PHOENIX — Four summers ago when I was interning at the now-defunct Tucson Citizen and Steve Kerr was TNT’s lead analyst, the discussion after a charity basketball game in Tucson turned to his future.
Back then, crazy as it seems now, there were whispers that Kerr would be a good fit as the next Arizona basketball head coach when Lute Olson retires. There also was speculation that he could succeed as the man calling the shots for an NBA team, such as the Phoenix Suns franchise that he was a minority owner of.
But at the time Kerr didn’t want to do any of that. He was content being a broadcaster, a husband and a dad.
“I think I’d like to get more involved maybe down the road, whether it’s coaching or management in some capacity, but I’m really enjoying my family right now and raising my kids and being at home,” Kerr said back then. “Broadcasting gives me a good balance of career and family.”
That conversation came to mind Tuesday when I first heard Kerr would not be returning as general manager of the Suns due to a “career and a personal decision,” saying that “there are other things in life to pursue at times and this just seems like that time.”
Four years ago, Kerr spoke like a man who knew he could handle more of a challenge than announcing, but also a man content to raise his children away from the stresses of the coach’s or general manager’s chair.
Now Kerr walks away from the rigors of being the GM of the Phoenix Suns and back to the family/announcing life pleased with the job he did.
“I would not be leaving if I did not feel good about where our organization is,” he said. “I would not have left a year ago where we were.”
Kerr did a masterful job building the 2009-10 Suns, but I’m not sure how he could feel great about the situation he’s leaving to his successor.
Just last week I wrote that this offseason would define Kerr’s tenure as the general manager of the Suns. He’s made some bad decisions along the way, then made many good decisions leading to the conference finals run, but now comes the summer where he will either put the Suns in a great long-term position or screw it all up.
Robin Lopez is the Suns’ only real big man under contract (with Amare, Frye and Lou all free agents), and the franchise faces a couple major decisions (namely Amare) that will color the next half decade at least.
This is no time to be starting a cross-country GM search; this is no time to have a lack of stability from the top down.
With Kerr staying on as a lame duck GM through the end of the month (and even working the draft!), this situation kind of reminds me of the Lute Olson leave of absence dilemma from the 2007-08 NCAA season.
Basically, Olson took a leave of absence in November 2007 and then announced on Dec. 6 he would be missing the rest of the season without giving any timetable for a potential return. It took Arizona a mere 12 days to anoint Kevin O’Neill as Olson’s successor as part of a hastily thrown together succession plan.
Then when Olson returned, everyone at Arizona seemed to forget all about the succession plan, with then-athletic director Jim Livengood saying, “A succession plan is in place when you’re not sure of what might happen next.”
To me Arizona seemed to put together a succession plan featuring O’Neill to show recruits there was a plan in place even when there clearly wasn’t one, and it worked, as O’Neill hauled in a studly recruiting class headlined by Brandon Jennings that included two other jewels.
Of course that class ended up being decimated when O’Neill left and Olson retired, but the point is the Suns at least need to have an appearance of a plan entering the most crucial few weeks of their foreseeable future.
In no way is this a good thing that the Suns are starting a search for a replacement about two weeks before they will be trying to re-sign Amare or lure their next stud big man. The Suns don’t have time to traverse the country for the perfect GM, they need that GM to start working now.
No recruit or free agent is going to a place that is still searching for the man to call the shots. Just like Arizona’s bogus succession plan, the Suns need a Steve Kerr succession plan in place, and I think that means David Griffin.
Griffin is the organization lifer who can pick up where Kerr left off without skipping a beat. As Kerr’s right-hand man, he’s already had a major say in personnel issues, and if he’s installed almost immediately I think the Suns will be OK.
Griffin understands the Suns’ culture better than anybody, and the Suns really don’t have time for a new GM to feel out the organization. Their most important summer since 2004 is on the horizon, and the only talent searches that should be going on should involve the players on the court.
Whatever your opinion of Kerr as a GM — which is understandably mixed among Suns fans since he made some pretty poor moves and some other pretty great ones — the most important thing now is ensuring a sense of stability in the front office when the most important summer in NBA free agency history tips off July 1.
The Summer of 2010 is no time for lame ducks. The Suns need to find Kerr’s replacement yesterday.
Tyler Lockman contributed reporting.