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DirtBag 05-25-2009 10:05 AM

Sarver says if he can't get team to win, he may step aside.

Robert Sarver has beachfront property for sale. In basketball terms, that would be front-row tickets to watch his Suns.

"I've never had these open before," Sarver said.

Welcome to a new world. The Suns are struggling to sell inventory. The big-dollar guys are checking out. Basketball fans in the Valley are just like Steve Nash. They are waiting to see what this team looks like before committing their hearts and wallets.
At the moment, there's not a lot of blind faith in the team or its management.

"I want us to be able to get back in the playoffs, and I want us to be competitive," Sarver said. "I think we can do that. Exactly how we do it, I don't know yet."

Sarver, the Suns' managing general partner, is attending his 30-year high school reunion this weekend in Tucson. He has been riveted to the television during the playoff games. He is on the outside for the first time, and it hurts.

At the moment, it's good that this guy is maniacally competitive. It means he's not the type to endure a major overhaul and rebuilding project.

But Sarver also has learned many NBA lessons the hard way. Talent and chemistry are highly unpredictable in this business. And once you get into a competitive hole in this league, it's very hard to get out.

Sarver's not a guy who's going to hang around a stagnant operation, sitting courtside for a team that wins 29 games. And if he and General Manager Steve Kerr can't get back into the game in the near future, Sarver admitted that he may remove himself from the equation.

"I'm not one that looks out real long term for anything," Sarver said. "If I look out at the next 10 years, I don't see a lot changing. Having said that, if I'm doing real bad for an extended period of time, then maybe the city is better off without me.

"If I'm a loser for four consecutive seasons, then maybe I should examine it. This team is part of the city, and if you're not doing a good job at what you're doing, then maybe you have to get out."

Pressed on those comments, Sarver backed off, saying that such self-analysis is always necessary.

"I think I've had a pretty good five years," he said.

Contrary to some speculation, Sarver says reports of his financial demise are greatly exaggerated. He refutes whispers that the team soon will be for sale, and he says that he's looking to sell a reacquired ownership share of only 5 percent. And while he admits the banking business "is tough," he says his real-estate ventures are doing just fine.

"I had done 13 real-estate funds since 1991. I sold them all. I was sitting with zero a few years' back," Sarver said. "And for the first time we've seen meaningful statistical information that the Phoenix real-estate market is getting better, and I think that's the beginning of our recovery."

Yet, the basketball team remains a conundrum. The Suns are expecting to lose more than 20 percent of season-ticket renewals. They are hoping to finish with a 70 percent renewal rate, and that will take some effort.

The playoffs have proven again that this is a stars' league. It is not by coincidence that LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard have their teams in the conference finals. So who is that player in Phoenix?

Amaré Stoudemire is recovering from a serious eye injury and has a history of bad knees. His contract expires after next season. Who do you sign? Who do you keep?

Nash says he wants a happier team full of purposeful athletes. But is there truly a trade market for Shaquille O'Neal?

These are heavy questions, and fans remain skeptical.

But guys like Sarver get rich for a reason. And at the moment, he's selling opportunity, reputation and how it's a great time for Suns fans to buy tickets they could never reach in the past. The other night, the team hosted an event for 100 potential clients and sold $595,000 worth of inventory.

"With the exception of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, the rest of us are all in the same economic boat," Sarver said. "But we have excellent employees and a good demographic. It's a fun city to play in, the weather is good and players like to come to Phoenix. So I think we're at the high end of those 27 other teams. And we don't have to outrun the economy or the (salary) cap and tax rules. We just have to outrun a lot of those other teams."

Leap of faith?

To all believers, there are plenty of good seats available

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