This week, Ryen Russillo jumped on the Bill Simmons podcast to sift through the latest rumors surrounding the NBA’s negotiations on next season as well as some offseason buzz, and the conversation veered toward the Suns when the pair started talking about who had an urgency to win in 2021. That led to Russillo saying the “worst-kept secret in the league” is that Devin Booker already wants out of Phoenix.
Setting aside the scrutiny that should always come with any report — who would plant this, why would they want it out — anyone reporting on this new, tight-lipped Suns front office should be challenged even harder. Outside of John Gambadoro and the occasional nugget from a local beat writer, this new Suns regime has basically never leaked anything meaningful since James Jones took over. The idea that not only would there be a huge bombshell of a star like Booker wanting out, but that Russillo would be the one to crack this Suns braintrust and get the news, is unlikely.
It’s nothing against Russillo directly, but think about the Tyler Johnson trade in 2019, the Ricky Rubio contract, the 2019 trade-down in the draft, or any number of other moves Jones has made as general manager. Nobody expected them. Not Russillo, not Gambadoro, not anyone. So color me unconvinced that Russillo suddenly broke the news of Booker being available or trying to work his way out of Phoenix.
That’s not all, though. Forgetting how unlikely it is that the news would come out this way, it’s hard to imagine that now would be the time Booker would unleash something like this. Booker has four years left on his contract, which would make this earlier than we’ve ever seen a young star player ask out. That may matter less than it used to, but four years is a lot of time left on a contract, and players tend to lose leverage when they ask out so early. The Suns have a lot of time before they have to worry about losing Booker in free agency, which lessens any urgency they would feel to deal him, demand or no.
At the same time, Booker has every reason to be incredibly optimistic about the team, for the first time in a long time. Since Jones took over, there has been a clear plan in place, and the organization has acquired high-character, hard-working people who fit will together on the court. The Suns’ performance in the Bubble gave the team a newfound respect among national media and likely opposing franchises.
That team brilliance led to greater recognition of Booker’s stardom as well. Not only did he finish second in Bubble MVP voting, his buzzer-beater against the Clippers was one of the best highlights of the entire Bubble and cemented his reputation as one of the best overall shot-makers in the league. As those who’ve watched him have long predicted, Booker excelled with a stronger team around him.
All this was backed up when Gambadoro called Russillo’s report “garbage” and said Booker was “happy in Phoenix” and “excited for the season.” Usually when Gambadoro hustles out to dispell a rumor, he has it on good authority.
Now, I won’t exaggerate Booker’s commitment to the Suns. Though his frustration seems to have been mitigated by the arrival of Rubio and Monty Williams and the success that came with it, a poor start to next season will start all the rumors up again. Even at low points last season, Booker was as devastated as anyone. Of course it was agonizing to miss the playoffs by so little. If the Suns’ dysfunction comes back to bite them again, or expectations are built up too high, Booker could get antsy.
Largely, this means things are about the same as they were heading into last season. There was promise, maybe even excitement, but a long way to go. After an undefeated Bubble performance, Booker has more evidence this group can win, so if anything, we’d expect him to be more committed to the team, not less.
Loose comments on podcasts may generate a lot of attention, but Russillo’s comments don’t hold up to a closer look. Let’s see how the Suns look at the start of next season before we jump the gun on anything.