Suns vice chairman, minority owner Jahm Najafi calls for Sarver to resign

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Suns’ All-Star point guard and locker room leader Chris Paul said the NBA’s sanctions on team governor and primary owner Robert Sarver “fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior.” That echoed what LeBron James said, what National Basketball Players’ Association executive director Tamika Tremaglio said, what the mayor of Phoenix said, and what many around the NBA and in the media have said. The one-year suspension and $10 million fine for Sarver from the league was a slap on the wrist.

Now there is a call from within the Suns for Sarver to resign.

Suns’ vice chairman and the second-largest share owner of the team Jahm Najafi (second to Sarver) released an open letter calling for Sarver to step down, via Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. Here is the letter in its entirety:

“Due to the NBA’s investigation and findings, I have no choice but to speak up on behalf of the hundreds of you who have been impacted by your interactions with Robert Sarver and the resulting investigation of his conduct. I first and foremost want to give my deepest thanks to all of you who garnered the courage to share your experiences, as difficult as it may have been, to help piece together a clearer picture of what work life must have been like for you over these past 18 years.

“There should be zero tolerance for discriminatory actions of any level, in any setting, let alone a professional one. There is no question that the findings determined that Mr. Sarver’s lewd, misogynist, and racist conduct had a substantial negative impact on you and has no place in our society. The report confirmed by multiple eyewitnesses that Robert Sarver used the “N-word” at least five times. The report confirmed Sarver engaged in conduct demeaning of female and pregnant employees. The report confirmed Sarver made crude and sexually inappropriate comments in professional settings. The report confirmed Sarver made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women and made inappropriate workplace physical conduct toward male employees.”

WORDS AND ACTIONS MATTER.

“Similar conduct by any CEO, executive director, president, teacher, coach, or any other position of leadership would warrant immediate termination. The fact that Robert Sarver “owns” the team does not give him a license to treat others differently than any other leader. The fact that anyone would find him fit to lead because of this “ownership” position is forgetting that NBA teams belong to the communities they serve. Team investors are merely temporary stewards. If we, as sports leaders, are not held to the same standards then how can we expect a functional society with integrity and respect on any level? We owe it to you: employees, players, partners, and your families to provide the same positive workplace environment we would require of any other business.

“I cannot in good judgment sit back and allow our children and future generations of fans to think that this behavior is tolerated because of wealth and privilege. Therefore, in accordance with my commitment to helping eradicate any form of racism, sexism and bias, as Vice Chairman of the Phoenix Suns, I am calling for the resignation of Robert Sarver. While I have no interest in becoming the managing partner, I will work tirelessly to ensure the next team steward treats all stakeholders with dignity, professionalism and respect.”

Najafi’s letter is clearly a response to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who said the quiet part out loud during his press conference Wednesday — he can’t fire an owner.

“There are particular rights here of someone who owns an NBA team as opposed to somebody who is an employee…” Silver said. “I don’t have the right to take away his team. I don’t want to rest on that legal point because of course there could be a process to take away someone’s team in this league. It’s very involved, and I ultimately made the decision that it didn’t rise to that level… There’s no neat answer here, other than owning property, the rights that come with owning an NBA team, how that’s set up within our constitution, what it would take to remove that team from his control is a very involved process, and it’s different than holding a job. It just is, when you actually own a team. It’s just a very different proposition.”

Najafi did not call for Sarver to sell his shares of the team, but to step away from duties as the team governor beyond the one-year suspension.

Sarver, who pushed back hard against the initial report last year at ESPN, reportedly was frustrated with the severity of the given suspension. If Silver decided to push for harsher penalties — a multi-year suspension, or something else forcing him to give up running the team — Sarvery would likely fight back via lawsuits.

The reality is that Silver will only push for a stiffer penalty or a resignation if the owners of the 29 other teams tell him to — and so far, they have not (as far as we know). Multiple owners thought the NBA came down too hard on Donald Sterling back in 2014, plenty of them live in glass houses and don’t want to start throwing stones. It took player protest and, more importantly, team and league sponsors pulling back and hitting the other owners in the pocketbook, for Silver and the league to act decisively to ban (and ultimately oust) Sterling.

It will take that now — player pressure, fan pressure, and most importantly sponsor pressure — to force further action on Sarver. Silver and the other owners have to be put in a position where they feel they have to act for the good of the league (and its finances).

Najafi writing this open letter is a big step in that direction, but there is a long way to go. If you want to believe it was a coincidence the league announced this report in the deadest part of the offseason, go ahead, but the Sterling tapes dropped during the playoffs and it led to player, fan and sponsor backlash. That is less likely when training camps have not even opened.

The Suns appointed vice chairman and minority owner Sam Garvin to fill in for Sarver while he serves his suspension.

Pelican’s Green says Zion ‘dominated the scrimmage pretty much’

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The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.

Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.

“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”

“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”

Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.

If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.

 

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Celtics, Suns? Should NBA end one-and-done?

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NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.

The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.

The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.

Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.

Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six
Harry How/Getty Images
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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.