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.

Tags: Jeff Weltman Phoenix Suns Gm Suns GM Search

  • phxfan88

    Will Weltman tell Sarver and Babby when they are wrong? And will they listen? Call me crazy but it might make sense to have a basketball mind calling the shots.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    Sarver might cash out ?

    I thought I just saw a flicker of light in what had here-to-fore been an endless black tunnel.

  • Ty-Sun

    If Sarver decides to cash out and sell the team, then this ugly season was worth it. Perhaps there is a flicker of light in the distance.

  • Tony

    I just heard about the Sarver-selling rumor and now it makes me wonder, has he finally come to his senses and recognized what a disaster he’s been as owner? Frankly, I doubt both are true. This ‘source” was probably just some zealous fan hoping Sarver sells.

    Too bad though. Ty-Sun, don’t get your hopes up too high. I know things change, but just a few months ago, Sarver said he had no intention of selling the franchise. Of course he also disputed the notion that Suns fans are upset with him…, so I don’t know how lucid he was at that time……….

  • Forever is2long

    Well I do not know if this will be the right GM but I am impressed from the standpoint he passed on drafting Marshall knowing Jennings could be leaving soon. It sure would be easier on deciding who is best for the job if there were a host of candidates. Unfortunately it seems most qualified have no interest in working for this franchise.

    Rumors about Sarver leaving would make my year if the rumors had any legs. I could only hope.

  • Scott

    Those seeking Sarver’s departure probably believe that ANYBODY coming in to replace him would be better. That’s not necessarily so.

    As for Weltman, does being credited with recommending Darius Miles, Keyon Dooling, Quentin Richardson, and Corey Maggette really count as a credit?

    And as for the Bucks, the only standouts I see there are Sanders and Henson, with maybe somebody getting lucky with picking Ilyasova. If Weltman was responsible for just those picks, I’d hire him. The rest, I think, counts more against him than for him (though Q was good with the Suns).

    There was nothing in the two part interview with Weltman that made me think the guy had exceptional insight into drafting, team formation, or anything.

    I’m concerned he’s Blanks 2.0.

  • Scott

    BTW, keep in mind the Bucks traded away Tobias Harris, who is playing great since he moved to Orlando.

    Whoever is rebuilding Orlando is doing a decent job, and they’re WAAAAYYYY ahead of Phoenix.

  • DBreezy

    As for Weltman, I don’t really have a problem with the Clippers draft picks talent wise although I do have a problem with their developmental structure in that period. How much Weltman had to do with that is obviously unknown.

    One thing I noticed in his interview is that he really seems to stay out of the way of the coaching staff. Philosophically, I don’t have a problem with that especially since in many respects what the Suns are calling a GM position most execs would term as either an Asst. GM or Dir. of player personnel spot. If that person is working for a basketball guy as PBO or GM than it’s not big deal as that person should be on point with finding a good coach and knowing when to meddle with the staff and when not to.

    Unfortunately that doesn’t describe the Suns, where this hire is responsible for all things basketball outside of contract numbers and trade details. Hunter just interviewed in Detroit so the Suns may not even have him to fall back on by the time this GM search is done. Even if he does return, the Suns will likely have to build a new staff around him. As Chambers pointed out on KTAR, after Turner and Majerle left, no one wanted to work with Lindsey and that Blanks had to drag someone who got tossed in China to work with him. Sampson even declined moving to the front row, despite wanting to get into coaching and personally I think Igor stayed because he knows the mountain foreign coaches have to climb in the NBA and because of the Pistons’ connection. I’m not sure I have confidence in Weltman to pick and monitor a coaching staff, especially considering that the viable candidate list may not be that appealing to begin with.

  • A-Game

    Just in…. Gambo says Sarver not selling… There you have it.

    As for Jeff Weltman – heres how i feel…ehhhhhh I could care less.

  • Chris Hansen

    Hey fans of Phoenix, as you all know my attempts at purchasing the Sacramento Kings may have hit a snag, and just wanted to introduce myself to you as I am looking at your team to be purchased by my group to move to Seattle.

    Keep updated, because I have big plans for bringing back the NBA to Seattle, and it may be your team.

    Consider it payback for 1993 ;)

    All the best,

    Chris

  • Bob

    Chris oh Chris you were supposed to keep our talks a secret…oh silly ;)

    Robert Sarver
    Owner of the Phoenix Suns

  • David Joel Stern

    You won’t ever get a team Chris, and you can tell Steve, the Nordstrom brothers and all you Seattle cronies the same thing. The NBA will never be back there.

    Rest assured Phoenix, I hate you as much as I hate Seattle, but I will never let Seattle poach your team away.

  • Gambo

    No truth to the rumors Robert Sarver has talked to Chris Hansen, i’ll tweet that out later.

  • J Mengele

    lance blanks got a raw deal shame on you phoenix sucks

  • Tyrann M

    Hey any of y’all know mike beasley’s digits imma ask him for the weed?

    thanks y’all watch me play and free dro

  • jcg

    What a Joke bringing Dragic back did not fix the Suns and neither will hiring the guy that they should of hired in the first place?????
    What are they smoking. Suns are a joke.,Sarver and his staff does not have a clue on how to run a profesional team. He should sell it back to Colangelo for 5 million cause thats about what they are worth right about now!!!!

  • Azbballfan

    I have to laugh at the last few comments, like david stern or hansen or sarver would actually come in here and post

    As for Sarver selling,
    we all know that stuff is done in a secret chamber accessible by hitting a button on sterns desk

    and if you somehow get that far, you gotta use the super secret password only he would know to get past adam silver, sterns right hand man

    if that really was stern posting, i hope he was wearing a cape, tophat and monacle when he wrote that

    gotta bring your A game when you negotiate with him

  • Scott

    Let’s skip the neo-nazi postings, eh? ^^ Mengele ^^

    @DBreezy -

    I don’t see much difference between Miles, Maggette, and Dooling and Beasley, Brown, and Telfair.

    That’s why I’d fear Weltman would be Lance Blanks 2.0 … upgraded to the version that can speak, but still the same fractured talent scouting.

  • Scott

    @Azbballfan -

    Stern will officially retire on Feb 1, 2014. It’s doubtful he’d have any meaningful say on a sale of the Suns.

  • foreveris2long

    He just does not appear to be anything special. Reminds of the guy who keeps being rejected for the prom date and ends up taking the first girl who says yes.

  • DBreezy

    @Scott,

    You have to look at the picks in context imo. Not only was that during an era where scouting was changing rapidly with rapid influx of high school, one and done, and foreign players into the first round, the 2000 draft has been universally panned as one of the worst of all times. Only K-Mart, Magloire and Redd made an all-star team.

    I bring this up because Miles, Dooling, Maggette (drafted in 99), QRich, and Jaric all joined the Clippers in that draft and they represented the spectrum of available players of the day. Miles was a high school star, the kind of guy that would be getting celebrated today as a one and done star and probable top pick after one year of college. Maggette had left Duke too early, but most saw him as being a player in time. Jaric as the international guy and Dooling and QRich as classic upside guys during a time upside selling was at it’s worst.

    Terrible in hindsight for sure, but not out of context for the times or that draft. Obviously not answering your question on the Clippers’ picks, but in those interviews I posted, Weltman does touch on how such things have caused an evolution in how he views draft picks.

    If anything, I would focus more on the Bucks picks during Weltman’s time. Since 2008 they’ve picked: Mbah a Moute, Joe Alexander, Darrington Hobson, Jodie Meeks, Brandon Jennings, Tiny Gallon, Jon Leuer, Larry Sanders, Doron Lamb, Henson and traded Jimmer for Beno Udrih.

  • DBreezy

    @Foreveris,

    I don’t know if he’s anything special or not, but I think I’d reverse your scenario as it’s Babby/Sarver that keep getting rejected and then taking the first girl that says yes. Weltman passed last time (passed on the Clippers too), recently signed a 3 year extension, and will likely pass on the Suns again.

  • foreveris2long

    DBreezy, That is exactly what I was referencing when I tried to illustrate the prom date. While I used one guy, it was definitely meant for Sarver and Babby being rejected and taking the first girl who says yes. Thanks for adding clarity to the picture.

  • DBreezy

    My bad Foreveris.

  • Scott

    You’ve got to wonder why Milwaukee made the picks they did.

    Joe Alexander (a bust) was picked over Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee, Serge Ibaka, Nic Batum, Nik Pekovic, and Omer Asik. Sure, the Bucks already had Bogut, but … seriously.

    Mbah a Moute was a decent pick in the 2nd round, though the Suns actually did a better job by snagging the unknown Goran Dragic.

    Brandon Jennings was picked over Ty Lawson and Jeff Teague, and Jodie Meeks was picked over Chase Budinger.

    Darington Hobson was chosen ahead of Landry Fields. Tiny Gallon … well, late in the 2nd is when you take fliers. I’d have preferred to risk the pick on a foreign player, as I think domestic players this low in the draft rarely pan out, so I question the logic on that pick.

    Jimmer (#10) was picked before almost everybody who was actually good in the 2011 draft: Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Nik Vucevic, Iman Shumpert, Tobias Harris, and Kenneth Faried. However, to be fair to the Bucks, I assume the pick was traded to the Kings and it was their GM who selected Jimmer.

    Leuer was a late 2nd rounder and a decent choice if they needed size with a jump shot.

    Tobias Harris was picked by Milwaukee via Charlotte, and while he appears to have been a decent pick, he’s now with Orlando.

    So I don’t know if I missed any picks of significance, but from what I see the only good picks the Bucks made since 2008 were Henson and Sanders, and maybe Harris.

    If that’s what Weltman’s success is based on, I don’t see it really shining up the earlier selections of Miles, Maggette, and Dooling.

    I’d want a GM who can pick talent better than Weltman.

  • http://MamikoOdegard.com Dr Mamiko

    Here’s my wish for Bryan Coangelo to come back as GM with a deep apology from Sarver. Let’s face it the organization has been steadily going down since Sarver took over. Sarver can save the team from any more disasters by making a formal apology to both Jerry and Bryan and enlisiting their help to bring pride, fun, integrity, and competitiveness to the Suns. Jerry must be tormented about what is happening to his beloved Suns that he had so carefully nurtured. If Jerry can revive the USA Basketball program, he certainly has the capability to raise the Suns from its ashes. Bryan is brilliant, a hard worker, and savvy strategist/negotiator…Bryan deserves to be released from Toronto and reunited with a team that loves and misses him. Bryan’s heart is in Phoenix, and he needs to be back in Phoenix. I don’t know anything about Mr. Weltman. However, I do understand and fully bellieve in the dedication and first class actions by the Colangelos. I think, Dad, would do anything help his son to succeed here in Phoenix. Let’s bring honor and game back to our Suns!

  • DBreezy

    On Jimmer, the cba says that lottery picks cannot be traded on draft day before the pick is made. The way I read that is that it only affects when the paperwork can be submitted to the league, which is why ESPN/TNT always report the deals well before the commissioner comes out to the podium and makes the announcement. Many of the deals are too complex imo to have been done on the fly, so it’s probably all in principle until after the pick like the failed Curry to PHX deal.

    As for wanting a GM who can pick talent better than Weltman, one I don’t think we have any clarity on how much he was involved in any personnel decisions and two it’s likely he and most of the other top choices will pass on the gig as it isn’t materially different than it was before. Pro sports is weird in that a lot of coaches and GM’s will interview jobs that they have no real intention of taking. I’m sure for some it’s about enhancing the pay/prospects with in their current positions, but I think some just do it so that other teams know that they’re in the market for the right job.

    I think that’s pretty much what Lindsey did in turning down several gigs before going to the Jazz and if you listen to Brian Shaw talk about his search for a head coaching job it’s the same. So for the Suns they could end up getting fluffed by Eric Gordon last summer and getting fluffed by their GM candidates this summer.

  • Scott

    @DBreezy -

    I don’t know what you’re trying to say about Jimmer, but the anecdotes I’m familiar with say the team the pick is going to makes the selection by proxy.

    In other words, the Suns arranged to get a pick from the Spurs and then asked them to take Barbosa for them. Later, the Suns arranged to get a pick from the Spurs and asked them to take Dragic for them.

    When the Suns had the #7 pick in the 2004 draft, they made an agreement before the draft to trade it to Chicago. There was one guy the Suns wanted, Iguodala, and they figured he wasn’t going to drop past #4, so they made the deal. Unfortunately, Iggy was available for the Suns to take at 7, but they’d already made the deal, and Chicago asked them to pick Luol Deng.

  • DBreezy

    @Scott,

    The only thing the rules say is that lottery picks cannot be traded on draft day before the pick is made. We’re saying basically the same thing in that teams typically agree in principle on deals before the pick is made meaning that the pick is really being made for another team, but the paperwork cannot be submitted to the league until the pick is made.

    Dragic wasn’t a lottery pick so the rule doesn’t apply there. The Suns 2004 #7 pick was traded the night before meaning the rule didn’t apply either. In fact I’ll bet the paperwork had already been submitted before midnight. Contrast that with the draft day deal the Suns tried to swing moving Amar’e to the Warriors. That was a draft day deal of a lottery pick meaning while there clearly was an agreement in principle, the paperwork couldn’t be submitted until after the pick was made. That allowed Nellie to back out later with no recourse for the Suns who likely would have drafted Jrue Holiday instead of Clark with their own pick had they known they wouldn’t be getting Curry.

    Kerr and crew made a stink about how what the Warriors did wasn’t in the typical spirit of draft day deals, and they were probably right but what the W’s did was legal and it’s hard to believe that the Suns wouldn’t have done the same in 2004 if that was a draft day deal vs a draft day eve deal.

  • Forever is2long

    DBreezy, I just did a poor job trying to illustrate Suns management trying to secure a GM with guys who struggled to find a prom date where the guy would end up taking anyone who would tell them yes and then try and make it look she was his first choice (intellectually stimulating). So definitely it was my badd.

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