Suns Create New Look in Basketball Operations
Posted: Oct. 18, 2009
This summer, the winds of change have swept through the halls of the Suns’ basketball operations department, with the last few wisps taking shape before the team jumped into preseason action.
After an offseason that saw major re-structuring and shuffling within the Suns’ front office, the franchise heads into the 2010-11 season with new leadership in the basketball operations department.
With the departure of Suns President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Steve Kerr and Sr. Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin, former renowned agent Lon Babby takes over as President of Basketball Operations and Lance Blanks takes the reigns as the GM.
Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver, who in an effort to evolve with the constant changes in the business of basketball, wanted a legal expert like Babby to preside over contract negotiations and decisions revolving around the collective bargaining agreement.
“I tried to pick the best practices that I saw from around the NBA and form the unique structure that we have in this front office,” Babby said. “The ideas of how we wanted to run the department evolved collectively from all of us, and Robert gave us the budget that we need to accomplish this.”
Babby’s first order of business was to hire a top-notch talent evaluator, so he nabbed Blanks from the Cavs, splitting the front office up between a business-focused side and basketball-centric side. It’s an innovative approach by the Suns to divide the front-office perspectives so symmetrically, with each basketball ops staff member working in one area or another.
And this is where it gets interesting. The first order of business was to break up scouting into two divisions.
One would be in charge of scouting college and international players, while the other would scout NBA talent. Former D-League coach John Treloar takes over as Director of Scouting, while the former Director of Scouting, Todd Quinter, takes on the newly created role.
Quinter, who has been with the Suns for 25 years, moves over to a position in basketball ops that focuses primarily on scouting NBA players instead of college players. The front office believes that NBA teams recruit fresh talent from free agency just as much as from the draft.
Therefore, the Suns chose to devote resources towards learning the subtleties of opposing players, putting Quinter on the task. Quinter will be joined by long-time basketball coach and scout, Dan Panaggio.
Panaggio served as the Lakers’ advance scout for the last four years. Separate from that area is Treloar, who coached collegiately for years.
Treloar will continue the process of monitoring college players and preparing for the draft and will be joined by former Suns assistant coach John Shumate. Shumate, who left the bench and moved back into scouting college players, will be joined by other regional scouts that will assist he and Treloar.
It will be the first NBA experience for Treloar, who had served as a GM and coach in the CBA, as well as an assistant at Indiana and LSU before coaching and making personnel decisions with the D-League’s Erie BayHawks.
“He’s an extremely knowledgeable basketball purist,” Babby said. “He’s coached, scouted and been a general manager. He’s going to be responsible for organizing the scouting staff and directing them on what to do.”
Kornel David will be brought in to assist with international scouting. A European-born former professional player in the NBA and abroad, David served as a scout for the Cavs before coming over to Phoenix.
Two other new acquisitions within the front office will be Trennis Jones and Trevor Bukstein. Jones, who played collegiately at Colorado, aided in the representation of players at Octagon the last few years.
Treloar worked with Blanks as the coach of the Cavs' D-League affiliate.
(Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images)
Bukstein, who worked the past six years at Babby’s law firm with statistics, will continue that statistical analysis in Phoenix. In addition, his knowledge of the collective bargaining agreement, the salary cap and contracts will be counted on by Babby.
Currently, Bukstein is two classes away from his JD at Georgetown and becoming a lawyer.
“Trevor Bukstein is someone who worked with me in Washington and is someone I highly value for his knowledge of the collective bargaining agreement and his work ethic,” Babby said. “So I knew he was coming with me and that I’d have good support in that area. Trennis is also a terrific young guy that seems to be competing with Trevor for who can work the longest and the hardest, and I’m all in favor of that.”
In addition, Nenad Trajkovic has come aboard to solely help the coaching staff with working out players. Trajkovic, who worked with Amar'e Stoudemire after his rookie year, also trained former Sun Zarko Cabarkapa and current Sun Goran Dragic.
Suns assistant Igor Kokoskov and Trajkovic coached together in Belgrade about 10 years ago.
“He has had an extensive coaching resume in Europe over the last three decades,” Babby noted. “He’s had stints as the head coach of the Yugoslavian and Latvian national teams, as well as professional teams in Serbia and Bosnia.”
The last addition to the staff was “Uncle” Jerome Crawford, who takes over for Kevin Tucker as the team’s Director of Team Security. As Shaquille O’Neal’s former security man, Crawford has years of experience in the league, as well as a personal familiarity with many of the Suns.
"He’s been very enthusiastically received by the players from when he worked with Shaq,” Babby said. “I’m thrilled that we were able to replace him with someone of Jerome’s quality and character. He’s very comfortable here and the players are very comfortable with him.”
Two members of the front office that are staying where they were are VP of Player Programs Mark West and Assistant Director of Basketball Operation Amin Elhassan. West, who played 17 seasons in the NBA, may also assist a little with scouting.
“Mark is what we’ll describe as our ambassador,” Babby said. “He is just a great representative of our franchise and the history that has gone on here. He is one of the most popular folks in Phoenix and we’re thrilled that he’ll continue in that role.”
Elhassan will continue to work in a variety of areas, including analytics.
“I felt very strongly that we needed a good mix of age and experience and I think we accomplished that there’s a great mix of youthful enthusiasm and energy combined with hard-working, passionate basketball lifers,” Babby said. “Much like it’s Alvin’s job to make sure everybody gets along, it’s my job and Lance’s job to make sure that we build the trust and camaraderie we need to succeed. But I think now that we have all the right pieces in place.”
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