On the heels of their second-worst season in franchise history, the Phoenix Suns have fired general manager Lance Blanks.
Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated was the first to report the move:
Suns have fired GM Lance Blanks— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) April 22, 2013
It was later confirmed via the Suns' official Twitter account:
OFFICIAL: The Phoenix Suns today announced that Lance Blanks will no longer serve as the club’s general manager.on.suns.com/1u2— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) April 22, 2013
Blanks, a former NBA player, had one year remaining on his contract.
He joined the franchise in August 2010 after serving as the assistant to the general manger with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Phoenix assembled a 98-132 record during his tenure, although that figure is a bit skewed; the Suns played near-.500 ball during his first two seasons (73-75) before bottoming out this season (25-57), their first without former MVP Steve Nash.
His run was a tumultuous one with the organization still reeling from Amar'e Stoudemire's departure, a move necessitated by the six-time All-Star opting out of his contract in the summer of 2010. Phoenix balked at investing a large sum of money (five years, $99.7 million) in a player with a history of knee injuries and eventually agreed to a sign-and-trade for the big man with the New York Knicks.
Blanks tried to keep the franchise relevant after Stoudemire's exit, landing Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and a 2011 first-round draft pick from the Orlando Magic in exchange for Earl Clark, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu. He then swapped that pick and Goran Dragic to the Houston Rockets for Aaron Brooks at the 2011 trade deadline.
Mannix later took the same approach after Nash and veteran Grant Hill left last summer, searching for veteran talent on the free-agent market. His attempt to delay the inevitable rebuilding project saw him reach free-agent deals with players like Dragic (four years, $34 million) Luis Scola (three years, $13.5 million), Michael Beasley (three years, $18 million) and Jermaine O'Neal (one year, $1.35 million).
He also tried to pry Eric Gordon away from the New Orleans Hornets and reached a four-year, $58 million agreement on a contract offer sheet with the former Indiana Hoosier. But despite the scoring guard's pleas (via Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune), the Hornets ultimately matched the offer.
Ultimately the moves proved fruitless as the Suns sputtered to the Western Conference's worst record and the franchise's lowest winning percentage (.305) since its debut NBA season in 1968-69 (via Basketball-Reference.com).
Blanks' dismissal follows the in-season firing of former coach Alvin Gentry, who came to a mutual agreement to leave the team after five seasons in January (via ESPN.com). According to Sam Amick of USA Today, the move could also foreshadow an ominous end for Gentry's replacement, interim coach Lindsey Hunter:
Phoenix announces GM Lance Blanks is out. He had a year left on contract.He was advocate of interim Lindsey Hunter's, so bad news for both— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) April 22, 2013
According to what a source told Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, Hunter "did not fare well in his player evaluations." Another source reportedly said bluntly, "Players don't want him back."
Whoever fills Blanks' vacated position will have no easy task ahead of them. Phoenix already has more than $46 million committed to next year's payroll (via HoopsHype.com), and that figure could increase if the Suns pick up options on Hamed Haddadi, P.J. Tucker and rookie Diante Garrett.
The Suns should have a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft, but the 2013 class greatly lacks any surefire stars.
Phoenix is also an older team than most rebuilding clubs, as its most common starting five (Dragic, Jared Dudley, Tucker, Scola and Gortat) carried an average age of 28 (via Basketball-Reference.com).