Lon Babby Responds to Fan Questions in Mailbag
Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby, who left a highly regarded law practice in Washington, D.C. to manage the basketball operations department in Phoenix, provided Suns fans with the opportunity to ask him questions about his first season in the Valley. Check out what the front office executive had to say about his first trade, the state of the team, the lockout and a variety of other topics in this mailbag.
Q: With the Suns playing well at this point, do you think this is a set roster? Are these the Phoenix Suns that can go deep in the playoffs or do you plan on making another final trade for a missing piece before the deadline?
-- Larry, Hobart, Indiana
Babby: The team has been playing much better now that the December trade has begun to settle and the three new players are being integrated into the roster. Our goal is to be as strong as we can in the short run, as well as the long run. Of course that’s always going to require trade-offs and balancing. However, our team is playing much better, and I expect our team to make a good run in both making the playoffs and progressing once we make it into the playoffs.
Q: Is there any possibility of moving some pieces to acquire a stronger inside scorer and rebounder at the 4-spot?
-- Samuel, Birmingham, Alabama
Babby: That’s obviously an area in which we need to continue to improve. We are always on the prowl to improve our team, however we began to address some of these issues with the trade for Marcin Gortat. Thus far, he’s given us a good inside presence both offensively and defensively.
Q: I am fascinated by how professional basketball players travel now as compared to 40 or more years ago. Would you consider allowing Suns fans to get an idea of the current Suns' plane by sharing some interior photos of the plane and/or a brief video?
-- Fran, Gallup, NM
Babby: Throughout the playoffs and during the preseason, Suns.com travels with the team and provides a bevy of videos and photo galleries that include the players traveling on the charter. Check out some of them below.
Travel Video | Nothin' But Net on the Plane Part 1 | Part 2 | Photos: 2010 Playoff Travel Photos
Q: The Suns are asking me to renew my season tickets for next season by February 16, 2011 to get a discount. What if there is a lock-out next season? Do I get my money back? What if they use substitute players - do I get my money back?
-- Darlene, Phoenix, AZ
Babby: If a work stoppage were to occur next season, a refund of the purchase price (plus interest) would be made available to season ticket holders for all missed games.
Q: I wanted to ask you for information regarding summer league tryouts/D-League tryouts?
-- Mallary, Venus
Babby: Since Suns Director of Player Personnel John Treloar handles that, I'll let him field this question: "If I were a player wanting to break into pro basketball, I would try two avenues. First, the D-League will conduct a tryout in May or June where all the D-league coaches will attend and evaluate the talent. Secondly, each team will conduct a free agent tryout camp in their city during the month of September. You should reach out to the D-League office (212-407-8737) and get the dates for these events and attend as many as you can."
Q: Will Steve Nash and/or Grant Hill be traded by the deadline? And why did you send out the renewals for season ticket holders early?
-- Christos, Hopewell Junction
Babby: There are no plans to trade Steve Nash nor Grant Hill before the trade deadline. There also isn't any correlation for the date for renewing season tickets and the trade deadline. I know that question has been raised, but it gives us far too much credit to think that we would’ve linked the two. We’re constantly looking to improve our team without regard to renewal dates.
Q: Since becoming a fan of the Suns when I moved to Arizona seven years ago, the Suns organization hasn't really been interested in a lot of the top prospects coming out of college (dealing draft picks away). In the future, will there be more of an emphasis on getting better through the draft?
-- Ryan, Flagstaff
Babby: We intend to use all means available to us to improve our team and that certainly includes the draft. One of the most important aspects of the trade with Orlando was obtaining their first-round draft pick this year, so we could have two picks in the upcoming draft.
Q: Obviously, in three years the Suns will be without Steve Nash and Vince Carter. What will the team do about getting superstars to Phoenix so they can contend in the Western Conference?
-- Jason, Arkadelphia
Babby: Our challenge is to have a plan that allows us to remain competitive in the short run while preparing for the eventual time – hopefully far into the future – when Steve Nash is no longer playing. That is a major focus of all of our strategic planning going forward, but we hope that it’s far into the future. Phoenix always has been a prized destination for free agents and we will do everything that we can, not only to continue that tradition, but to take steps to make it even more attractive going forward. That is one of our principal goals.
Q: Is there anywhere after a game that fans can stand to receive autographs?
-- Adam, Surprise
Babby: If you come down to sections 117-118 about an hour before the game, many of the players will sign autographs before or after they warm up. Other than that, visit the "Hot Stuff" section of Suns.com for free player appearances at sponsored locations or the promotion page.
Q: What do you consider to be the toughest part of acclimating yourself to this side of the business? What is the biggest obstacle thus far in your Suns career?
-- David, Ft. Worth, Texas
Babby: I think one of the toughest parts in taking on this new role has been maintaining objectivity about our players and to make good, fair and solid evaluations. In order to do that you have to take a step back from reacting emotionally from the wins and losses. When we win, I never think we’ll lose again. When we lose, I never think we’re going to win again. You need to learn to stay on an even keel and that can be challenging as we have so much invested emotionally in each and every game.
Babby likes what he's seen from the Suns recently on defense.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)
-- Casê, Las Vegas, Nevada
Babby: I appreciate your concern about the future, however I don’t believe that trading Steve Nash now is the right plan. As I have said, I’d rather put my faith in a two-time MVP than in the bounce of a lottery ball. Those teams that have taken the approach that you suggest have to endure a long and cold winter that sometimes lasts many years. And there is no guarantee that there will be a pot at the end of that rainbow. We are much more interested in trying to improve while Steve is here and position ourselves to build for the future simultaneously. It’s an arduous task, but that’s our plan.
Q: Steve Nash is entering the twilight of his career and is arguably (emphasis on arguably) the greatest Sun to represent the purple and orange. What would be your thoughts on going "all-in" for the final Nash years? We know that we will be rebuilding once Steve retires and he has given so much to the franchise it seems to make sense to - while he is playing at a high level - trade for a big name scorer who can fit into the team-first Phoenix model.
-- Kyle, Los Angeles, CA
Babby: If an opportunity presents itself to do what you suggest, we would certainly consider that. But in every decision that we make we have to balance the short-term goals with the long-term goals. We cannot unduly compromise the future of this franchise.
Q: Why is the team playing so poorly? I know that the excuse is that we have new guys, but when will that excuse become invalid?
-- Suns fan, Phoenix
Babby: While initially it has taken time to integrate the new players into our team, we’ve been playing at a much higher level over the past few weeks and have won 11 out of 16 and have gone 5-1 against teams with winning records in our last six games.
Q: Are we going to go after a hustle player soon? A player who rebounds well, plays defense well and passes well?
-- Alex, Gilbert
Babby: We’re always looking for the kind of player that you describe, and I do think that we have a number of players that fit your definition of a hustle player: Jared Dudley, Mickael Pietrus and Marcin Gortat are three in particular that stand out. That being said, you can never have too many of them.
Q: Why is Gortat not a regular starter for the Suns?
Babby: That is a coaching decision. Coach Gentry is comfortable with the rotation as it currently is with Robin Lopez starting and Gortat coming off the bench. We have played well with that lineup. Gortat is receiving a significant number of minutes and Robin is starting games well, so I think Coach Gentry’s decision is a wise one and is working well.
Q: I love the Suns organization and I am wondering what is being done to improve our overall defense?
-- Jason, Lacey, WA
Babby: We have improved significantly on defense and that has been a point of emphasis over the past couple of months. That was a primary reason for the trade with Orlando. The three new players that we received are all good defensive players. Gortat has dramatically improved our interior defense and Carter and Pietrus have provided much better perimeter defense for us. Obviously, we still have room for improvement, but our defense will be an important focus of our attention going forward. In fact, in the last eight games, we have only allowed opponents to shoot 41.4 percent from the field on defense.
Q: What do you think about the December trade with Orlando? Are Carter, Gortat and Pietrus as good as you expected or do they still need time to show us their best?
-- Paul, Poland
Babby: With respect to the trade, I think it has worked out extremely well for us. Each of the players has given us what we expected or more. In addition, we have added a second draft choice this year and have given ourselves considerable cap flexibility going forward. For all of those reasons I think that the trade will prove to be quite beneficial for us.
Q: I know this is out in left field but what are the chances of the Suns changing their jerseys? Would management be ok with that?
-- Floyd, Phoenix
Babby: Management would be fine with that, but as far as next year is concerned, we have no plan in place to change our jerseys. We haven’t decided if we’ll do anything the year after yet.
Q: Are we rebuilding or trying to push for the eighth seed in the playoffs? How are you going to fix this situation with the overload of swingman?
-- Andrew, Clemson, SC
Babby: The simple answer to your question is that we’re trying to do both. We’re trying to maintain a team that contends for the playoffs and performs well in the playoffs. At the same time, we're also taking steps to improve for the future. I think the Orlando trade is a good example of that because we filled a positional need in the future with Gorat while positioning us well for the future by getting a first-round draft choice while greatly improving our cap flexibility for the new collective bargaining agreement. We still have some imbalance on our roster which we will need to correct.
Q: I would like to ask you about identity of the Suns. What is your opinion? Should we be defensively focused or offensively focused like last season?
-- Paul, Poland
Babby: It is nice to hear from Poland where I know you are very proud of the “Polish Hammer,” Marcin Gortat. I think what one of our principal goals moving forward is to create a better balance between being an offensive team and a defensive team. The challenge is to improve our defense without sacrificing our historically efficient offense.
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