Since Robert Sarver bought the Suns in April 2004, it was understood that close friend, investor and consultant Steve Kerr would someday become a major player in the organization’s hierarchy.
That day will arrive within a week, when Kerr steps out of the TNT broadcast booth and becomes the team’s president of basketball operations and general manager — relieving Mike D’Antoni of one of the many hats he wore last season and allowing him to concentrate on coaching the team.
D’Antoni will retain his title as executive vice president of basketball operations and said Thursday night from Orlando that he is pleased that Kerr is coming in to take over the player personnel end.
“I’m a basketball coach. That’s what I like to do and that’s the way it should be,” D’Antoni said. “We’re lucky that Steve has decided he’s ready to take on the job and the responsibility. I think since Bryan (Colangelo) left (in the spring of 2006 to take over the Toronto Raptors), we knew Steve would step in at some point.”
The one undecided piece in Phoenix’s front-office puzzle is vice president of basketball operations David Griffin, who has been offered the vice president/general manager’s post by the Memphis Grizzlies. Griffin said late Thursday night he was still pondering the offer and would likely make his decision today.
The Grizzlies officially introduced Suns assistant Marc Iavaroni as their coach Thursday and are hoping Griffin will follow him to Tennessee. But several sources within the Suns organization are hopeful that Griffin will remain in Phoenix if the job and compensation offered by the Grizzlies aren’t a perfect fit.
A Valley native, Griffin has worked for the Suns since joining the organization as a media relations intern in 1993. Over the last 14 years, he has advanced through the ranks as a scout, assistant general manager and now operations director.
Leaving the Suns, who are still in position to contend for a championship, for a 22-win team with an unstable future might be difficult for Griffin — even if he would return as an assistant under Kerr.
In the three years since he sat at the press conference table next to Sarver to announce the purchase of the team from Jerry Colangelo, Kerr has been an influential adviser to Sarver while writing a basketball column for Yahoo.com and doing color commentary for TNT.
Kerr worked Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday — he was unavailable for comment — and will not officially join the Suns until that series ends.
Kerr met Sarver, a Tucson native, when he played for the University of Arizona. A few months after helping lead Lute Olson’s first Final Four team with the Wildcats, he was a 1988 second-round draft pick by the Suns (50th overall).
Kerr is the league’s all-time leader in career 3-point field goal percentage (45.4 percent) and earned five championship rings in his 15-year NBA career. He won three titles with the Chicago Bulls (1996, 1997 and 1998) and two more with San Antonio Spurs (1999 and 2003) before retiring in the summer of 2003.
D’Antoni assumed the GM post following Bryan Colangelo’s departure, understanding it would be for the short-term. But after the Suns “traded out’’ of the draft last June, he had to make some of last summer’s offseason personnel decisions from Las Vegas and Japan while serving as an assistant coach for the U.S. national team under Mike Krzyzewski.
None of the players the Suns added before or early in the season (Marcus Banks, Jumaine Jones, Sean Marks, Eric Piatkowski and Jalen Rose) played significant minutes or made a large contribution to Phoenix’s 61-win season. D’Antoni later admitted that he “messed up” and a lack of depth hurt his team in the postseason.
Kerr comes in at a critical time for the Suns, who will walk an economic tightrope this summer. The challenge is trying to keep the core of the team intact, add some pieces (a backup point guard and shot-blocking big man) and stay within shouting distance of the league’s luxury tax, which they are currently on target to exceed by about $9 million.
Age: 41 Born: Beirut, Lebanon
College: Arizona (1983-88)
• Phoenix’s 2nd-round pick (50th overall) in 1988.
• 15 NBA seasons with Phoenix, Cleveland, Orlando, Chicago, San Antonio and Portland.
• Won five NBA titles, three with Chicago (1995-96, 96-97, 97-98) and two with San Antonio (98-99, 2002-03)
• Is most accurate 3-point shooter in NBA history (45.4 percent).
• Minority owner and consultant for Suns.
Who’s doing what?
With Steve Kerr taking over general manager duties, here’s what the key members of the Suns’ basketball operations staff will be doing:
Steve Kerr, president of basketball operations and general manager: Will be in charge of and have the final say on all basketball decisions, working in much the same role as Bryan Colangelo before his departure to Toronto.
David Griffin, vice president of basketball operations: If he stays, Griffin would report to Kerr and assist with all professional player matters. He would remain heavily involved in scouting and draft evaluation.
Mike D’Antoni, executive vice president of basketball operations: D’Antoni still holds an executive title but would report to Kerr and his main focus would be coaching. It allows him to focus on his positions with the Suns and as a Team USA assistant coach, although he will have input on player personnel decisions.