NBA Rumor: Phoenix Suns Turmoil?

60 rumors in this storyline

Monty Williams not that into Deandre Ayton?

More Rumors in this Storyline

Suns to create hotline amid investigation

As the NBA nears the fourth month of its investigation into the Phoenix Suns and majority owner Robert Sarver, the team is working toward creating a confidential internal hotline in the coming weeks for employees to report complaints, team sources told ESPN. On Monday, a Suns executive explained to colleagues that the reason for creating the internal hotline is because “no one actually uses the NBA hotline at all,” the sources told ESPN. (Other NBA teams also have internal hotlines.)

Jason Rowley, President & CEO on behalf of Suns Legacy Partners, LLC: “The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury organization vehemently reject the claims made in today’s ESPN article. Our two organizations have always worked hard to create an environment that is respectful and diverse; where racism, sexism and damaging behavior of any kind are not condoned. Today’s story contains false information and narratives perpetuated by a reporter who has struggled unsuccessfully to match the facts to a story he decided he wanted to tell a year ago. He twisted statements and circumstances to fit his preconceived narrative. He broke every rule of journalism by first deciding on his findings and then cherry-picking events and unreliable sources to prop up his demonstrably false claims.

Allegations of racism and misogyny within the Phoenix Suns

Interviews with more than 70 former and current Suns employees throughout Sarver’s 17-year tenure describe a toxic and sometimes hostile workplace under Sarver. Some told ESPN that he has used racially insensitive language repeatedly in the office. Employees recounted conduct they felt was inappropriate and misogynistic, including Sarver once passing around a picture of his wife in a bikini to employees and speaking about times his wife performed oral sex on him. Some said the longtime owner fostered an environment in which employees felt they were his property, even once asking one woman whether he “owned” her to determine whether she worked for the Suns. “The level of misogyny and racism is beyond the pale,” one Suns co-owner said about Sarver. “It’s embarrassing as an owner.”

NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said the league has not “received a complaint of misconduct at the Suns organization through any of our processes, including our confidential workplace misconduct hotline or other correspondence.” NBPA executive director Michele Roberts said she was not aware of any reports from players of misconduct by Sarver or the Suns. “Apart from [point guard Chris Paul] and James Jones, we have not had much official contact with the team and none that I can think of with Sarver.”

The Warriors took control in the fourth quarter and cemented a 106-100 win, dropping the Suns to 0-3. After the loss, Suns majority owner Robert Sarver entered the coaches locker room, Watson told ESPN. “You know, why does Draymond Green get to run up the court and say [N-word],” Sarver, who is white, allegedly said, repeating the N-word several times in a row. “You can’t say that,” Watson, who is Black and Hispanic, told Sarver. “Why?” Sarver replied. “Draymond Green says [N-word].” “You can’t f—ing say that,” Watson said again.

Sarver denied Watson’s characterization of the incident: “This is absolutely untrue. I remember the game and topic clearly. I of course never used the word myself. During this conversation, I said ‘N-word’ without saying the full word. The word itself never crossed my lips. “Let me be crystal clear: I never once suggested on that night (or ever) that I should be able to say the N-word because a player or a Black person uses it.” The player, through his agent, told ESPN that he thinks using the N-word might have contributed to the technical foul but does not recall speaking to Sarver that night. Watson told ESPN there was no player in the room when Sarver made the comment.

Said a former Suns basketball executive: “There’s literally nothing you could tell me about him from a misogynistic or race standpoint that would surprise me.” Through his legal team, Sarver denied using racially insensitive language. “I’ve never called anyone or any group of people the N-word, or referred to anyone or any group of people by the N-word, either verbally or in writing. I don’t use that word. It is abhorrent and ugly and denigrating and against everything I believe in.”

A Black basketball operations staffer told ESPN he has heard Sarver say the N-word multiple times. Sarver once used the N-word when trying to explain to a staffer why he preferred hiring Lindsey Hunter over Dan Majerle as head coach in 2013, according to a high-level executive who heard the remark. Hunter was a first-year Suns player development coordinator while Majerle was in his fifth year as a Suns associate head coach. “These [N-words] need a [N-word],” Sarver told the staffer of his largely Black team, according to the executive.

Watson said he explained to Sarver the optics of a white owner asking a Black coach to fire an agency led by a Black agent, Paul. “Yeah, I understand what race you two are,” Sarver replied, according to Watson. “So I’m asking you, How bad do you want your job?” Watson said he told Sarver that he wasn’t going to fire Klutch. “You can do whatever you want,” Watson said he told Sarver. “You own this team, but my culture is not for sale. And I’m not for sale.”

More than a dozen employees recalled Sarver making lewd comments in all-staff meetings, including discussing times when his wife would perform oral sex on him. Four former employees said that in several all-staff meetings Sarver claimed he needed to wear Magnum or extra-large condoms. Former employees said he asked players about their sex lives and the sexual prowess of their significant others. “Women have very little value,” one female former staffer said she felt. “Women are possessions. And I think we’re nowhere close to where he thinks men are.”

Current and former employees said women often did not feel valued and were ignored when they said so, a sentiment that led to frequent departures. “Especially with the younger girls, I felt like I was abandoning them,” said one female former employee. “I felt bad for leaving. It was hard. And so I was happy when [I learned] all of them are out of there.” “It breaks you,” said another female former employee. “I’m hard to break, and it broke me.” “It wrecked my life,” said a third female former employee. “I was contemplating suicide.”

Sarver’s habit of second-guessing coaches included working with then-rookie Ayton on shooting 3-pointers, an element of Ayton’s game the coaches didn’t believe should be his focus, then-members of the coaching staff said. In another instance that season, Sarver went into the training room to talk X’s and O’s with rookie guard Elie Okobo. Veteran guard Jamal Crawford left the room. “He actually got up off the table and walked out of the room and said, ‘I can’t f—ing listen to this s—. I gotta get out of here,'” a second former staffer said. The former longtime staffer in the room confirmed the scene to ESPN. Crawford declined to comment.

The headlines that the story sparked were the kind of thing that might drive any self-respecting coach away. The most damning among them? Sarver, as sources confirmed to The Athletic, once filled former GM Ryan McDonough’s office with live goats as a way of telling him that the Suns needed to find a GOAT — a Greatest Of All Time-type talent — of their own. In the end, with Sarver’s message meant to comedically dovetail with an event that celebrated Phoenix Mercury star/WNBA legend Diana Taurasi on that same day, the goats defecated in McDonough’s office and the tale became instant NBA lore (to be fair, sources also say the amount of fecal matter was exaggerated, and that it was akin to a cat doing its business inside a litter box. But we digress …)

After the game, Booker and Melton were having a fun conversation in the locker room as cooler heads had prevailed. Still, Booker didn’t hesitate when it came to talking about Melton’s turnovers when asked about his frustrations with the rookie point guard. “I told him the court don’t move,” said a grinning Booker. “P.J. Tucker used to do that all the time (to him). I used to hate it, but it’s just part of the game. It’s a learning experience. Just knowing the floor and how to run the floor on the wing. He’s usually a point guard and probably never been in the corner that much. It’s a tough learn, but he’ll pick up on it.”
3 years ago via ESPN

One longtime former player remembers the owner barging into the locker room following a loss to officiously instruct big men on how to set better screens. A former assistant coach was floored when Sarver confronted his boss on the way from the court to the coaches’ office immediately after the buzzer to berate him on his substitution patterns. Another former coach was taken aback when Sarver marched into the head coach’s office at halftime and insisted the team run a trap at an opposing point guard who had abused the Suns’ defense.
3 years ago via ESPN

McDonough was regarded as less capable at communication, people skills and fostering relationships with players. There’s a strong sense that McDonough, in a characterization that was made by several sources, prioritized job security ahead of personal conviction. Though Sarver had a tendency to meddle, sources say McDonough’s struggles to forcefully make his case on strategy and personnel matters demonstrated his ultimate failing as a GM: an inability to manage an owner.
3 years ago via ESPN

“There’s a perception of what a GM is and what a GM does, that you have to log the hours and open up the laptop. I’ve never purported to be that guy,” Jones says. “I think it would diminish what Trevor does. He’s a star when it comes to the cap, scenario planning, contracts and negotiations. And he’s been really good the whole time he’s been here. We have different responsibilities. My primary focus has been to manage and improve the performance and relationships within our different units: our coaching, performance team, development. The players — that has been my focus.”
3 years ago via ESPN

Jones is universally regarded as bright, but there’s a collective sense that he lacks the curiosity or hunger that a relative novice in such a position should display. Former players such as Elton Brand, Malik Rose and Sean Marks throw themselves into every facet of basketball operations, from the G League to cap strategy. In contrast, sources say, Jones seems content to defer to Bukstein. Jones also relies a great deal on another young front-office associate who was initially hired as a liaison between former coach Earl Watson’s staff and the analytics department, but has less than two seasons’ experience in the NBA. Sources say that much of the Suns’ front office finds this confounding.

The Suns extended what is usually a 10-minute cooling off period to almost an hour talking about, well, they didn’t reveal what they discussed. “We’re just going to keep everything in-house,” Suns 18-year veteran Jamal Crawford said in a calm, relaxed voice. “We had a nice talk. That’s it.” The locker room was initially opened after the 10-minute cooling off period, but the media was asked to go back outside. Another 40 minutes went by before it was open again. Hmmm.

Phoenix’s top two players, Booker and Ayton, exchanged words after the 10-minute cooling off period as members of the media entered the visiting locker room for the tail end of that conversation. These two have had words before on the court, with Booker correcting Ayton on what to do on certain plays. Both have agreed to hold players accountable, but this felt different. “I’m an emotional guy, too,” Ayton said. “I start to feel stuff. When I don’t sense it and the energy is not there, that’s when you start to hear my mouth. I don’t care who it is. Nineteen-year vet or 15 years, it don’t matter. We all have a job to do and I have to step it up a little more, too.”

From Jamal Crawford, one of the more positive players in the NBA, slamming the ball on the floor at the end of the third quarter to the friction on the bench between Bridges and Kokoskov, the frustration was apparent. “How long have you been around basketball,” Suns veteran Trevor Ariza asked a reporter in a calm voice when asked what the conversations are like on the bench when trailing by 25 after the first quarter. “So what do you think the conversation would be like after that? “Probably not very positive.” Ariza laughed. “Exactly,” he said. “Not too happy, but again, that’s on us for not playing hard.”

Booker isn’t certain how to make this happen, but he knows the Suns need to establish the type of closeness that allows them to get on each other. “All good teams have that trust and chemistry where you’re able to get on each other and know it’s for a better purpose,” Booker said. “I don’t think we have that right now. We’re not comfortable with each other. Step on each other’s toes. We don’t push each other. I think that’s what we need to do.”
More HoopsHype Rumors
June 28, 2022 | 4:37 pm EDT Update
Spencer Dinwiddie just closed a $26 million funding round for his L.A.-based crypto company Calaxy. His most recent score? An all-new contemporary Craftsman-style mansion sited in an exclusive gated enclave of 26 homes, in an incorporated area between Malibu and Calabasas. Originally listed for nearly $7.7 million in December, the price was lowered to $7.2 million before ultimately going to the 29-year-old Los Angeles native for a discounted $6.9 million.