We’ve grown accustomed to seeing frustrated stars demanding their way to new situations in almost every sport, but it has become commonplace in the NBA. In fact, it was just last year that Anthony Davis made it clear to the New Orleans Pelicans that he was hell-bent on playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. And after months of fighting it off, the Pelicans front office had to give in.
Well, many believe there’s a disgruntled star in the making in Phoenix. Devin Booker, the 23-year-old that’s averaging 26.9 points per game (all stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com, unless stated otherwise) for the 21-31 Phoenix Suns, hasn’t made the playoffs in his four full years in the league. And if Phoenix doesn’t rip off a massive winning streak in a hurry, Booker will miss the playoffs for the fifth time.
Losing can be frustrating for almost any player, but somebody as good as Booker deserves to be with an organization they can trust. That isn’t the case at the moment.
Devin Booker & D’Angelo Russell
Last summer, the Suns had an opportunity to show a real commitment to their star. One of Booker’s best friends, D’Angelo Russell, was available as a free agent. He also happened to be coming off a season in which he made the All-Star Game for the Brooklyn Nets. Phoenix could have put in an offer for him, but the team chose to pursue Ricky Rubio instead.
Then last week, the Suns had an opportunity to right their wrong and trade for Russell. However, Phoenix decided not to go after him. That paved the way for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors to strike a deal that turned Andrew Wiggins and picks into the 23-year-old Russell. The significance there is that Minnesota’s franchise player, Karl-Anthony Towns, is also close with Russell and Booker. And while the Suns chose to sit back and not make any deadline moves, the Timberwolves showed Towns just how important he is to their organization.
Also of significance? The fact that Russell has said that the three of them all plan on playing together at one point in their careers.
When Russell made that claim, there wasn’t a clear path towards the three of them finding their way to each other. But with Minnesota President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas acquiring Russell, Booker is now the last remaining domino. This has Suns fans feeling extremely nervous about the years to come.
But should there be this much panic spreading through Phoenix? Probably not.
Minnesota Timberwolves’ Current Outlook
What many people are ignoring is the fact that this Minnesota team really isn’t all that good. The Timberwolves are lottery-bound this year, and they’ll likely be there again next season.
While Towns and Russell are stellar players on the offensive end, the two of them don’t play a lick of defense. Russell has been especially bad on that end, as his -3.1 defensive box plus/minus is tied for the fourth-worst mark in the league. Meanwhile, according to Cleaning The Glass, the Timberwolves allow 10.0 more points per 100 possessions when Towns is on the floor, which is also one of the worst marks in the league. The point is, these two might have a lot of star power, but there is no guarantee that they’ll suddenly become guys that help teams win.
So is Devin Booker really going to force his way to a Minnesota team that has some clear red flags just because a few of his buddies are there? Saying yes wouldn’t exactly be giving Booker much credit. His top priority is winning basketball games, so if he’s going to force his way somewhere, it’s likely going to be to a team that has already shown it can compete at a high level.
And for what it’s worth, the Suns might not be all that far away. Phoenix won just 19 games last year, but the team is at 21 wins through 52 games this year. That’s not a great mark, but a lot of the players around Booker are showing some signs of growth.
Kelly Oubre Jr. is having a career year, averaging 19.2 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game on 46.0 percent shooting from the floor and 36.8 percent shooting from three. Mikal Bridges has become one of the league’s best defensive wings, and his jumper is starting to come along as well. As for Deandre Ayton, the big man has been more aggressive than he was in his rookie season. He has all the talent in the world, so the fact his attitude has improved is a good sign. And even at the point guard position, Rubio’s advanced stats suggest that he might help a team more than Russell does.
So while the deadline day trade that sent Russell to the Timberwolves might have sounded like the end of Booker in Phoenix, try to really think about what that team might look like. Considering that basketball situation might be worse than the one Booker is in now, do you really see him forcing his way to a small market like Minnesota? Suns fans should be a lot more worried about big market teams that have been mainstays in the postseason. But they should also try thinking about what might happen in Phoenix in the coming years. Even with some awful decisions and bad luck in recent years, there’s enough talent in place for Booker to put together something special in the Valley of the Sun.