Lance Blanks a quality choice for revamped front office, but questions remain


PHOENIX — When the Phoenix Suns hired Lon Babby to head their basketball operations department, he immediately set out to find a “basketball genius” talent evaluator to complement his front office talents.

He also sought out a candidate who would be a great cultural fit, an executive who had been around winning organizations and somebody with a playing background who would have more of a presence in the locker room than Babby could.

“We took our time, we did our due diligence, and I’m absolutely confident that we’ve settled on the perfect choice in Lance Blanks,” Babby said. “He met all of our criteria, aced them across the board.”

Babby started off Wednesday’s introductory press conference gushing so much about Blanks that one might think he possesses no flaws. Blanks himself joked that things were probably going to go downhill from there after Babby described him by saying, “We wanted what I describe as a basketball genius, and if any of you have ever wondered what a basketball genius looks like, here he is.”

From the perspective of what the Phoenix Suns were looking for in a general manager, Blanks is a solid choice. He possesses a scouting background and theoretically is a “basketball genius” (I suppose time will tell on that count), and he really does check all of the boxes of the kind of executive who would complement Babby in theory.

The most interesting part of the press conference came when Blanks was asked if he would have final say on personnel matters. Even the inquisitor knew what the answer was, but here’s how Blanks danced around that question:

“I hope I’ll have gross say, meaning a large amount of say. I don’t know that I’ll have final say. I think anyone who’s in this position, final say ends up with the owner. I think it will be collaborative with myself and Lon. Lon is my boss.

“I’ll certainly be out of the way in areas where I don’t know what I’m taking about, and hopefully Lon will allow me the flexibility to be out of the way when I’m in an area of expertise in terms of making a decision, and then beyond that Robert, it’s his team, so he gets final say on all things beyond what kind of defense you’re going to play.”

Babby added: “The reason Lance is here is because he meshes perfectly with my weaknesses. Whoever has the final say, I think it’s fair to say he will have the most influential voice on personnel matters, and I’m going to learn from him, he’s going to learn from me. Hopefully with input from Alvin we’ll be able to make great decisions together. I don’t think it will get down to who has final say so much as most influential voice, and that’s going to be Lance.”

It’s safe to say that Robert Sarver’s voice will be the loudest in the room, and after that, well, Babby is Blanks’ boss. Blanks spoke often of the collaborative environments he worked in with the Spurs and Cavs, and I certainly expect that to be the case here in Phoenix.

Blanks does not seem like the kind of guy who would rock the boat in this regard but rather would provide his input and then let the decision-making process play out, and that will have to be the case for this arrangement to work out.

The reason the Suns didn’t even consider a Kevin Pritchard but instead went for Lance Blanks is because they want a guy who can spot talented bargains, a “basketball genius” with a scout’s keen eye, not a guy who will be making many final decisions.

There are many reasons to believe this will work. Blanks is certainly a high-character guy who has worked in a pair of successful front offices that have found a fair share of diamonds in the rough. I have no doubt that he will fit into the Suns’ “Culture of We” that Babby expects to extend from the playing court to the front office this season.

As far as the Babby’s criteria goes, this is the right hire as the duo should complement each other quite nicely.

“I’ve known Lon for some time, and I have a lot of respect for him as an agent from a character standpoint, as a person and his intelligence,” Blanks said of Babby. “I think my background and history working in the front office and his background from a negotiating standpoint and leadership standpoint, I think we’ll work extremely well together.”

At the same time, Blanks said a number of things you would not want to hear from your new general manager.

He admitted to only knowing the Suns’ roster as well as any NBA person would know a roster, nothing more, and he doesn’t have any tight relationships with any current Sun.

He may have just been being modest, but after speaking of the recent success of the Suns’ organization, he said, “Part of my job will be staying out of the way and not messing this thing up.”

I would like to think he will do more than not mess things up.

In the immediate aftermath of Steve Kerr’s departure I wrote about the need to immediately get a general manager in place before one of the most crucial offseasons of the team’s recent history.

As Blanks steps into his new office, the offseason’s work is largely done. If the Suns’ offseason moves fail, he will be forced to clean up a mess he didn’t create.

It’s got to be awkward to see YOUR team completely rebuilt by someone else during an offseason in which you’re hired for the job, especially when your new team plays a completely different style than prior teams you have worked for.

But at this point it’s too late to debate whether it’s best for a general manager to be run by a Pritchard type who enjoys all the control or the hierarchy that Robert Sarver feels is the wave of the future.

Lance Blanks would be a curious choice in a traditional front office in which he’s asked to run the show on his own, something it does not appear he will be doing in the Suns’ multi-tiered basketball operations department.

But as a basketball genius of solid character who will embrace being an influential voice in the room rather than THE influential voice in the room, you can see why Babby is so excited about this hiring.