Charles Barkley has not worked a home game at US Airways Center since he was bounding up and down the floor in 1996.
That makes today’s visit a rare treat for him and Suns fans. Despite living in the Valley and working as a NBA analyst for TNT since 2000, Barkley had avoided appearances at Suns games until he agreed to join the TNT crew for tonight’s Suns-Clippers game.
He said he has never wanted to get in the Suns’ way. He also said the Suns are not staying out of their own way.
“When I look at the Suns, I’m just confused what direction they are trying to go,” Barkley said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to what they’re doing right now.
“It bothers me because I have to watch them every night. It should be interesting because I’m going to do my job and be honest. I hope they don’t take it personal. I have no idea what they’re doing.”
Barkley, who turns 50 on Feb.20, has commuted from Phoenix to his TNT studio analyst job in Atlanta weekly for 13 years but he has itched to do more in recent years, including working occasional games. Barkley’s real aspiration is be an NBA general manager, which coincides with the franchise he sees needing a fix.
“Would I be interested in being a GM there? Sure, of course, I would be,” said Barkley, who does not know Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver personally and wants to be approached. “I don’t have a preference (of which team). Everybody knows that I want to be a GM. But I don’t think that you can cherry-pick your job.”
The past week’s coaching shake-up shook up Barkley as well. On Friday, the Suns executed a friendly firing of Alvin Gentry, who agreed to a mutual parting terminology with the team at 13-28.
“It’s been a joke since the beginning,” Barkley said. “They put him in a situation that he could not be successful and then they threw him under the bus.
“The fans are astute and know that it isn’t a good Suns team. I think Alvin is a good coach. He didn’t become a bad coach in the last 30 to 40 games. That team is just not very good.”
A two-day process selected player development coordinator Lindsey Hunter as interim head coach and led assistant coach and Barkley’s fellow Ring of Honor member, Dan Majerle, to resign. Majerle was one of Barkley’s favorite teammates and might be even more popular in Phoenix.
“I was 100 percent shocked that Dan Majerle didn’t get that job,” said Barkley, who was Majerle’s NBA Finals teammate 20 years ago. “When was the last time a NBA team fired a coach and then didn’t hire somebody from their (coaching) staff? That would indicate to me that there is a roster problem, not a coaching problem. The Brooklyn Nets, when they fired Avery (Johnson), they hired one of the assistants because you’re not going to change the system in the season. It’s just not a good situation right now.”
Barkley said that it is “a conflict of interest” for a former agent, Lon Babby, to be the Suns president of basketball operations. Beyond the hierarchy, Barkley has a bigger issue with the roster that he said does not have building blocks to make the Suns competitive. He used his other past home, Philadelphia, as an example with two pieces, Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young, for the next decade. He likes Marcin Gortat and Goran Dragic but is not sure the same can be said for them.
“You either have a young team building for the future or you’re trying to get bad and get draft picks and clear cap space,” Barkley said. “When I look at their team, they don’t have any direction. They don’t have any vision. What are they? I hope they didn’t think they were trying to make the playoffs. And I don’t see them developing young players getting ready for the future.”
When the Suns made Michael Beasley their first free-agency target, Barkley said it was a puzzling move.
“Miami let him go when they weren’t very good and Minnesota is not a very good team and they let him go,” Barkley said. “That would have sent red flags up for me.”
Barkley used to perturb some Suns fans during the successful 2004-10 run because he would criticize his old franchise, whether it be for Mike D’Antoni’s style of play or Amar’e Stoudemire’s lack of rebounding. This time, he is in line with many of their voices of frustration with the Suns, who are headed toward a third consecutive non-playoff season for the first time since 1985-88.
“I’m pretty good at what I do,” Barkley said. “When I said you couldn’t outscore people and shoot 3s and that you weren’t going to win in the playoffs, that came true. It wasn’t personal. You have to play defense. You have to rebound the ball. You can’t survive on shooting 3s.
“My criticisms are never personal. They are always basketball-related. I was 100 percent right on the D’Antoni Suns. At least they were entertaining back then. It’s hard for me to watch. Phoenix is my home. I’m not a snowbird. I live in Phoenix and I want the Suns to do well.”