Devin Booker is a player possessed of great confidence... bordering on bravado.
Not many 21 year olds would make a claim like this.
“I’m better than Jordan,” Watson said Booker told him.
“I’m like, ‘How do you figure that?’ ” Watson replied.
“What can Jordan do that I can’t do? Jordan never had 70 at Boston,” Booker said.
It was a bold statement from a young player.
Especially one that has never even made the playoffs.
Or an All-Star game.
While the added context to this revealed that Booker said this tongue in cheek, and that he wasn’t quite ready to asseverate he was the best player ever, it is clear that Booker’s goal is to become one of the legends of the game.
Which begs the questions...
Is Booker’s celebrity and legacy being tarnished by playing in Phoenix?
Does he think it is?
Through three years Booker has never played in an All-Star game OR made the playoffs.
That’s not a typical start to a career for a legend of the game.
Of course, most legends of the game didn’t start their careers playing on teams that were trying to lose on purpose.
In fact, a very small minority of NBA greats struggled as much as Booker has in these aspects.
The Undefeated did a remix of the 50 best NBA players of all time last year which I used to compile a list based on the first year those players made an All-Star game and/or the playoffs in their career.
Booker would be at 3 and 3... and counting.
As it stands, if Devin makes both the All-Star team AND the Suns make the playoffs next year, his eight combined years to pull that off would mean only Stephen Curry took longer to accomplish the feats.
If Booker fails to do either one, he would be guaranteed at least a tie for last place on the list.
So what does this mean?
Is it another indicator that Booker might not be the hall of fame player Suns fans are desperate for?
Or are the Suns just sabotaging his career?
Because if Booker starts to be convinced of the latter, it doesn’t bode well for a happily ever after relationship in Phoenix.
This year’s playoffs probably haven’t helped his opinion.
Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum, especially, have taken advantage of their opportunities on the national stage this postseason. The rookies became the first since Dr. J in 1972 to score at least 20 points in seven straight playoff games.
Tatum advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals after leading the Boston Celtics with 25 points for a 4-1 series victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. A Sixers team sporting their own young players gaining playoff experience (Joel Embiid and rookie Ben Simmons).
While Suns fans are still hopeful that Josh Jackson (taken #4 in last year’s draft... one spot behind Tatum) will one day become an All-Star, there is nobody outside of Phoenix that thinks Tatum isn’t obviously the better player right now.
Maybe some of that is due to situation and coaching... but Boston’s situation and coaching probably won’t fall off a cliff any time soon. The Suns are basically going to have to be organizationally BETTER than them, since the Celtics have inherent advantages.
Chew on that.
But back to Booker.
The impenetrable wall the Suns have built between him and postseason play might be especially injurious.
Devin appears to like big stages.
I think a lot of people would expect him to succeed, to excel, in pressure playoff situations.
We’ll just to have to wait to find out.
Devin could be making a bigger name for himself.
Devin could very well be getting the Mitchell treatment.
Devin could be developing a playoff resume... or at least gaining valuable experience.
But he’s not.
In addition, it’s quite possible the Suns pathetic showing this season cost Booker an All-Star appearance. If Booker had been on a team in the top half of the league it could only have helped his platform.
Only nine out of the 50 NBA legends took more than three years to do so.
The early returns aren’t a death knell for Booker.
If the Suns can turn the corner it could actually be played in his favor. The savior of the franchise. The impetus behind a palingenesis.
Let alone the eternal lore that would come with bringing a championship to Phoenix... something that Charles Barkley, Steve Nash and Jerry Colangelo couldn’t do.
But if the Suns don’t flip the script Booker at best becomes a Kevin Garnett languishing in purgatory or perhaps a DeMarcus Cousins type who a team “can’t build a winner around.”
What if, in a parallel Marvel universe, Cousins had been drafted by a real NBA franchise? Would things have turned out differently for him?
The turnaround needs to start now.
While the Suns currently have “control” over Booker due to his contract situation... and upcoming maximum contract extension... Suns fans know full well how control deteriorates once a relationship sours.
The Suns don’t want to get to the point where they need that control as leverage.
This current management group better not ruin Devin Booker’s future.
They’ve already ruined the better part of a decade of Phoenix Suns basketball.