PHOENIX — Excuse Lance Blanks if he thinks he’s going to wake up any second now.
It doesn’t seem possible that he is now officially the general manager of the Phoenix Suns, taking over for a friend from his San Antonio days in Steve Kerr.
“The whole thing is weird,” Blanks said. “I’m going to wake up in 30 minutes and tell someone about this crazy dream I had. It’s all weird, couldn’t have scripted it any other way. This is a very different experience.”
Blanks’ journey to the GM seat in Phoenix is what he described as “an organic process,” something that came about after years of hard work moving up in NBA front offices in San Antonio and Cleveland.
Blanks grew up wanting to be an NBA player, which he was for three years in the early 1990s with Detroit and Minnesota. Blanks, a 6-for-4 guard who scored 20 ppg and led the University of Texas to the Elite Eight as a collegiate player, then took a few years off to engage in some entrepreneurial pursuits before returning to the game he loves.
He has since worked his way up in San Antonio, starting as a scout and then becoming the scouting director while dabbling as a television analyst, an add-on to the job that started when the Spurs just needed an analyst to pinch-hit one day.
For the past five years he has been the No. 3 man in Cleveland, serving as an assistant general manager.
“I’ve always wanted to play in the NBA as a young man and had an affinity for business, so post-NBA I dabbled in some entrepreneurial business ventures,” Blanks said. “Since then I just ended up in the front office, I love the cerebral side of that and look up and 10 years later I’m sitting here, so I’m certainly embracing this and passionate about the game and sport and being in the front office, but I can’t say that this was on my to-do list of things to do when I was a little boy.”
Although they differ in on-court philosophy from what the Suns do, Blanks has worked for a pair of quality organizations that have been associated with winning and solid values.
Blanks names former teammate Joe Dumars, Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and head coach Gregg Popovich and former Cleveland general manager Danny Ferry as some of the executives who have mentored him along the way.
When asked what he learned from Popovich, Blanks responded with just one word (“win”), before expanding on his answer: “There’s so many lessons we can sit here all day, just high character, honesty and high integrity. Staying the course and having morals, having principles and not necessarily being very negotiable with those principles and values.”
If I learned one thing about Blanks from meeting him on Wednesday, it’s that culture and strong values are incredibly important to him, with him saying you have to possess such a culture to enjoy team success in this league.
Blanks has seen firsthand what that kind of culture means in San Antonio and aims to acquire players who can develop a similar environment in Phoenix.
“I think that the playing part a lot of times is quite obvious,” Blanks said. “It’s the other stuff that you may not realize or may not know as well that’s taken into account when you’re making that decision.”
By that he surely means finding players who won’t only fit into what the Suns want to do on the court but also will mesh with the culture they develop in the locker room. For example, Channing Frye obviously fit the Suns on the court last season, but he was just as good of a cultural fit in the locker room.
Blanks was also asked about the advanced analytics that are becoming so popular in front offices around the NBA, and while he’s familiar with said numbers don’t expect him to become the next Daryl Morey anytime soon.
“I use it for what it’s worth,” Blanks said. “I’m not a economist or a huge metrics guy, but I do see the value in it. I think it’s very important. It’s something the organizations I’ve operated in, we’ve embraced it and used it just to make sound decisions.”
As I wrote yesterday, it’s hard to say exactly how much influence Lance Blanks will have over the Phoenix Suns’ decision-making process, but at the same time the general manager is the general manager. He will most certainly have an important voice in the room.
Lance Blanks did not dream of one day becoming the general manager of the Phoenix Suns when he was a little kid, but as his post-playing career has developed, this has become the next step. With a slew of quality mentors and the right values in place, Blanks is ready for this important role.
“This is a lifetime and a first time opportunity for me to sit in a seat like this, and I’m incredibly honored to take over the reins,” Blanks said.