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The Phoenix Suns return to the NBA playoffs for the first time in a decade – here’s what team owner Sarver has learned

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Devin Booker # 1 of the Phoenix Suns shoots the ball during the game against the LA Clippers on April 28, 2021 at the Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.

Barry Gossage | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

Philosophy, process and people. It was the new Phoenix Suns formula that helped the franchise break through a decade-long drought.

The Suns are one of the best teams in the 2020-21 season in the National Basketball Association, sitting second in the Western Conference and ranking 20-7 since the All-Star break. Business improves as victories stack up and the renovated arena welcomes fans again.

“In my opinion, people are the most important,” team owner Robert Sarver told UKTN on Wednesday hours before the team beat the Los Angeles Clippers, 109-101. “In this business, from a basketball perspective, it’s the people who can identify talent, develop talent, and people who can train talent.”

One of those people is Team General Manager James Jones, who helped set the agenda and position Sarver to increase the team’s valuation by $ 1.7 billion.

“Your team in general needs a clear philosophy,” Jones told UKTN. “This is what I learned [with the Miami Heat]. It was: “This is our philosophy. This is our process. And these are our people. These three elements must be aligned, ”he added.

So far the plan is working. The Suns are back in the NBA playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season. At the time, the faces of the franchise were Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire.

But the road from the basement of the NBA to a club that now attracts the best business partners started with a key move in 2019, when Sarver changed cadre. It showed signs that Sarver was maturing in the selection of people.

Create a “ championship culture ”

When Sarver bought the team for around $ 400 million in 2004, former Suns owner and respected basketball executive Jerry Colangelo said he was “the right guy” to own the club. Unlike most NBA owners, Sarver isn’t afraid to look outside the box when hiring.

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He did so when he hired then high profile agent Lon Babby to lead the team in 2010. And before that, Sarver put Steve Kerr in charge of running the club.

Phoenix’s “seven seconds or less” offensive era was over after Stoudemire left for the New York Knicks. The decline began in 2010 and the playoff drought intensified under general manager Ryan McDonough.

From 2013 to 2019, the team went through three coaches under McDonough. The last attempt came after hiring Igor Kokoskov. Days before the 2018-19 season, Sarver fired McDonough and handed the keys to Jones, a well-traveled NBA player.

“I just knew it was time to make a change,” Sarver said of the move. “There is no right time to make a change, but when it’s time to make a change, you have to make a change.”

Sarver said he formed a relationship with Jones while Jones was playing for the Suns. He also admired how Jones was able to study with established NBA executives including Larry Bird in Indiana, Pat Riley in Miami and Larry Miller in Portland, Oregon. Sarver said Jones would instill a “championship culture” when he promoted him.

Said Jones: “Robert has shown confidence and confidence in me as a young and new executive to help lead this franchise and bring it back to where we know it should be – one of the best franchises in the NBA. . “

Jones’ first move saw the team hire Monty Williams as their head coach. And maybe the best move since then has been when he brought in All-Star point guard Chris Paul. The plan with Paul was to accelerate the growth of young players like Deandre Ayton and prove to current franchise player Devin Booker that the team was determined to win.

“Chris is helping our young guys level up faster so that we can accelerate their growth, and they are better able to support and shoulder the burden of what the franchise expects of them for us to compete,” Jones said. “To win championships, your expectations have to be high,” he added. “And you don’t have a championship culture unless you win a championship.”

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Sarver Grows As NBA Owner

While James helps run the basketball team, Sarver let Suns CEO Jason Rowley run the business.

The Suns generated $ 220 million in revenue during the 2019-20 season, according to UKTN, and are stuck in a local media deal with Sinclair. The jersey patch deal with PayPal is secure and should see an increase in value once the playoffs begin.

And the Suns are well positioned to capitalize on sports betting in Arizona, following a partnership with FanDuel. The betting company will have a sports betting store in the Suns arena.

But a key asset to be gained is the name of the arena. The Suns Building underwent a $ 230 million renovation, including $ 150 million from the City of Phoenix, locking the team up until at least 2037. Talking Stick Resort did not renew its arena rights contract and ended the partnership last November.

Rowley said the asset is available at the right time and the naming location could benefit small businesses looking to boost their branding.

“We don’t run out of name on our building due to a lack of interest and conversation,” Rowley said. “We make sure to choose the right partner, and it is a right choice for the partner and us. These are long-term relationships that need to be mutual and beneficial.”

Rowley has been with the club since 2007, taking on his current role as CEO in 2012. If anyone in the franchise besides Sarver can appreciate the team’s return to the playoffs, it’s Rowley. He called the Suns retooling a “turning point,” attributing Sarver’s improvement as a sports owner.

“The thing about Robert that hasn’t changed or will never change is his passion and his desire to win and his commitment to win,” Rowley said. “He has improved and matured as an owner, just like anyone in a position that is new to them.”

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Asked about improving his maturity, as Sarver went through a learning curve in his time of ownership, he replied: “Over time, you learn the trade and improve yourself. Nothing replaces experience – learning everything from evaluating players to understanding how the trades work, from agents and relationships with coaches to relationships with fans and sponsors. It’s just experience.

Chris Paul # 3 of the Phoenix Suns shoots a free kick against the LA Clippers during the NBA game at the Phoenix Suns Arena on April 28, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Christian Petersen | Getty Images

Ready for the playoffs

Sarver wouldn’t describe in two words what kind of sports owner he is now, but he said he grew up evaluating and recruiting key people for his franchise.

“Professional sport is demeaning for successful businessmen,” Sarver said. “Most people are able to become a franchise owner because they have been successful in other things that they have done and their success rate is probably over 50[%] or 60%. But in sport we have to find another way, because only half of the teams win every night. This is not a business you get into and you are right 99% of the time. “

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The job is not done, however. The return to the playoffs will make the spotlight even bigger for Sarver and the Suns. But the championship window is open again, and Jones and Rowley have said the franchise is prepared and aligned with its culture.

“Nobody has a crystal ball,” Rowley said. “But if you look at the people we have on the team, and most importantly, you look at the culture that has been built here – when I look at the success that we have now, I feel like we’re just doing scratch the surface. We have the opportunity to have something lasting. “

Disclosure: Comcast and NBC Sports, UKTN’s parent company, invest in FanDuel.


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