For the last couple of years, NBA observers and talking heads have been trying to get Suns guard Devin Booker to the Lakers—or at least speculating that the young star could bully his way out of Phoenix to a big-market team like L.A., much as Anthony Davis did in New Orleans. Remember that in January, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith proposed the Lakers trade Kyle Kuzma for Booker, and days of analysis and skepticism followed.
Last summer, a columnist for The Arizona Republic wondered whether it was only a matter of time before Booker took the Davis route and forced a trade from the Suns. During Booker’s five years in Phoenix, after all, the team has compiled a 117-280 record and never made the playoffs. It would only be natural that the Lakers would be on his list of potential destinations.
So when, after the Suns knocked off the Pacers by a 15-point margin, Booker showed up for his postgame press conference in a Lakers T-shirt, speculation about what that would mean for his future heated up.
Maybe Booker was revealing his inner desires:
Maybe Lakers president Rob Pelinka was looking on:
Maybe Booker was attempting to flout NBA rules, in a backwards manner:
Booker Wore Shirt to Honor Idol Kobe Bryant
Booker, of course, had a much more mundane explanation—he was honoring Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in late January.
“Kob’s with me every day,” Booker said. “You guys see what I put on my shoes, to be legendary. That’s a reminder, that’s a reminder for me. Even without that reminder, it comes through 24 hours at least two or three times a day, it crosses my mind, if not more.”
In 2016, when Booker was a 19-year-old rookie out of Kentucky and Bryant was in his final NBA season, Bryant signed a pair of shoes for Booker. On the shoes, he wrote, “To Book, Be Legendary.”
In March a little more than a month after Bryant’s death, Booker got a tattoo on his arm, with “Be Legendary” written in a script similar to that of Bryant’s autograph.
Booker, Suns Have Been Stars of NBA Bubble
Booker and the Suns have been the stars of the NBA restart, their big win over the Pacers pushing their record to 4-0 in Florida. They are the only undefeated team in the league’s “bubble” games.
Booker was a first-time All-Star this year, averaging 26.2 points on a career-best 48.6% shooting from the field. He is getting to the free-throw line 7.2 times per game, best of his career, and making 91.5% of his foul shots. He ranks third in the league in that category.
In the bubble games, Booker is averaging 28.0 points and making 40.0% of his 3-pointers.
Booker’s fallaway jumper over four Clippers defenders to give Phoenix a buzzer-beating win remains the biggest highlight of the NBA’s restart.
Booker was asked how much fun he was having to be winning (albeit a four-game sample), to be getting attention and to be playing meaningful games.
“Out of the three things you said, just the winning part that most excites me,” Booker said in his press conference. “I’ve been in five years now, haven’t had that much success. I am working hard every day to turn that narrative and change that narrative. We have a good bunch in here to do it. Lot of young players mixed with some veteran presence. It’s a good look for us.”
The Suns’ run has taken them to within two games of the No. 8 seed in the conference, a spot still held by the Grizzlies. Portland is No. 9, 1½ games ahead of the Suns. For the Suns to have a chance to get into the playoffs, they would have to finish eighth and win a play-in game or finish ninth and win two play-in games.
It would be an improbable feat. But if they are able to pull it off, the Suns would break a 10-year playoff drought—and would get a matchup against the Lakers in the opening round.