Phoenix could be reliving Seattle’s NBA nightmare

The managing director of the Phoenix Suns is doing some damage control after it leaked out from the city council that the team is willing to look to other locations in the valley for an arena deal, or even out-of-state, if the city doesn’t agree to fork over $150 million to renovate the Talking Sticks Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix.

Sarver is willing to plug $80 million of his own money into renovating an arena that the city owns, but he’s also asking for the city council to chip in money at the same time as the Diamondbacks are looking to renovate their building or they’ll leave as well. The city negotiated weak leases with their major sports franchise when both of these buildings were opened up in the mid-to-late 90s and now they’re facing the consequences. In the case of the Phoenix’s NBA franchise, they’ve got an ownership group that is in over its head financially — Sarver’s net worth is rumored to be as low as $400 million — as well as meddlesome in basketball operations.

Theses all add up to bad faith negotiations with the city and a failed attempt to rush the vote through without public comment. It was a rushed job that gave the council less than one week to consider the deal before the council initially tried to vote on it; fortunately the council postponed the vote until the new year.

But despite waiting until the new year, it’s unlikely that this deal will get done in favor of the Suns’ as it currently stands. There are currently three firm no votes, with a potential fourth no vote about to join them after he began facing threats of a recall election — for reasons unrelated to the arena deal, but it’s unclear if he’ll push for this money to be spent that way when his constituents are already angry at him.

So if the council shoots down this proposal, it means that the Suns can break their lease on the arena and look elsewhere…thanks to the particularly crappy lease the city negotiated with the team when Talking Sticks opened.

The Suns can also exercise an obsolescence clause after this season to ramp up the pressure even further on the city’s officials. It means that if TSRA no longer serves its primary purpose and NBA representatives find the current arena is in need of renovations for the Suns to stay, the team could possibly escape its lease and allowing them to listen to outside offers from in and out of state to find its next home more quickly.” – Evan Sidery, Bright Side of the Sun

The team’s stance, since the story broke, is that they never threatened to move the franchise out-of-state; but to somewhere else in the valley that would be willing to build them a new building. But the problem with that stance is, the council members whom were in the meeting say Sarver mentioned that other cities are looking for an NBA team.

“Sarver’s talking about moving,” the council member told me. “He basically told me the team will go (if they don’t get a renovated arena). Vegas and Seattle were the two he talked about.”

UPDATE: The council member on Thursday clarified the above quote, saying that Sarver didn’t mention Seattle or Las Vegas by name during their conversation but that he did make it clear the team wants to leave if the deal is not approved.

City Manger Ed Zuercher confirmed that Suns officials have mentioned the possibility of leaving.

“I don’t consider it a threat,” he said. “They’ve talked about what their options are. Robert has never threatened me. He’s mentioned that there are other cities that are looking for NBA teams.”

– Laurie Roberts, AZ Central

Robert Sarver’s threat to look elsewhere for a municipality that is willing to build him a new arena is very similar to the threats that former Sonics’ owner and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz made prior to selling the franchise to Clay Bennett. Schultz’s temper tantrums regarding Key Arena and its (honestly) needed renovations in the mid-2000s led to him threatening to look at other cities around the Sound to see if they would be willing to foot the bill for a renovation the ownership group new they couldn’t do privately. When that didn’t work out, the team was sold to an out-of-town ownership group that made an impossible to sell arena proposal to the state in Renton with the goal of moving the franchise to Oklahoma City.

Now the biggest difference between the situation in 2018 Phoenix and 2004 Seattle is that there is an NHL franchise that is also looking for an arena solution of its own after its ill-advised move to the suburbs nearly a decade ago. If Sarver pulls his head out of his own ass and is willing to surrender some of the revenue the arena makes during hockey related events…there’s a deal to be struck with these two franchises.

But don’t hold your breath, Sarver reminds me a lot of Schultz during the Sonics disaster and that’s a situation that should make basketball fans in Phoenix very, very nervous.