Phoenix Suns Employee Quits Over Bullying And Discrimination As Robert Sarver Investigation Nears Its End

The NBA’s investigation into Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver is nearing an end, according to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. ESPN has since reported that employee Melissa Fender Panagiotakopoulos has resigned while making claims of having experienced bullying from supervisors after voicing concerns about gender equity and misconduct within the organization (H/T USA TODAY). 

“No, no update other than we’re getting close to the end,” Silver told Yahoo Sports earlier this month. “There’s no question about it. It’s a complex investigation. There are hundreds of people who are involved and need to be interviewed. And we also want to make sure we protect the rights of everyone involved.

“So these things by nature, I know what frustrates people, do seem to take a lot of time, but we’re certainly getting very close to the end.”

Panagiotakopoulos, who had been with the Suns since 2007, emailed her resignation to Sarver and 15 other members of the ownership group on May 20. Her email urged the team to address “a toxic and misogynistic workplace culture” which has been festering around the team. According to ESPN’s report, it also asserted the Suns have “never been more dysfunctional, and the culture is rapidly eroding.”

“We have been made aware of allegations by a former employee and are investigating them, consistent with our Respect in the Workplace Policy,” the team told ESPN. “The Phoenix Suns are committed to creating a safe, respectful, and inclusive work environment free of discrimination and harassment, and we do not tolerate retaliation for the reporting of alleged misconduct.”

The former employee didn’t name anyone and nothing pointed directly at Sarver but many of her accusations were said to reflect “the character of our leadership.”

The NBA began a probe surrounding Sarver last November following accusations of racism and misogyny. The Suns owner stands accused of fostering a toxic work environment within the organization.

The 60-year-old has denied the allegations with claims he welcomes the league’s investigation.

“Is it a coincidence that I have been the only mother in the entire sales organization for the last 15 years? Is it because certain males were being paid more in equivalent roles?” Panagiotakopoulos replied when asked what she felt was gender discrimination.

Meanwhile, the Suns had another great regular season, leading the league in wins for the second consecutive year. Having made the finals last year, they were heavily tipped to go all the way this time around but lost the semi finals to the Dallas Mavericks in seven games. They’re currently 9/1 to win the championship next year and, now that Caesars Sportsbook has opened its virtual doors in Arizona, fans have added betting options. 

The Golden State Warriors, who ousted the Boston Celtics in six to win a fourth Championship in the last eight years, are the outright favorites at 5/1. The Celtics are 6/1 after going to the final during Ime Udoka’s first year as a head coach while the Los Angeles Clippers are next up at 7/1.

Whether or not the Suns are able to keep Deandre Ayton will likely decide how far they are able to go next season. Ayton has been rated as the top free agent big man this offseason following the team shockingly opting not to extend him last year.

“Phoenix surprisingly didn’t extend Ayton before last season and seems reluctant to pay him the max after the Suns fizzed out in the playoffs,” The Athletic’s John Hollinger wrote. “Sign-and-trading him instead could also help the Suns skip the luxury tax, both in 2022-23 and the two seasons that follow. Also the idea of getting some added size at the forward spots is much more possible if Ayton is the trade bait.

“As a result, there’s increasing chatter that Ayton may be available, in particular if a sign-and-trade scenario develops that lets Phoenix bring back talent (A straight offer sheet would likely just be matched by the Suns, who could always turn around and trade Ayton later; they really have no outs if Ayton leaves uncompensated). One note on a sign-and-trade: Phoenix can only bring back about $20 million in salary on one involving Ayton, even if he’s paid the max, due to the so-called base-year-compensation rule (the CBA stopped referring to it this way, but most folks in the league still do).

“As to the question of how much he’s worth. Even in my valuation system that devalues centers pretty strongly, the numbers suggest that Ayton is worth the bite of the apple.”

The findings of the investigation could also impact the team’s future. Should the accusations made against Sarver hold water, he could be banned from the NBA and made to sell the team, as was the case with former Clippers owner Donald Sterling in 2014.

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