PHOENIX – The first step in correcting mistakes is admitting them. After that, it takes a risk to get back on the track to success. The Phoenix Suns have an extensive list of mistakes, and the initial step out of the cellar was firing general manager Lance Blanks.
Robert Sarver and Lon Babby took a risk by hiring 33-year-old replacement Ryan McDonough from the Boston Celtics, but if they hadn’t won the introductory press conference before it happened, they certainly won it by the time it was over.
Taking risks is what McDonough will need to do in moving the Suns out of the basement. He said being unafraid was the biggest thing he learned under former boss Danny Ainge.
“Not every move is going to be perfect, you’ll probably make some mistakes,” he said. “If you’re willing to work at it and correct some of those mistakes, and again if you’re unafraid, that can lead to some great results.”
McDonough endeared himself to the media contingent on Thursday. He was polite, ultra-professional but far from intimidating. He was well versed to the detail of responding to questions by using the media members’ first names. Maybe he read the list of potential attendees to get it right and avoid mishearing their introductions, but even that would be considered leaps ahead of any press conference prep that Blanks displayed.
By taking the job, McDonough wasn’t put off by any reputation the Suns had built over the last three years. The fact Ainge, his mentor, vouched for McDonough and that the Celtics assistant GM was willing to leave provided hope in the Valley that Thursday was a new day in the franchise’s recently dim history.
“Boston is home to me,” McDonough said. “I feel like I was in a great spot there, and I wasn’t going to leave unless it was a spectacular opportunity.”
And so the Suns entered into a new era under a man with the opportunity to mold things how he sees fit. He’ll be further familiarized with the current Suns staffers, and McDonough said he will consider adding his own guys, particularly in the scouting department. Such was a good sign that Phoenix is willing to give its young gun GM the flexibility to do whatever is necessary to win.
Babby opened McDonough’s press conference seemingly holding back his excitement with his usual reciting of his “Five Ps” philosophy – preparation, perseverance, poise, pride and performance. First, he couldn’t help but throwing zingers left and right.
“You’ll notice Ryan has on a newly-issued Phoenix Suns tie. They are available in the team shop,” the president of basketball operations said to open the introduction.
“As we all know, the Phoenix Suns have a fetish for brothers,” he continued as he introduced McDonough’s brothers Sean, an ESPN and ABC commentator, and Terry, who recently was brought on the Arizona Cardinals as a scout.
In terms of preparation, Babby said he sent questions to the potential GM candidates before the interview process began, and Ryan McDonough had “college essays” available by his interview. McDonough met with the Suns for 11 hours in a first meeting before a five-hour meeting in New York. An important part of the interview process was discussing head coaching candidates, and Phoenix seemingly killed two birds with one stone in getting that started before even making the GM hire official.
“I was drained by the end of it, all wrinkled up and probably sweaty and I look over at him and he looks like he just came out of the shower, fresh as a daisy,” Babby said. “He’s got poise nailed.”
Babby added that McDonough’s performance was obvious in his work with Boston, where assets in the form of draft picks turned into solid players that the Celtics kept (Rajon Rondo) or others that turned into trade chips that helped the team acquire stars leading to a title (Al Jefferson for Kevin Garnett).
And as for pride, McDonough’s Boston roots showed with the support from his family, one that has an extensive background in sports. Asked about his brothers attending Thursday — Jay Bilas was also present, a good sign that Phoenix hired a guy well respected in the basketball world — the press conference ended with McDonough choking up.
“Geez, I saw George Karl do this last night talking about his family,” he said. “He’s Coach of the Year, he’s a Hall of Famer, so hopefully you give me a little rope here. It’s special for them to be here.”
The press conference was won.
And suddenly with the interview process already having helped to compile a list of head coaching candidates, the Suns have suddenly come from behind to even themselves with the other rebuilding NBA squads.
“My immediate focus after finding a coach is drafting the best players,” McDonough said. “I would say generally you always have to draft well. That’s the life-blood of your franchise.”
The Suns can only hope McDonough can get the blood flowing like the good ol’ days.