PHOENIX — Steve Kerr won’t return as general manager of the Phoenix Suns, despite building a team that made a surprising run to the NBA’s Western Conference finals.
Kerr told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the decision was solely his and not the result of any disagreements with owner Robert Sarver. He said he is “exploring a couple of possibilities” to return to television work.
Kerr’s contract expires at the end of June. He had said he expected to work out a new deal with Sarver.
Kerr was a TNT color commentator for NBA telecasts for four years before Sarver hired him three years ago. He said in an interview with the AP a month ago that he sometimes longed for the simpler days behind the microphone.
His departure from the Suns first was reported by KTAR in Phoenix, the team’s flagship radio station.
Kerr starred at the University of Arizona and played in the NBA for 15 years. Known for his deadly long-range shooting, he was on five teams that won the championship.
Kerr’s departure comes at an important time for the Suns. The team is negotiating with All-Star forward Amare Stoudemire, who can opt out of his contract on July 1, and is preparing for the June 24 draft.
In an interview a month ago, Kerr acknowledged that sometimes, especially in previous years when he was severely criticized by fans and on sports talk radio, he longed for those day of television broadcasting.
“There were many nights where I thought, ’Man, I should have just sat there with a microphone in my hand,”’ he said at the time. “It was a much better life.”’
Kerr met Sarver through mutual friend Lute Olson, the Hall of Fame former coach at Arizona. Kerr helped Sarver buy the Suns from Jerry Colangelo, then was hired to run the team despite no front-office experience.
Under Kerr, the Suns made what turned out to be a crucial deal, sending Boris Diaw and Raja Bell to Charlotte for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley. Richardson was a starter and Dudley and critical player off the Suns’ strong bench this season.
He took heat for taking Robin Lopez in the first round of the 2008 draft, but the 7-foot twin from Stanford proved critics wrong when he was moved into the starting lineup this season. Kerr also negotiated the draft-day trade with San Antonio that brought Goran Dragic to the Suns. The Slovenian point guard struggled in his rookie year but became an effective backup to Steve Nash this season.
Kerr negotiated the 2008 trade that brought Shaquille O’Neal from Miami for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks. It was an expensive mistake, considering O’Neal’s salary. The big man never fit in with the up-and-down Suns, who fell to San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs. O’Neal was traded to Cleveland in what amounted to a salary dump after the season.
Coach Mike D’Antoni departed, too, taking the same job with the New York Knicks after what were described as philosophical differences with the Suns general manager. Kerr said he simply wanted D’Antoni to emphasize a little defense and use more, preferably younger, players.
Kerr acknowledged he made a mistake when he brought in Terry Porter as D’Antoni’s replacement before the 2008-09 season. Porter never connected with the players, who resisted his preferred slower playing style. The Suns fired Porter at the All-Star break, replacing him with Alvin Gentry, who returned to the high-octane style, with a few tweaks, emphasizing floor spacing and rapid ball movement. Gentry also brought an increased emphasis on defense.
Last season’s team was predicted to barely make the playoffs, at best. Instead, the Suns went 54-28 and were the No. 3 seed in the West. Phoenix beat Portland in six games in the first round, then swept longtime nemesis San Antonio in four before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers 4-2 in the Western Conference finals.
“This is exactly what I envisioned,” Kerr said in the May interview. “We just took a strange route to get here.”