PHOENIX — After Thursday’s hiring of Lance Blanks, the Phoenix Suns’ unorthodox basketball operations department has been filled out at the top.
We know that Blanks will be the “basketball genius” playing the hunter role of scoping out talent while former player agent Lon Babby will be the skinner who negotiates deals and interprets the collective bargaining agreement.
But to really get a better sense of what the Suns are getting in their new president of basketball operations, I exchanged e-mails with Babby’s partner of 13 years at Williams & Connolly LLP, Jim Tanner, and spoke with a few current Suns who have been represented by his agency.
Just as Robert Sarver did in Babby’s introductory presser, Tanner often lauded Babby’s preparation as one of his biggest strengths.
“He is extremely well-prepared for this new role,” said Tanner, whose team will continue to represent all of Babby’s former clients. “Keep in mind that he started his sports career as general counsel of the Orioles, which should make his transition easier. He’s been representing players for the past 16 years so he understands what motivates them and how they think.
“Obviously, he understands the demands and pressures of agents as well. I would predict that this combination of experiences, coupled with his intelligence, negotiation skill and preparation, will serve him well as a Suns executive.”
The biggest decisions a basketball operations department must make revolve around player acquisitions.
When it comes to making trades and free agency signings, an NBA executive always must possess a Plan A, B, C and sometimes as far down as T, U, V. When your franchise player bolts to New York, you’ve got to weigh whether it makes more sense to save all your chips for the following summer or make a move right then and there for a Childress and a Turkoglu that can help now.
“One of the things that makes Lon such an effective negotiator is that he’s always extremely well-prepared,” Tanner said. “He spends a tremendous amount of time anticipating and thinking through every possible issue, problem, argument and question. By the time a particular issue arises, he’s already thought of 10 different solutions. He will absolutely expect the same level of thought and preparation from every member of his staff.”
At his presser, Babby spoke of raising the preparation level amongst the Phoenix front office. When somebody who has worked with him for 13 years corroborates that point, you would not expect the Suns to be initially clueless the next time they could gain a major trade exception from a departing player.
I also asked Tanner to tell me one thing about Babby that the average NBA fan wouldn’t know.
“He’s a very funny guy,” Tanner responded. “Lon works hard and has very high expectations of himself and those that work with him, but he can also be hilarious when the situation requires it. I also think Alvin Gentry is pretty funny so I anticipate a lot of levity in addition to a lot of hard work in Phoenix.”
Josh Childress, who used to be represented by Tanner, sees Babby as the kind of executive who would be a good fit in an unconventional front office.
“Good negotiator. He’s a great thinker,” Childress said. “He thinks outside the box, and he’s a well-respected guy who you could trust, and that’s something I think can help any team.”
Hedo Turkoglu had been represented by Babby himself since he was a kid from Turkey trying out for NBA teams in advance of the 2000 Draft without knowing a lick of English or having any family or friends in this country.
They developed a long-standing personal and professional relationship the past decade as Turkoglu has bounced around from Sacramento to San Antonio to Orlando to Toronto and finally to Phoenix just as Babby was officially introduced as the head of the Suns’ basketball operations staff.
Turkoglu, who joins Grant Hill as former Babby clients in Phoenix, understandably applauded the Suns’ move to hire Babby for this important role.
“He’s a smart guy. He has a great personality, and he will have good relationships with everybody,” Turkoglu said. “He will need some time to get to know people, the city and all that. I think he will try to do his best like he did the past 10 years for me. I think he will have more opportunity to do good things for Phoenix.”
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