Why Jeff Weltman might work for the wonky Suns GM position

Various reports around the NBA indicate that Jeff Weltman is separating himself in the search for the Suns’ next general manager. Soon after Lance Blanks was relieved of his duties, Paul Coro led the list of replacement candidates with the Milwaukee Bucks assistant GM. He later tweeted that Weltman and former Indiana Pacers general manager David Morway were frontrunners.

Sorry if you thought Sir Charles was coming to save the day.

Weltman had previously been a finalist to land the job in the summer of 2010. But Phoenix chose Blanks instead, and it’s becoming more clear that if the Suns were to have a do-over — as they did with the career of Goran Dragic — they would.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this weekend that Weltman was granted an interview with Phoenix. And on Monday night, ESPN’s Ric Bucher reported some juicier tidbits, including the possibility of Suns owner Robert Sarver looking to “cash out.”

Jeff Weltman, as has been reported, is the frontrunner to be the Phoenix Suns’ next GM, and one source said he was team president Lon Babby’s preference when he first joined the Suns but that owner Robert Sarver was eager to tap the San Antonio Spurs’ braintrust and therefore preferred the now-deposed Lance Blanks. The bigger question is, how much longer will Sarver be calling the shots? One source says the increased evaluation of franchises inspired by the Seattle-Sacramento fight over the Kings has Sarver wondering if it’s time to cash out.

More on this later. Now, it’s important to look at what the Suns are looking for and what Weltman can offer.

Who is Jeff Weltman?

To begin, he’s taken a similar route as many of basketball’s best young minds. The son of a former NBA executive, Harry Weltman, Jeff got his start in the league as a video coordinator with the Los Angeles Clippers in 1988. He’s worked his way up to director of player personnel from 1994-2001. He became an assistant GM for the Denver Nuggets for the next five years, took some time off, then spent a year in Detroit before his current five-year run in Milwaukee.

Fox Sports Arizona’s Randy Hill writes that even in a smaller role, Weltman has been significantly influencing his teams as a scout and talent evaluator.

He became the assistant to legendary player-turned-general manager Elgin Baylor in 1994, and he had a big impact on the Clippers’ roster shakeup on draft night 2000.

Although the Clippers weren’t able to parlay their talent upgrade into appreciable success right away, Weltman did play a big role in moves that landed rookies Darius Miles, Keyon Dooling and Quentin Richardson as well as first-year swingman Corey Maggette that evening. The Clippers eventually built a talented young roster that included the aforementioned players along with Lamar Odom and Elton Brand.

That’s exactly what Lon Babby is searching for, and it’s important to remember he isn’t necessarily leaning toward someone with general manager experience.

With the Bucks, the 48-year-old Weltman and the front office has produced a mixed bag of results (though as an aside, it’s hardly the front office’s fault that Milwaukee doesn’t play its midseason trade acquisition, J.J. Redick, when the Bucks need perimeter facing to have any shot at beating LeBron James and the Heat).

Three months ago, Weltman received a contract extension to continue working under Bucks general manager John Hammond, who also saw his contract renewed. The support thrown Weltman’s way helped to affirm what the Suns might’ve seen in the assistant general manager three years ago.

So if the Suns hired Weltman, what would they be getting?

First and formost, it appears Weltman is leaps and bounds ahead of his predecessor in dealing with the media. As Michael Schwartz and I discussed last week, one of Blanks’ biggest downfalls was his dealings with people, especially the media. Weltman, in contrast, is plenty fine with sitting down with a blog such as this one. He did a two-part series with SB Nation’s BrewHoop.com, which gave a striking clarity to his philosophies.

In the second part of the series, Weltman discusses the value of analytics, but he hardly treads negatively on coaches who don’t use them on a day-to-day basis — a good sign considering the Suns have dealt with enough cross-job-description meddling of late. And if you were wondering what he was doing in the span between his 2006 departure from the Nuggets and his return to the league with the Pistons, check out his archive writing Scouts Inc. pieces for ESPN Insider.

The downsides of bringing on Weltman first begin with his experience. He’s never held a true decision-making position, but at the same time it’s hard to argue he’d be entering that in Phoenix. He’s also never been in a position to truly comb the NBA market for outright stars in the small market of Milwaukee. Monta Ellis might have been the biggest coup, and Weltman’s ability to think big could be a question mark coming into a decent market for NBA stars — or so we’re told.

Yet, the talent evaluation strengths can’t be overstated. The Clippers had some nice pieces, as Hill noted, and the Bucks had decent later lottery picks such as Brandon Jennings, Larry Sanders and John Henson. The Tobias Harris selection two years ago is looking like quite the gem as well — then again, it’s important to ask why the Bucks traded him only to tick off free-agent-to-be J.J. Redick.

It’s all quite complex, again considering any Weltman work required Hammond’s signature. In short, Weltman is a more finely-tuned personality than Blanks, has the resume where he won’t likely come in immediately looking for more power and has the characteristic Babby is looking for.

On the complicated structure of the Suns front office

Back to Bucher’s post for a bit.

Take the last two questions about Sarver’s interest in selling the Suns with a grain of salt (or maybe hope for it to happen), but in the short-term, consider the beginning of the message — the supposed disagreement between Sarver and Lon Babby in which person to hire.

Also take into consideration Chris Broussard’s report from five days ago. In an ESPN Insider article, Broussard’s sources said Lance Blanks was indeed a scapegoat; at least, that’s the view amongst Broussard’s NBA executive pals. He reports that it was Lon Babby, not Blanks, who favored signing Michael Beasley for the three-year, $18 million contract. Broussard also writes that Blanks had “little to do” with firing Alvin Gentry.

Believe what you want. The Broussard article doesn’t mesh well with our believe here that Blanks wouldn’t have talked up Beasley at his introductory press conference if he hadn’t been all-in on the decision to sign the forward. Maybe his PR savvy was simply that poorly thought-out.

Nevertheless, one must wonder about the current totem pole in the front office and if the Suns would be in this situation had they worked under the typical single-headed GM management tree. The two above instances not only lends evidence to the general manager and president of basketball ops positions knocking their heads together, but also includes Sarver in the mix. As we know, he’s been known to put his hand into the cookie jar for better (Goran Dragic) or worse (Hedo Turkoglu).

For another example of front office power struggles, consider the other reported top candidate for the GM position, David Morway.

The reason for Morway’s departure from Indiana was a feud with Larry Bird. The relationship came to a head when a deal in place to acquire O.J. Mayo from the Memphis Grizzlies fell apart as Morway pushed for the Grizzlies to take Brandon Rush in return, according to Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star Tribune. Morway’s role as general manager required a sign-off from Bird, the president. It was quite the similar situation to Phoenix’s, though with slightly altered position titles.

In the end, the structure and the dolling out of power will keep the Suns out of the conversation for any big-name general managers. And such is the reason Weltman might fit the bill.

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