Tuesday night in Talking Stick Resort Arena, Devin Booker saw what a competitive team looks like when Cleveland steamrolled them to the tune of 129-107 led by LeBron James, a player who has always carried his inferior rosters to greatness.
While taking in the Suns’ latest defeat, I focused on how effortlessly LeBron was able to collect a triple-double. He was toying with Phoenix to the point where he said in transition where he probably said to himself “screw it, I’m going to call the bank on a 3 instead of driving for an easy dunk.”
LeBron hit it too hard off the backboard, but it was that kind of night for this generation’s greatest player. Not only has he not aged athletically one bit but he’s gotten so cerebral to the point it’s hard not to laugh sometimes.
On defense last night, James sagged off Elfrid Payton playing a rover-like position which caused almost 4-on-5 looks every possession he was out there because he refuses to take open jumpers regularly.
It ended how you would expect, but with Golden State next on the docket at home, Booker can take lessons from players like LeBron, Kevin Durant, etc.
That’s where we get to how Booker has started to take on the alpha role on this roster even more, even amidst one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
“I think right now it’s an evaluation period for us. We know that as a team and we’re not treating it like that. I think our whole team has been spoiled enough, including myself, Booker said postgame. “Playing times at a young to where you get to play through mistakes. Sometimes there’s punishments, sometimes there’s not. You look at teams like Cleveland, you make one mistake, you’re out the game. We have been babied a little bit and it shows sometimes. We need to look ourselves in the eyes all together as a team and understand that this game isn’t given to you. You look at Shaq called up from a ten-day [contract] got a multi-year deal just by fighting out there.”
For Booker to finally speak up and say it on this platform shows how far he’s progressing not only into the on-court leader of these Suns but off it as well.
Booker has had Jeff Hornacek, Earl Watson, Jay Triano, and likely a new voice in his fourth season in Phoenix. And for Booker and everyone else, this should be the last time they need to endure this.
It’s time to follow the leader, and it’s very obvious Booker is taking that step and everyone should follow in line to create a competitive environment around him ASAP.
Booker is on pace to the 9th player in NBA history to average 25 points per game at age 21 or younger. The others are all Hall of Famers or well on their way to first ballot status.
Next season, I expect Booker to take another leap as a scorer to the point where he averages over 27 ppg, which would put him in a rare company but he’s a different breed compared to other young modern-day guards.
For Phoenix not to have this opportunity slip out of their hands later down the line, they need to not only overhaul this roster, especially the bottom half but have whoever is next in charge hit the reset button on how it’s currently being run around there.
With a near-decade playoff drought already in the books, Booker has the chance to control how this all plays out. As general manager Ryan McDonough has said multiple times on-record this season, his 21-year-old star will have a voice on roster decisions moving forward.
Once McDonough offers Booker that full-fledged max contract this summer, he could pull a LeBron himself.
Entering his prime years through is next contract, Booker doesn’t want to be sitting in this position anymore and I don’t blame him. He doesn’t want to waste away his All-NBA talent if nobody will ever see it outside of Phoenix.
With that being said, outside of Booker and Josh Jackson, everyone on this roster should be on the chopping block if the right offer presents itself this summer.
All of McDonough’s chips seem to be falling into place for 2018 being the offseason of action. It will also likely decide if he keeps his job by this time next year.
Not only does this roster need to achieve balance with young players and win-now veterans who have playoff experience but also ones that will make an immediate impact via all three avenues (draft, free agency, trades). Honestly, I’m in favor of rehauling the entire bottom half of this roster because through this evaluation period it’s become apparent that some, if not many, won’t be around at training camp this fall.
Even though Booker is going through a breakout year, he’s done so in which his team has lost 20% of their games by 20 or more points which far and away is a league-worst.
This year has been filled with trials and tribulations for plenty of Suns but Booker has been the constant light at the end of the tunnel. The one hope for the Suns at the moment also has a chance to control how this era of basketball in the Valley plays out.
For Phoenix’s front office, it’s time to stop sitting on their hands and finally push those chips all-in this summer whether it’s during the draft, free agency, a big trade or maybe even all of those options together.
Not only have many fans reached their boiling point, but their reaching dangerous territory if their young star ever grows discontent with how it’s going at any point in the future.
It’s time to jump into action and hit the reset button around Booker for the greater good.
Devin Booker has not only grown into the leader of the Phoenix Suns, but he can control how it plays out for himself as well. He’s ready to win and that should be priority no. 1 this offseason after dropping off his max extension offer at his doorstep at the outset of the new league year.