Jerry Colangelo has been in this situation before.
Now it’s time to see if consistency is a cornerstone to his Phoenix Suns organization.
In 1987, when a drug scandal plagued the team, Colangelo’s tough talk was backed up by decisive action. He unloaded players en masse. Even "Sweet D" Walter Davis, who years later would have his No. 6 retired and hung from the banners of America West Arena, was given his walking papers.
It wasn’t a matter of innocent until proven guilty in 1987. Innocent or not, Suns’ players who tarnished the overall team image were wheeled and dealed like commodities on Wall Street. In the end, the team rebounded both on the basketball court and, more importantly, according to Colangelo, in the court of public opinion with players such as Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers.
Today, Colangelo is in a similar bind. In short order, three of the team’s star players’ names have shown up in police blotters instead of the box score. One was accused — charges were later dropped — for threatening his girlfriend with a gun. Another faces domestic violence charges after his wife called 911 in what she said was an ongoing pattern of abuse. This week, a third was arrested in the wee hours of the morning for alleged drunken driving and possessing marijuana.
What’s happening with the Suns is epidemic in the NBA right now. Two members of the Washington Wizards have been arrested for DWI in the past 30 days. One of the league’s marquee players — Philly’s Allen Iverson — has a moonlighting career as a rap artist (?) with lyrics that are derogatory toward women and gays and includes references to gun violence. Utah’s Olden Polynice’s off-court hobby is impersonating police officers and terrifying people.
Standard operating procedure in the NBA is to assess a fine that amounts to pocket change for these players and perhaps suspend them from a game or two.
When scandal struck in 1987, Colangelo broke the mold of your typical NBA owners and general managers. He did some major league housecleaning. The team was better for it both on the court and, more importantly, in the eyes of the public. This was one professional sports team, many said, with integrity.
It’s time to do the same today. The Suns certainly are not turning heads on the court. They’re not even playing .600 ball. If they continue at their current pace, they’ll be lucky to even make the playoffs.
Granted, it’s not as easy to unload players today as it was in 1987. The salary cap rules of today require a team of accountants and mathematical wizards for even the most simple player trades to take place. Colangelo may have to eat a few salaries this time around.
But the integrity of the organization is more important than dollars and cents.
The team is playing lousy. The key players are not interested in being good citizens. Attendance is down.
The solution is obvious.
Be consistent. Unload these losers.