“I’d like to build a superteam. I’d like the superteam to come to me.”
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, just 22 years old at the time, quietly said these words after an unexpected road win over the Milwaukee Bucks to raise the Suns record to 4-14 early in the 2018-19 season. That win would be followed by a 10-game losing streak, dropping the Suns to 4-24 on the way to a 19-63 season in their 9th straight non-playoff campaign.
Local fans took Book’s comment with a nervous chuckle, knowing there was no way he could ever be able to attract a ‘Super Team’ to Phoenix. Sure he was good enough to have just signed a max rookie extension, his team had just added the No. 1 pick in the Draft, Deandre Ayton, and he’d spent a few weeks in Las Vegas that July practicing with some Team USA members like Kevin Durant and Paul George who were getting ready for another international competition.
“If that’s through free agency, people seeing what we have here with the big fella [Ayton] and myself and wanting to join in on that, to reach higher heights, then I’m with that,” he continued.
Booker came to training camp ready to be the cornerstone of the next great Suns team.
“It’s my job to speed up that plan and have the team believe we can move forward with me as a center point,” he said.
But they weren’t any kind of great yet.
They’d finish the 2018-19 season with the second-worst record in the league, steered by an interim GM who had no experience running an NBA front office, with a head coach who’d never been a head coach before (or since) and a carousel of point guards who’d mostly never play in the league again.
Book wanted the ‘Super Team’ to come to him.
This Suns franchise had not had an All-Star of any kind since 2012 (Steve Nash), had not attracted an All-Star in free agency since 2004 (Nash), had not drafted an All-Star of their own since 2002 (Amare Stoudemire) and had not acquired one via trade since 2001 (Stephon Marbury).
And that’s just at the All-Star* level, where every year there’s two or three random players who get rewarded for a great month of mid-season basketball while better players suffer through injuries and ‘load management’.
The real juice is at the All-NBA level, where only the top 15 players are recognized each year for a full season of excellence.
To have a real ‘Super Team’, you need at least three All-NBA level players at the same time, preferably two of them perennially in the running for first-team All-NBA (top 5), and at least one of them being an MVP favorite each year.
How on earth did Book, who wasn’t an All-Star himself yet in 2018, think he would attract THAT kind of talent?
In 50 years of Suns franchise history to date, they had only ever acquired six All-NBA* First Team players from other teams: Connie Hawkins 1x, Paul Westphal 3x, Dennis Johnson 1x, Charles Barkley 1x, Jason Kidd 3x, Steve Nash 3x
In that same time span, they’d only ever drafted (and kept, so not counting Nash here) one All-NBA First Team player: Amare Stoudemire.
And yet, just four years and four months later, Devin Booker did indeed get that ‘Super Team’ to come to him.
First it was 10-time All-NBA Point God Chris Paul who wanted to play with Book. In the 2020 offseason, he orchestrated a trade to the Suns from the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team he’d just led unexpectedly to the playoffs. The Thunder did not put Paul on the market to the highest bidder. They just quietly worked with the Suns to find an acceptable trade package (2 starters + a future first round pick) and did the deal.
Now it’s 10-time All-NBA, perennial MVP finalist Kevin Durant who went to his front office and insisted on being traded to Book and the Suns. The Nets did not put Durant on the market to the highest bidder. They just quietly worked with the Suns to find an acceptable trade package (2 starters + 1 holdout + 4 future first round picks + 1 pick swap) and did the deal.
All because they wanted to play with that Devin Booker kid, who at 26 years old is now himself an All-NBA First Team talent (2022), MVP candidate (4th in 2022) and full fledged member of Team USA where he started alongside Kevin Durant to help win a Gold Medal at the 2021 Olympics.
It helps that the Suns are good, that highly respected Monty Williams coaches the team, that highly respected James Jones runs the front office, but it all boils down to one thing: these guys wanted THAT BADLY to play with Devin Booker.
Color me shocked.
Has an NBA player ever gotten two current All-NBA players, while still under contract with other teams, to quietly insist on being traded to play with him, without any bidding wars or any competition, like Devin Booker has done to get Chris Paul and now Kevin Durant?
It’s been done a few times in the past, but pulling together a superteam is rare and usually requires perfectly-timed free agency where players can just sign on the dotted line together. Rarely are superteams built through trade, and almost never because the players got their front offices in cahoots to do it.
LeBron James got Anthony Davis to force his way to LA while under contract with the Pelicans, but that was an ugly mess. When else has it happened, where players orchestrate their own trades to work together?
Maybe you can help, but beyond Anthony Davis I just don’t remember — at least in the modern era — the best player on a team successfully getting their front office to trade them away to another team of their choosing without any kind of animosity or bidding war.
Devin Booker accomplished something incredibly unique.
And absolutely, positively no one saw it coming except these players.
Sure, it’s a bit rickety. All of Booker, Paul and Durant have missed at least a month worth of games this season alone, and all have a history of ill-timed playoff injuries. One pulled hammy or hip could scuttle their dreams.
If they can stay healthy, though, they’re the best team in the league and could be the best iteration of the Phoenix Suns ever. Kevin Durant is among the best five players in the NBA and has won a pair of Finals MVPs as the best player on the Warriors’ superteam. Devin Booker is among the 10 best in the league, and scored 40+ points in back-to-back Finals games. Chris Paul is still the Point God, and now doesn’t need to be anyone’s number one or number two offensive option. Supporting them is an ultra-talented center who can anchor the defense and always plays his best ball in the playoffs.
The pieces are in place. They fit perfectly together.
Just like Devin Armani Booker envisioned.