Lance Blanks’ tenure as Suns GM: A review

When the Phoenix Suns fired general manager Lance Blanks on Monday, it perhaps wasn’t a shock considering president of basketball ops Lon Babby had signed a contract extension that didn’t line up with the end of his front office-mate’s deal. It was, however, surprising because Blanks and Babby’s futures were always seemingly intertwined.

Now they’re not. The last three years under Blanks were poor to the -nth degree. They are also hard to analyze, simply because the Suns were in a tough position in dealing with an aging Steve Nash and a new-look front office structure. Because of the Blanks-Babby duo, it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what Blanks was and should be responsible for since he took the job on Aug. 5, 2010.

But here goes nothin’.

The good

Trading Jason Richardson*: Just a few years later, this one already looks like a decent enough move. The Suns received a still-tradable piece in Marcin Gortat for a now-aged shooting guard while his value was still high. They also shed Hedo Turkoglu’s contract — remember, it was Robert Sarver who traded for Turkoglu before Blanks and Babby were hired. The one negative in this one was giving up on Earl Clark.

*How much Blanks had to do with this one is a question mark, but might as well lump him in there for this big-time deal.

Bringing P.J. Tucker back to the NBA: If anything, Blanks follows his Texas Longhorns. There’s no doubt Tucker is a legitimate diamond in the rough and can only get better in the NBA as an elite and versatile defender. This move is the one thing we’re certain Blanks and Dan Majerle can agree upon.

[RELATED: Lance Blanks leaves Phoenix Suns | Funniest quotes by Blanks]Analytics and development: The Suns under Blanks and Babby have built up an analytics staff with the full support of Sarver, and as Paul Coro reports, that should continue for the time being under director of player personnel John Treloar. Blanks also hired a deep player development staff; although it’s been depleted because of the coaching change, the idea in theory was a good one. The Suns even have evaluations from a psychological performance level.

The bad

Gentry’s firing, the handling of Dan Majerle and Elston Turner, and the Lindsey Hunter experiment: Arguably, these can earn their separate paragraphs. But they’re all related, and collectively, they’re the worst of Blanks’ unsavvy ways. Maybe Gentry had to go, but it wasn’t all that pretty in how he did so. Maybe the Suns didn’t want to hire Majerle or Turner, but Blanks wasn’t open and honest with them, according to Coro. And maybe Hunter wasn’t a bad coach, but to put someone so inexperienced in such a poor situation is simply too big a risk.

Trading Goran Dragic for Aaron Brooks: As of now, Dragic and Brooks are on the Suns and Rockets, respectively. Dragic put up stellar numbers toward the end of this year whereas Brooks was relegated to the bench; unless the Rockets were blowing out the Suns, of course. So where did this trade get them? Pretty much nowhere. Though it might’ve been the opportunity for Dragic to grow into a starting point guard out from under Nash’s wings, it doesn’t look good when the move was apparently made for the future – the future being Brooks. Let’s just add that Blanks was there for the Brooks presser and not for the re-signing of Dragic (Sarver and Alvin Gentry pushed for it), as Babby pretty much called on luck being on their side.

The Steve Nash and Grant Hill departures: It’s been no secret both Steve Nash and Grant Hill weren’t treated all that well once the free agent signing period this summer hit. Both would have been open to returns, but how the front office handled their departures rubbed them the wrong way, even if Nash did finally get his trade to the Lakers.

Signing Michael Beasley as a star: You know how this one goes. Again, this hasn’t played out quite yet, and think of the contract value what you want. But playing up Beasley to be a star seemed like a bad move from at least a PR standpoint.

The to-be-determined

Acquiring Wes Johnson**: For a deal that got a protected first-round pick and Wes Johnson for Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick, the Suns should be thankful. It saved money and gave Phoenix what turned out to be a young gunner who still has some upside. Whether the Suns let Johnson walk, sign him or eventually get something in return, the trade at the least gave them assets and shed Warrick’s contract.

**Blanks showed up to Wes Johnson’s press conference, so we imagine he had a say in this part of the deal. At the same time, give one of the most complicated trades in recent memory credit to Babby, who admitted it needed a bit of “lawyering” to get done.

Markieff and Marcus Morris: The twins could develop into fine NBA players, but considering all the very good players taken behind them in the 2011 draft, Blanks’ talent evaluation – his strongpoint – has to be questioned. And while the trade to acquire Marcus can’t really be criticized because it’s essentially collecting known players as assets, it doesn’t help that the Morris twins are duplicates and arguably un-tradable without being a package.

Drafting Kendall Marshall: Again, it’s much too early to deem Marshall a bust. While there were some decent choices behind him, the rookie point guard at least has some elite passing skills and basketball smarts. If he can get over his athletic limitations is another thing.

  • sportz champ

    Great work. Let’s put together something that encompasses all of the decisions that have occurred under Sarver … I think Schwartz did this once, but could’t hurt to re-emphasize the spiral downhill the Suns have entered with the owner’s quest to save $$$. A great franchise, fourth best winning percentage, zero direction.

  • Ty-Sun

    Really good summary. Thanks, Kevin.

  • Azbballfan

    Theres wasnt a positive gain while Blanks was here, he offended alot of fans with his habits of never be around, never look like he is helping the team kinda stuff

    nobody on the staff seemed to actually like him unless your name was beasley or marshall

    thanks to the Suns structure its hard to tell who is actually responsible for what

    anything good that blanks got credit for, he made a moive that nullified it

    He got rid of Turkolglu and richardson but gave up earl clark

    did a bizarre trade for aaron brooks

    i could go on and on you know my feelings

    whoever we get as GM next, it cant be worse than he was

    i mean we already missed the playoffs and are the laughing stock of the NBA

    it cant get any worse it can only get better

  • Forever is2long

    I agree, IMO no one can be worse than Blanks.

  • Scott

    The Suns should never have been in the position where they had to take Marshall. But having said that, Marshall isn’t axiomatically a bad pick. He needs to round out his game by becoming more offensively involved, but many players coming into the league need to develop their offensive game.

    I’d say the big ding on Marshall is that for being as smart as he is, and for being so aware that he needs to shoot more, gain accuracy on his 3s, develop a scoop shot and a bump-and-shoot move, and penetrate to draw the offense to away from his shooters … even though he knows all of this, what we saw from him at the end of the season was what we saw from him in Summer League. He dribbles the ball up the court, and when he gets to half court he looks for someone to pass to, and then that’s about it. Not terribly creative, so far as I can see, nor anywhere close to pulling his own weight.

    Marshall’s PER: 7.85. That’s not going to get the job done.


    “They also shed Hedo Turkoglu’s contract – remember, it was Robert Sarver who signed Turkoglu before Blanks and Babby were hired.”…remember who repped turkyglue and sold him to the suns????BABBY…it was babby who did most of that deal to cover his ass…remember when dick cheney was hired to help bush find a vp and then picked himself?…i smell cheney all over babbby…always in the background whispering in the sarver ear.

  • Mel.

    I don’t think the Suns could have done more for Clark’s development than they did: kid got minutes, had D-League time, was made an official “project” for what felt like years, and never showed any legitimate signs of becoming an actual NBA player.

    He repeated that act in Orlando, which makes the sudden breakout on the Lakers that much more surprising: it’s not like they were cultivating his abilities in some new or innovative fashion, aside from losing so many players to injuries that D’Antoni basically had to throw him out there as a warm body.

  • Azbballfan

    Well if you look at Clarks minutes, he barely played in Orlando or Pheonix

    LA was his 1st real, consistent minutes and he shined

    Yeah he was given some D-League time

    big deal, the D-League isnt a real NBA game

    your just competing against other guys that arent in the league

    Sure there have been some success stories but the NBDL doesnt replace 30 plus minutes a game for a whole season

    the fact that both those teams were attempting to make the playoffs those year, and had little use for a player that played a posiiton they already were deep at, there was no incentive to develop Clark

    I think he is a free agent this year too

    if we dont get a wing in the draft, why not atleast bring clark back? he cant be any worse than Beasley!

    according to ESPN he started 36 games for LA and gave you 9 points and 7 boards a game, and roughly a block in 30 minutes with 44 percent shooting

    he had some great games

    17 points 12 boards 5 blocks against Dallas in 29 minutes

    14 points 16 boards against Boston

    back to back games of 17 and 10 and 18 and 9

    3 straight double doubles in February

    22 points 13 boards against the Spurs in January

    Hes got talent, thats why he was a lotto pick

    if i was the Suns i would consider bringing him back after cut Beasleys deal and stretch it

  • john

    I think a few people around these boards lately have a little bit of a misconception as to how well Earl Clark actually played this year. For instance, azbball just put a bunch of numbers up in what I believe was a defense of his “acceptable” level of play this year…

    Here are some other numbers

    PER – 12.4
    WS/48 – .080
    ORtg – 103
    DRtg – 105
    TRB% – 13.1
    TS% – 51

    His Per36 averages – Pts/Reb/Ast/Blk/Stl – 11.3/8.6/1.7/1.2/1

    He is, by all accounts and all measures, a below-average player. He’s now 25 (should be nearing peak production and prime athleticism), he’s been in the league for six seasons. He is who he is, and he’s just not very good.

    The Suns made the wrong choice in drafting Earl Clark. The Suns made the right choice in letting him go (especially since that helped them get rid of Turk).

  • Forever is2long

    While a lot of fans place stock in plus/minus or PER stats , I am not one of them. I can respect the fans who do not think Earl Clark is a good or at least average player. Personally I think he is better than the Morris twins in a big way. I heard a Tim Legler interview recently and he was talking about how he does not place much value in either of the above stats.

    The PER stat does not give a lot credence to a good defender who stops his man from penetrating or someone who alters shots or discourages their player from shooting. In other words, average scorers but good defenders may very well have a relative low PER but be a good player. Just a few examples of this would be Sepolosha with OKC, Courtney Lee, Steve Blake, Gary Neal in San Antonio, all having a 12 PER. Andrew Bogut and Tony Allen only have a 13. It is worth noting all of these guys are in the playoffs and they are playing quality minutes for their respective teams.

    So I think absolutely Clark, if the opportunity reasonably presented itself, should be a Sun again. Today he is a better defender than anyone on the Suns roster. Just my two cents worth.

  • Mel.

    Again, at the time, there was no precedent to give Clark anything more than the minutes he received. During his time in PHX, we were LOGJAMMED at the frontcourt, with all manner of stretch-threes and not-really-fours, and so Earl was bounced between summer league and riding the pine, as well as D-League assignments.

    He showed absolutely nothing in terms of his improvement during that time, especially in regards to challenging for roster consideration. Nobody was a bigger supporter of Clark as a potential contributor than the Michaels on this blog, so his general apathy is pretty well-documented in their postings from that era.

    But, hey: like the posters above pointed out, the point might be moot, and the guy’s “breakout” might just be fool’s gold. He’s certainly regressed to solid eight-spot numbers in recent weeks, so it’s going to be interesting to see if he doesn’t take his renaissance from after the AS break and use it to get a decent contract outside of Los Angeles. It’s the kind of Lin-Lite story that can loosen the pockets of a foolish GM or two, certainly.

  • john

    I admittedly haven’t watched Clark a ton, but the stats I can see don’t indicate he is a great defender. While I agree that numbers don’t tell the complete story, at some point I believe the numbers must align with the “eye test.”

    Is he better than ‘Kieff? Yeah, we can definitely agree there. Do I think Clark would be an improvement over ‘Kieff? Absolutely. I would even go as far as to say that Clark (assuming Frye isn’t back) would be a starter for the Suns if they don’t land a better player than they currently have at the 4… but I guess my main point is that that’s not saying much.

    I don’t think Clark is a building block in the sense that he will help a struggling team get better. I think he’s a building block in the sense that he could play a vital, minimal role for a good team (play some solid D and stretch the floor a little bit for 10-15 minutes a game). Put him in for 36 and the results will be poor, in my opinion.

    That’s all. It’s not that I don’t think Clark is better than what the Suns currently have. It’s just that I don’t think saying Clark is better is necessarily saying much at all, given how horrible the Suns’ current situation is.

  • Forever is2long

    John, I think we definitely agree he is not a building block. However I have watched him a lot and think he is a really good defender.

    Offensively I think he is most productive when he is on the floor with at least two offensive minded guys who can get their shot anytime they want. If they want a better defensive team he can help but I definitely agree he is not going to make them a playoff team. He fills a defensive need without being a total liability on offense that’s all.

  • Ty-Sun

    Hey, I don’t think that the Suns should try to bring Clark back. The case could easily be made that Clark finally had a good season because other team defenses were focused on stopping Kobe, Dwight and Nash. Earl proved that he can contribute and has a place in the NBA. BUT his contribution on a team like the Suns would be minimal because the Suns don’t have the other star level players to draw attention away from him.

    I still think that the Suns and every other NBA team is going to have to do more to develop younger players in the relatively new “one-and-done” college atmosphere.

  • Scott

    I’m not sure Clark is so much better than Markieff that he needs to be signed.

    Markieff shoots 73% FT, 34% from 3, 40% FG, and we’re justifiably unhappy. His highest scoring games last season are one 23 pt game, 2 20 pts games, and 2 18 pt games.

    Clark shoots 70% FT, 34% from 3, 44% FG … and we’ll be happier? Last season Clark had one 22 pt game, one 20 pt game, and one 18 pt game.

    I’ve heard that Clark theoretically plays better defense, but IIRC he wasn’t much of a factor playing against the Suns. Also, Clark seems to me to have a very low IQ.

    IMO, if the Suns are thinking of getting rid of Markieff (and they should be, if his accuracy doesn’t improve in a hurry), they definitely shouldn’t be thinking of adding Clark.