Mistakes were made by Sarver, Johnson - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Mistakes were made by Sarver, Johnson

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Posted: Tuesday, August 2, 2005 6:17 am | Updated: 9:30 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

You're angry this morning, and you have every right to be. You were seduced by the Suns last season, swept up in a love affair that you thought would last for years.

The Suns were young and sexy, and they whispered sweet nothings about NBA titles in your ear.

Now this.

Quentin Richardson is gone. Joe Johnson is gone. The team that won 62 games has been dismantled in just two months, and your frustration needs a target.

Here's two of them:

Johnson and Suns owner Robert Sarver.

Both men made mistakes. And now both have to live with the consequences.

Let's start with Sarver.

He precipitated this mess last summer when he had an opportunity to sign Johnson to a six-year, $50 million deal but refused to budge from his $45 million offer, despite pleas from his basketball people, including Suns chairman Jerry Colangelo.

“Robert has said in retrospect he knows he made a mistake,” Colangelo said Monday.

Fine. Mistakes are made. And Sarver's reluctance at the time was understandable. He had paid $401 million for the Suns, given Steve Nash $60 million, and Johnson, for all his physical gifts, had yet to prove he was an elite player.

In addition, Sarver had no clue the Suns were going to light up the league or that the team's bank account would swell from the additional ticket and merchandise sales.

But Sarver's unwillingness to listen to Colangelo and others in his organization speaks to a larger, more troubling issue.

The six-man committee that was going to make personnel decisions has become a committee of one when it comes to major deals. And that one is a businessman first.

“It's Robert's call,” Colangelo said. “We talk about this stuff every day, and he certainly asks for a lot of opinions, but when you get right down to it, he has a fiduciary responsibility to all his partners.”

Sarver also has a responsibility to try to put a championship team on the floor. Sometimes, the bottom line shouldn't be the bottom line, and if the prospect of paying a luxury tax is going to influence Sarver's personnel decisions, the Suns may forever be that “one player away” from a championship.

Know this, though: Phoenix wanted to keep Johnson. It never would have traded Richardson if it intended to let Johnson go, and Colangelo insisted Monday that Sarver was prepared to match Atlanta's five-year, $70 million offer.

In fact, after first low-balling Johnson with a six-year, $60 million proposal — another indictment of Sarver — the Suns say they recently tempted Johnson with a six-year pact worth $75 million.

That's when Johnson made his mistake.

He told Sarver he didn't want to be a Sun. He said he was tired of being Nash's decoy, that he didn't want to be “fourth fiddle” behind Nash, Amaré Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, and that his heart — and ego — was set on being the star in Atlanta.

Johnson had even stopped returning phone calls from coach Mike D'Antoni.

In essence, he stared down the Suns, and the Suns blinked.

“What it really gets down to is this: How can you go ahead and give $70 million to someone who tells you point blank he'd rather be somewhere else?” Colangelo said. “You can't do that. The risks are too high.”

It's a persuasive argument, and I can't rip the Suns for letting Johnson go. But I would have taken the risk and matched Atlanta's offer.

Johnson wouldn't have been a major problem in the locker room, even given his jealousy of Stoudemire. He would have played hard, he would have played well, and he would have given the Suns a better chance to win a championship.

At the very least, Phoenix could have kept Johnson for a year and then, if things didn't work out, swung a deal to rid itself of salary. That's easy for me to say, of course, because I wouldn't be the one paying Johnson $20 million this season.

As for Johnson, he's following the same misguided path that Antonio McDyess took several years ago when he left the Suns for supposedly greener pastures in Denver.

Johnson isn't star material. He's Scottie Pippen, not Michael Jordan. He'll get to play point guard in Atlanta, and he'll put up decent numbers, but no one will notice because the Hawks will lose 50 or 60 games.

And for that, he forfeits the chance to win a title. Foolish. Losing Johnson is a serious blow but it won't cripple the Suns. They'll make a run at Michael Finley if and when the Dallas Mavericks release him, and a starting lineup of Kurt Thomas, Stoudemire, Marion, Finley and Nash — along with an improved bench — will make a lot of noise in the Western Conference.

That's the best-case scenario, but it's of little consolation today. Richardson is a New York Knick, Johnson is a Hawk, and the Suns are further away from a championship than they were two months ago.

It's not what you bought into.

It's not what were you promised.

For that you can blame Sarver. And Johnson.

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