In many ways, it helps to be at the start of my career covering this Suns team. Most of the players are my age, and not only does that make it easier to relate to their state of mind but also allows me a clearer understanding of how bonkers it is that people in their early 20s are expected to bare the bulk of the leadership pressure for what is a multi-hundred-million dollar business.
I’ll never forget watching Devin Booker sitting on the bench during the Suns’ open practice last October. Having just signed a five-year, $158 million deal with the franchise and truly earning the trust of Suns fans as the face of the organization, Booker was asked more than a dozen times for this, that and another favor, signature or smile. He obliged each time.
It felt crazy that he should ever be entrusted with so much. Fans will like great players, especially when they score heaps of points like Booker. But at that moment, I thought there was no one else outside Booker in the whole organization expected to be an outward-facing leader.
That should not be the case. It’s the vacuum Robert Sarver was trying to fill when he originally hired James Jones. This was in part because Sarver himself has become something of a recluse as the public backlash gets more vicious to his decisions, and is not the leader from the ownership suite that someone like Mark Cuban or Michael Jordan is.
Jones is just one of the people helping to take the burden off Booker. Add Jeff Bower, a respected veteran NBA executive and coach, to that list. Add also Monty Williams, who gets more praise for his character than just about anyone in the league.
Booker will always be the leader in the locker room, but now he won’t have to be the Alpha and Omega of the whole Suns universe. He’ll probably be the guy opposing fans think of first when they gauge the Suns, but there are now other pillars around him to help hold this whole thing up.
Booker has earned his place as the face of the franchise with his play, but Jones, Bower and Williams now occupy a place above him on the food chain in a way that ought to allow the 22-year-old guard to focus on the court and doing what he can to get Phoenix back to relevancy.