Last summer, it was rookie head coach Earl Watson and veteran Eric Bledsoe who led the charge for team get-togethers and workouts throughout the summer.
The team-building efforts, which included collecting in various players’ cities, beach yoga, pickup ball, weight-lifting, and more, served to keep the core of returning players together and on each other’s sides throughout the long, difficult season in which they lost 58 of 82 games.
This summer, young Devin Booker, still just 20 years old, plans to take more of a leadership role in getting guys to work together all summer rather than going their separate ways. Watson and Bledsoe are still around and still the teams overall leaders, but Booker wants to take a role as well.
And Booker means on a daily basis.
“We have a lot of gym rats, but we have to take our craft seriously this summer,” Booker said after the season ended.
“It needs to be more as a unit, all of us young guys get in the gym together. Not individual times. Being here together. I think that builds a chemistry that shows on the floor.”
Players all want to go their separate ways for various reasons. Some just need to decompress. Some to spend time with their families. Others to simply enjoy what the world has to offer.
They all have workout regimens, and all take their craft seriously - especially the veterans.
Booker is talking about his young guys - the one who have no idea how to be a professional during the offseason, including rookies Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis and Derrick Jones Jr.
Fellow rookie Dragan Bender has been a pro for years. He is already a veteran in that area of committing to his craft, but as of now Bender is STILL the youngest player in the NBA and this is his first full summer under NBA contract.
“It depends on us young guys,” he said. “We can’t keep making the same mistakes. We got a lot of experience. Next year, we will be ready.”
Booker knows he’s the leader of the young guys, and that he is being positioned as the face of the franchise.
“Being the face of a franchise brings a lot of responsibility,” he said when asked about the pressure. “But I think I’m built for it. I’m on the right path, but I have a lot lot lot more to go.”
Booker was asked about his 70-point game (more than any player in 11 years), his two game-winning shots (more than any player in the league this season) and his natural scoring abilities. His resume is already stacked before being old enough to buy adult beverages. But he brushed that aside after making the obligatory “I never set a limit on my game” response.
“It’s good individual accomplishments,” he said. “But I’m here to be a winner. To turn around the franchise and turn us back into where it used to be and that’s winning a lot of games.”
How does he plan to do that?
“Coming in with a defensive mindset,” he said. “1. Leadership, 2. I need to be more vocal. Be the leader of the young group.”
Booker knows the fans are itching to see more wins. So is he.
“We are all edgy. We are all competitive,” he said. “Same thing with the fans here. We owe it to them to turn it around.
“We have some pressure on us, but it’s a good pressure. We need to get back to that fiery, competitive, want to win every game attitude.”