Suns notebook: Booker eligible for max deal, coaching search underway
PHOENIX – There is no question the Phoenix Suns value guard Devin Booker, both on and off the court.
On the court this season, though not named to the All-Star team, Booker played at an All-Star level. He set career-highs in points (24.9), rebounds (4.5) and assists (4.7) plus shot better from the field (43.2 percent), 3-point range (38.3) and free throw line (87.8) than his previous two seasons.
Off the court, Booker is quick to make time for fans, whether it’s an autograph or picture. He’s immersed himself in the community.
And the value of all of the above? How about $150 million over five years. That’s the max contract extension Booker is eligible to sign this summer, should the Suns choose to offer it to him.
“I think there’s mutual interest. Any conversations, negotiations between Devin, us, his representatives, that will take place in July,” GM Ryan McDonough said Wednesday when the Suns held exit interviews.
“But look, he’s done terrific. He’s a big part of what we’re doing. I’ve said before, he’s a pillar for us and the centerpiece of what we’re trying to do. Certainly, we want to keep him in a Suns uniform for as long as we can.”
Asked about putting to pen paper on a long-term contract, Booker smiled.
“I guess it’s time to start talking about that now, huh?” he said. “I really haven’t thought about it that much. I’m sure that time is going to come, but that’s a discussion between my agent and the organization as a whole. I’m going to stay working on my game, develop my body and trying to be a leader of this team.”
Booker called the talk of him being disappointed with the direction of the franchise “nonsense” and reiterated his desire to remain in Phoenix.
“I want to be here, yes,” he said.
Before the Suns move forward with any offseason decisions, the first must be to find a head coach. That search is already underway, according to McDonough, who added they hoped to speak with anywhere between five to 10 candidates.
“We’re trying not to limit it in terms of guys who have just have been NBA head coaches or been long-time assistants or college coaches. We’re open to any and all of that and that’s why we want to have a thorough and robust process,” he said.
“Obviously, the thought and the hope is that somebody really steps forward and we say, ‘Hey, we’ve talked to a number of guys with different backgrounds but this guy stands out from the pack for these reasons.’”
One of the candidates will be Jay Triano. He became the interim head coach three games into the season. And while his win-loss record (21-57) wasn’t great, he did oversee the development of rookie forward Josh Jackson, while five players — Booker, Dragan Bender, Troy Daniels Tyler Ulis and T.J. Warren — had their best seasons in the NBA with him on the sidelines.
“The only thing I’ll say is that I think over the course of the year, I don’t think you get anything better than a live audition,” Triano said. “I am who I am. I’m not going to really change a whole lot. I think there are a lot of things that I can get better at and things that I will change but for the most part, you kind of get who I am.”
The goal, according to McDonough, is to have the head coach hired before the lottery and combine in mid-May.
“I think we have a lot of young talent. I think there’s only one way to go from here, I really believe that,” he said. “And I think we have the opportunity to make rapid improvements over the next year or two. So if I were a coaching candidate that would be exciting to me.”
The small forward debate
Whoever is the head coach, one of the bigger decisions they will face is what to do with Jackson and Warren, both of whom play — and played well this season — the small forward position. Can they play together or will one have to come off the bench?
Jackson excelled in both roles this season, though his offensive numbers were better as a starter.
“Just be whatever my team needs me to be,” he said. “Whether that’s that guy who’s coming out guarding the best player on the floor or that guy who’s coming out and scoring a bunch of points. I just want to (be) the most well-rounded player that I can be. A guy who comes out and is able to do a little bit of everything.”
Warren, too, has been better as a starter.
“I mean, I don’t know,” he said, when asked if he would be OK coming off the bench. “The season just ended and you’re already asking me that. I mean, I’m a basketball player first and foremost so I’m ready to compete.”
— Though Jackson played 77 games, including 35 starts, as a rookie, the Suns, he said, still plan on having him on their Las Vegas Summer League roster. His participation will likely be limited, however.
Also, Bender could be seeing some action this summer. He may join the Croatian National Team as he did last offseason.
— The Suns started seven different point guards this season. It’s certainly a position that will need to be addressed this offseason. Elfrid Payton, who is due to become a restricted free agent, is interested in returning.
“Definitely I would like to stay here (and) be a part of this turnaround,” he said. “I think we have the pieces in place along with a few moves.”
— The Suns ended the season with seven different players hurt. The good news is none of the injuries were considered serious, according to McDonough.
“I think most of them are relatively minor, where rest will heal it…but there’s no impending surgery or anything like that,” he said.