TNT’s Charles Barkley slams Suns, then expresses interest in GM position
TNT commentator Charles Barkley harshly criticized Suns ownership and management this week before expressing interest in serving as the franchise’s GM.
Barkley slammed Suns owner Robert Sarver and president Lon Babby on Phoenix’s KGME 910 AM less than a week after the Suns fired GM Lance Blanks following a 25-57 season, the second-worst campaign in franchise history. The following is a sampling of Barkley’s choicest cuts, culled from a transcript posted online by the Arizona Republic.
“The Suns are the Titanic. So the notion that I can’t do better than them is ridiculous. The Suns stink. So whoever has been rowing the boat has just done a horrific job so let’s just get that straight and out of the way. I made it perfectly clear that I’m going to be a GM. The Suns know my number. They know that I want to be a GM. I’ve had a couple opportunities that wasn’t very good. I mean I’m not going to give up a great job unless I get what I want. I’m in the driver’s seat. I don’t need their job. I want to be a GM.
“I know my basketball. I know my players. That’s what the job is about. The Suns have not made good draft picks. Whoever you want to blame, you could just blame all of the above because they have not made good draft picks. The two best players on the roster are Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat. I like both of those players. I like both of those players a lot. But to say the rest, the jury is still out, would be an understatement. They need somebody in there who knows what they’re doing. I’m not going to beg them for a job. I’m not going to worry about it if I don’t get the job. Listen, the people who have been running that ship, crashed and burned it.
“I will listen to the job. I want to be a GM. I will listen to the job. I ain’t going to let anybody down there tell me about basketball. Let’s get that straight. Their track record ain’t that good. Their track record is not that good down there. I don’t know Lon Babby that well. And I don’t know Robert (Sarver) that well. Robert has always treated me good. But the notion that I would let Lon and Robert tell me about basketball players. That’s not going to happen.
Barkley’s comments are radio gold, exactly what you would expect from the most popular and well-known hoops commentator in the world. However, they reveal him to be a flawed GM candidate.
First — filed under “duh” — there’s the “chain of command” issue. Barkley suggested that Blanks was a “flunky” and that Sarver and Babby would be seeking an executive who would essentially just be doing their bidding. That may very well be true — at this point, it’s impossible to argue — but that kind of candor just doesn’t fly in an NBA environment where GMs are disposable and occasionally even refer to their owners as ‘Mr.” rather than by their first names. Even the most secure coaches and executives — think Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley and Mitch Kupchak — would never dream of publicly painting their bosses as incompetent. And, really, with the possible exception of late-night talk shows, there aren’t many professions where comments like that are going to be deemed anything other than fireable offenses.
That’s just the beginning, though, as GMs have many other commitments in addition to appeasing the bosses and drafting well. Serving as the mouthpiece for the organization by connecting with fans is one of those obligations, and it’s another avenue where frank talk all day, every day isn’t going to be a sustainable strategy. It’s easy for outsiders to laugh at Barkley crushing the Suns because they deserve it, but something would have to give when he’s addressing season-ticket holders about the state of the Suns as a GM. “We’ve got two players and everyone else is garbage,” isn’t going to help those renewal numbers and, sooner or later, any negativity about the players or direction of the franchise eventually falls back on the captain of the ship.
There’s the issue of managing relationships (and egos) with players and coaches, too. Confidence is key, as Barkley well knows, and nothing can make a young player tune out or pursue his own interests over those of the team’s faster than finding out his GM doesn’t believe in his potential and future with the organization. Why play hard for that guy? Why make the extra pass for that guy? Similarly, how is a coach expected to buy into an organizational culture that could find his GM tossing him under the bus at a moment’s notice? How can you fully trust an executive whose emotions can swing so widely and quickly? NBA teams often cultivate “us against the world” mentalities; is Barkley one of the “us” or is he, before everything else, Charles Barkley?
Make no mistake, Barkley as a front-office executive would be must-see TV. Could he turn his Hall of Fame playing career into a third, post-TV life as a shrewd talent evaluator? Would he flop miserably and go down in flames? Success or failure, he’s drawing tons of interest to whichever team he manages. That’s how star power works.
The big, potentially insurmountable, issue is clear: The elite executives in the NBA succeed by remaining as far outside the spotlight as possible. Riley rarely gives interviews. Sam Presti is notorious for preferring to stay off the record. Popovich hates talking about himself and goes out of his way to avoid doing so. Barkley, of course, has succeeded as an analyst with the exact opposite approach, welcoming the attention, participating in gimmick after gimmick and basking in his extraordinarily quick wit and endless self-confidence.
Making millions of people laugh as they enjoy professional sports and leading a few hundred people to success in an ultra-competitive environment are two totally different things. While an expert at the former, Barkley, at least as we know him now, would almost certainly find the latter to be a much more difficult task than he is letting on.
This post has been updated to correct the Suns’ record this season.