McDonough Ready To Help Suns Rise

Ryan McDonough meets with the media for the first time as general manager of the Suns.
(Ryan Wolf,
When Lon Babby listed off his key qualification for the hiring of a new team general manager, the Suns President of Basketball Operations made it clear that the candidate would need to be a “first-rate talent evaluator.” Less than three weeks later, the organization feels confident that they have hit a homerun in that department with the hiring of Ryan McDonough.

McDonough, a native of Boston who has spent the last 10 years with the Celtics, most recently served the role of assistant general manager with the storied franchise, and is largely credited with the draft day deal that led to the acquisition of Rajon Rondo. Ironically, that trade came at the courtesy of the Phoenix Suns, who at the time were not in the market for a point guard.

“One of the things I’m not real confident doing, because I’ve never been in a GM role, is saying that ‘I did this or I did that’,” McDonough said of his involvement. “We did it as a group, and Rajon was a guy that we really liked and were excited to get him.”

When spoken to by local media, however, McDonough’s former employers appear to believe that their former assistant is being modest in just how integral he was in pushing for the future All-Star, following the playmaker’s disappointing sophomore season at Kentucky.

"While the rest of the world sort of dropped on Rondo, Ryan continued to evaluate him even higher," Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge said in an interview with SB Nation.

Ainge – a former Suns player and coach – is not alone in his recollection of how high McDonough was on Rondo. Chris Wallace, the general manager at the time in Boston, told Arizona Republic writer Paul Coro that McDonough was Rondo’s “biggest advocate.”

At just 33-years-old, McDonough says that he grew up with many of the same fond memories most in his age group would share. A fan of both Seinfeld and The Simpsons while growing up, McDonough becomes the second-youngest general manager in the NBA behind Orlando’s Rob Hennigan. But that’s not to say he doesn’t have an impressive – not to mention diverse - background in sports.

“I had an internship with the Red Sox between my sophomore and junior years of college,” McDonough said of his earlier years. “I was going to school at the University of North Carolina, but wanted to come home during the summer to spend time with my family, and the Sox let me work in their control room. We played the music in the ballpark, ran the videos on the video board and even pressed the buttons for balls and strikes. So while I’ve come up professionally – at least full time – on the basketball operations side, I’ve also done some things on the business side as well with public relations, marketing and community relations.”

As a man who once held a number of positions for the Red Sox including that of “radar gun holder”, colleagues are confident that McDonough will have no problem keeping up with the fast-paced lifestyle that comes with being an NBA general manager.

“I sent out questions before the interview, and (McDonough) came in with college essays ready to go,” Babby said of his latest hire. “He’s prepared his whole life for this job, so his work ethic is prodigious and well known throughout the NBA.”

Wallace – now the general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies – told that he has known from the start that it was only a matter of time before McDonough received an opportunity to shine somewhere as a general manager.

”I was with the Celtics when Ryan joined the organization in 2003,” Wallace recalled. “It was evident early on that he was a special talent with a tremendous future ahead of him. Ryan is an outstanding judge of talent, is extremely bright, and no one will outwork him. On top of it all he is very engaging and humble.”

Particularly, it is McDonough’s ability to judge talent that the Suns will rely heavily upon over these next few seasons, and have given the general manager ample opportunity to display his talents by owning the rights to six first-round draft picks over the next three years. Those draft picks were a topic of discussion that McDonough told was not overlooked when he interviewed with Babby and Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver for the position.

“People remember the trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in Boston, but we did build through the draft too,” McDonough said. “A lot of the key pieces like Al Jefferson and Diante West were guys we drafted that led to those trades. We also retained a lot of the guys that we acquired through the draft like Rajon Rondo, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and Leon Powe. As Robert and Lon and I talked, the one thing I said that can’t change is you have to draft to the best of your abilities every year because that’s how you build sustainable success.”

In the case of the 2008 Boston Celtics, it did not take long for the draft to pay dividends, as following a 24-win season, the organization captured its first NBA title in more than 20 years.

“It was unbelievable, and I’ll remember that for my entire life,” McDonough said. “Especially the way it happened, having the second-worst record in the league in 2007 and making the biggest turnaround from one season to the next. The Celtics obviously have a rich tradition of success, but to see the fans behind the team and how excited they were made it really spectacular.”

Having grown up in and around the Boston area, McDonough has seen what it takes for an organization get over the hump in regards to winning a championship. Not just by experiencing it with the Celtics first-hand, but by viewing it with other organizations such as the Patriots and the Red Sox. The latter of which ended an 86-year drought to the delight of McDonough, a long-time Sox fan whose brother Sean worked as a broadcaster for the ballclub for 17 years. While his role as observer in the Red Sox title run may not be quite as personal as that he experienced with the Celtics, the 33-year-old says he couldn’t help but notice the similarities shared between the baseball team and the Suns when initially considering the position of general manager.

“Like the Suns, the Red Sox have a great tradition and history of success; and like the Suns, the Red Sox were close a number of times before they finally broke through,” McDonough said. “And just to see the excitement of the older generation that had waited their entire lifetime for that moment, it was pretty cool. And that was one of the many attractive things to me about coming to Phoenix. It was another franchise with a great track record, a great history of success, who hasn’t reached that championship level. If I could ever be a part of helping to bring that to the Valley, I’d be beyond excited.”

With the experience, confidence and dedication of McDonough apparent, it hasn’t taken long for those in the Valley to agree that the Suns have indeed hit a homerun with Thursday’s hire. Or better yet, maybe it should be viewed more in this case as a slam dunk.