in the middle of a season, while the team was desperately clinging to the hopes of the playoffs.

It's only natural to want to believe in something when a disappointing season is had. When looking back at the season, it's easy to sit back and think, "Wow, Gentry had a lot on his plate. He did the best he could." (I believe that he did, but we'll get to that later.)

While Gentry may get the sympathy vote from the peanut gallery, there were times in this season that had everyone scratching their head. After the Suns were officially eliminated from the playoffs, Gentry released the players he previously had nailed to the bench. Josh Childress was the main beneficiary of this, and he played his heart out. Gathering loose balls, nearly touching the ball on every possession from sheer effort, it was unclear how Alvin Gentry could not find a spot for his energy when players like Vince Carter weren't giving us any.

Gentry, from my perspective, is also a coach that enjoys consistency. Unlike the Don Nelsons of the world, Alvin Gentry likes to stick with the same starting lineup, regardless of their struggles. This mentality worked last season, where after a few rough months, the starting lineup started clicking and the Suns surged to the third seed in the playoffs. This season, however, had a different effect.

Vince Carter seemed to be stuck in the starting lineup by formality only. Robin Lopez was relieved of his duties on a nightly basis after a few, usually unproductive minutes, by Marcin Gortat. Gentry repeatedly told us that it doesn't matter who starts the game, but who can give the most productive minutes. This theory may work in principle, but after your starters are unable to give the production needed, the bench must exert more energy in the first half, leaving less energy and productivity late in the game.

However, while we can break down Alvin Gentry's rotations and personnel decisions all night long, the fact of the matter is that he was dealt a constantly changing hand and did the best he could with it. There might be some lapses in judgment and mistakes made, but no coach is perfect. Even the almighty Phil Jackson made mistakes, but his mistakes were generally able to be covered by his star players.

Everyone is human. The game of basketball is such an evolving sport that no two games will be the same, even between the same teams. Not every rotational decision will work, and not every player will be productive every night. The part that goes overlooked of being a head coach is being able to make these decisions on the fly. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.

I'm not saying something vague, like "Alvin Gentry deserves, at the very least, a pass because of the ever-changing and unpredictable nature of the game of basketball." I'm not even saying you need to give the man any praise at all. My theory, however, is that in a world of constantly changing lineups, front offices and coaches, it would be nice to have a little consistency.

In his first full season as head coach, Alvin Gentry showed that he can lead a team to surprising heights. He has proven to be good with the media, another admirable trait. On top of that, in all accounts I've read, the players enjoy playing for him. He may not be perfect, but he is our head coach. Much like the Arizona Cardinals didn't give up on Ken Whisenhunt after last year's dismal campaign, the Suns should not give up on Alvin Gentry.

 

* Yes, this player is Vince Carter. According to Wikipedia: "After the core of an aging massive star ceases generating energy from nuclear fusion, it may undergo sudden gravitational collapse into a neutron star or black hole, releasing gravitational potential energy that heats and expels the star's outer layers."


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