DETROIT — Devin Booker was the last member of the Phoenix Suns to walk off the practice floor Saturday afternoon, following a rare road win the night before in Milwaukee.
The budding star isn’t one to squander positive momentum, no matter how fleeting the success has been for the young Suns, who unfortunately occupy the bottom spot in a topsy-turvy Western Conference at 4-15 and fell to the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night.
At 22, Booker can arguably be viewed as the youngest franchise cornerstone in the league, and few will forget the baby-faced teen in desperate need of a mustache who was drafted 13th overall in 2015.
Booker’s recollection of that night is similar to that of Draymond Green, who, like Booker, hails from Michigan.
“I know Draymond can name all 34 guys [drafted] ahead of him [in 2012],” Booker told Yahoo Sports. When prompted if he could pull of the same feat, he began pulling names from his mental Rolodex.
From college teammate Karl-Anthony Towns to Kristaps Porzingis to Myles Turner, they each rolled off his tongue as smoothly as his feathery jump shot.
“It’s always motivation,” Booker said. “It sticks with you forever.”
It has felt like forever since the Phoenix Suns were fixtures in the Western Conference playoffs. Booker and Towns are the only players in their draft class to sign max extensions, perhaps a sign from the Suns that last place is no longer tolerable.
“I think it was a ‘few years’ plan a couple years ago,” Booker said, acknowledging that the Suns have gone through more point guards, head coaches and GM’s in the last couple years than just about anybody.
It’s not wearing on him, but he’s starting to feel the responsibility of the five-year, $158 million extension he signed in the offseason.
“These first few years, it’s more trying to figure it out. What’s going on in the NBA? Where do I fit in?” Booker told Yahoo Sports. “Then my second year, I’m a player. ‘Can he actually start?’ I played pretty well my second year. My third year, now I gotta solidify myself. Now I’m here and it’s about winning for me.”
The way Booker sees it, the Suns aren’t in any position to take down the the defending champion Golden State Warriors or even the next tier of contenders. But he knows the path to greatness — look at Green’s recruitment of Durant in 2016 — is possible and can change the league forever.
“ … Dynasties only last for so long,” Booker said. “I’m not wishing trades upon any of the superteams.”
“I’d like to build a superteam. I’d like the superteam to come to me.”
Booker has shown his versatility recently, shifting to point guard to facilitate the Suns’ offense. Although he isn’t a pure point, he’s averaging 24.9 points and a career-high 7.1 assists, providing stability for a franchise still finding its way.
“If it’s playmaking, I’ll do that,” Booker said. “If it’s scoring I’ll do that. I’m trying to figure out that balance. It’s the position I’m in now. We’ve had a lot of different lineups.”
The Suns selected Deandre Ayton first overall in June and he looks as good as advertised, and Josh Jackson flashed potential in the second half of last season. Booker feels he has the temperament and talent to draw top free agents to Phoenix when the time comes to round out his vision.
“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 said.
Team personnel members recall the weekend of last July 4, when the Suns were preparing for summer league in Las Vegas. There was Booker, in full lather at 8 a.m., working out alone before the camp hopefuls and draft picks marched in.
They were hoping to get their first taste of NBA basketball, and Booker was just looking to get better, so he practiced with them every day. It was the same when Booker was with USA Basketball over the summer in Las Vegas, getting early workouts with Kevin Durant and Paul George, among others.
The basketball junkie got his daily fix then, and even later on when he was recovering from surgery on his right hand and practiced lefty in training camp.
“He’s like Kobe [Bryant],” a Suns staffer told Yahoo Sports. “A big-time competitor, won’t take [stuff] from his teammates. He gets it.”
The way Booker sees it, it’s just a matter of time before the once-proud franchise makes its way back to the land of the living — and he’s competitively impatient about it.
“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.
Talking the talk
“Like Tristan [Thompson] said before the beginning of the season, the Cavaliers still run the East … ”
— Center Joel Embiid, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, after the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the 76ers in Philadelphia on Friday for their first home loss of the season.
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