PHOENIX — The Suns are moving on to a new chapter with owner Robert Sarver planning to sell the team, but the mood at media day revealed a team still in shock.
Sarver announced his intentions last week following the results of an NBA investigation. The details of the report, which confirmed Sarver had a history of racist, sexist and misogynistic acts, seemed to shake the organization.
Down the line, the key voices in the organization arrived at the lectern with grim faces and the complete absence of excitement that a media day typically generates.
“I was in disbelief,” coach Monty Williams said. “When you see the bullet points and then when you go through it, um, you start to think about how these things impact the people.”
“I would say just a state of shock,” general manager James Jones said. “You don’t want that around the organization. You don’t want that to be the issue.”
“It was tough, just like anybody, reading all the different things,” star guard Chris Paul said. “It was more so also the things that people have to endure in the workplace.”
“That’s tough for me because that’s not the Robert Sarver that I know, it’s not the Robert that welcomed me to Phoenix with open arms,” said Devin Booker, the longest-tenured Suns player, who is starting his eighth season.
“But at the same time, I’m not insensitive to everybody that’s involved in the situation. I understand everybody’s personal experience with other people are always going to be different.”
The report’s confirmation of Sarver’s repeated use of the N-word, which was brought to light by an ESPN investigation released last year, seemed to strike the strongest chord.
“That word, I don’t like it, never have. Especially when I was younger and I learned what that word meant. I learned how demeaning it was toward humanity, not just black folks,” Williams said. “And when I saw the report, I was not happy about it, quite frankly, disgusted. It’s not a word you repeat anytime. And when you read the report, you read the bullet points and you see it over and over again in that way, it bothers you.”
Jones said he had not been in contact with Sarver, which follows the NBA’s punishment that banned from the team for a year. Paul said he’d been in contact regularly with NBA commissioner Adam Silver before and after the ruling was announced.
It was only one of the issues that was pulling at the team’s mojo from last year’s 64-win season, which had been reduced to a footnote.
Veteran forward Jae Crowder asked not to come to training camp, and the Suns announced they’d granted the request Sunday. Crowder was informed over the summer that he may lose his starting job this season, sources said, and it prompted him to request a trade. The Suns had discussions about it throughout the summer but hadn’t found a deal yet. But it seems clear his time with the team is over.
“Jae brought a number of intangibles to the team, I think all of our guys would speak in that way about him,” Williams said. “At the same time these things happen and you have to transition and move forward. I totally am behind James and how we are handling this.”
There was also the complete lack of enthusiasm emanating from Deandre Ayton, who signed a four-year, $133 million offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers that the Suns quickly matched. It ended a yearlong period of tense talks between Ayton and the Suns over his future, and there seemed to be some scars.
“I just let my agents handle it and I trusted my team,” the usually jovial Ayton said flatly. “I don’t want to take any steps back.”
During the offseason, Jones and Williams both signed extensions to remain with the franchise long term. As did Booker, who signed a $224 million extension that committed him to the Suns until 2028. The team is also returning the core of the roster than won a league-best 64 games last season, and there is now clarity that Sarver will no longer be a distraction.
But there was no positivity following from those moves. In the first 90 minutes of interviews, the only time a smile was cracked was when Booker made a joke about being on the cover of the NBA 2K video game.
That doesn’t even cover the team’s brief discussions about trading for Kevin Durant, which never progressed, and the team’s disastrous Game 7 home loss to the Dallas Mavericks last May that started what turned out to be a largely unpleasant offseason.
“We’ve all grown and learned and had a chance to see lights and different perspectives for sure,” Williams said. “And it’s just been one of those summers that, quite frankly, you’ll never forget.”