After missing the first few days of training camp due to contracting COVID-19 despite being vaccinated last spring, Devin Booker looked fresh and happy to be back on the court with the Phoenix Suns on Friday.
Booker was cleared of health and safety protocols and practiced with the Suns on Friday, glad to be re-joining a team that mostly stayed unchanged since the Finals just two months ago.
“The vibes are immaculate in here,” Booker said to media as he opened his first press conference of the new season.
When asked what he missed most this week, Booker said, “Setting the tone. This is my favorite time of year, getting acquainted with the new guys.”
But he immediately expressed satisfaction that the Suns looked good.
“Seeing the energy, seeing the competitiveness in here, it’s not lacking at all,” he said. “We have a gym full of hoopers, top to bottom. It’s fun to be around.”
Booker talked about being able to re-join a team that is largely unchanged since the last game of the year in July.
“We can cross out the early stages of getting to know each other on the court,” Booker said, while sharing that he can’t wait to help on-board the few new guys they have, like JaVale McGee and Landry Shamet who will likely be in the regular rotation.
Teammate and fellow All-Star Chris Paul shared how happy he is to be in a training camp that’s already got the playbook and culture in place.
“It’s been fun,” he said of starting year two with the Suns. “I think about in camp last year it was all new for me. The year before that when I went to Oklahoma City it was all new. I just came from Houston where for two years it was all new. So it’s actually dope for me to come into a system and principles that I know.”
Paul has been a full participant in camp, rehabbed from that wrist surgery he had after the Finals. He’s thrilled to be back in a place he calls a ‘home’ with a team he calls ‘family’.
“It’s a real tight group,” Paul says of the Suns. “Coach always talks about the culture. It means a lot. And then, obviously, we got to win games.”
With Booker back in the fold, the team appears to be complete and ready to get going on the 2021-22 campaign.
But that doesn’t mean they will charge out of the gate in preseason. Head coach Monty Williams expressed skepticism that Booker would play in the first game of preseason — Monday in Sacramento — and a year ago Paul sat out most of the preseason schedule so you can assume his time on the court will be limited too.
Booker has barely had time off since helping Team USA win the gold medal in the Olympics just last month, so he and the team are cognizant of his need to put extra focus on staying healthy.
Beat writer extraordinaire Kellan Olson got and shared this Book quote when asked if he got enough rest this offseason...
I asked Devin Booker how he felt physically post-Tokyo.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) October 1, 2021
He paused/laughed before saying that's a great question.
"It was a lot. Obviously, it was a lot of basketball. Honestly, I felt fine. Little worn down, but after a couple weeks of traveling I was ready to get back to it." pic.twitter.com/DK5ZQWh1oK
“We’re going to be smart with him, it’s been an incredibly long year,” head coach Monty Williams said of Devin Booker as well as the whole team not only potentially suffering physical fatigue but also emotional fatigue. “The emotional toll is something that we’ve talked about as a team and staff, giving the team the breaks they need. This is still a get-to, but we’ve got to be smart.”
“That’s my main focus,” Booker said. “Staying healthy throughout the season.”
Booker sounded just like himself today at practice, ready to take on any challenge ahead of him and the team.
“I’m glad the narrative has changed to make the Finals and not just make the playoffs,” Booker said confidently. “We are trying to play to win it.”
And as always, Booker brings the Valley community into his comments.
“It’s a great pressure to have,” he said. “Like I always say, the City of Phoenix deserves this.”
Booker, like all the guys, says he hurts from the Finals loss but that the team doesn’t really discuss it much.
“We felt a hurt that we don’t want to feel again,” was all he would really say, which echoes the sentiment Cameron Payne shared with me on Media Day.
The Suns will leave Sunday for their first preseason game, in Sacramento, but not before supporting the WNBA Phoenix Mercury that afternoon, who are tied 1-1 in the league SemiFinals with the Las Vegas Aces after blowing them out on Thursday night.
“I’ll be there Sunday,” Booker said. “Before we head out to Sacramento.”
The Mercury game will be held at ASU’s Desert Financial Arena in Tempe, AZ at noon on Sunday.
The Suns area, their usual home court, is unavailable because it had already been booked for a Disney on Ice show that day.