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Dan Bickley

Devin Booker’s deal changes everything for Phoenix Suns

(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Money can’t buy happiness. Everyone says so. Especially those who can’t afford to test the popular theory.

But did you see the look on Devin Booker’s face while signing his $158 million contract extension with the Suns?

Yeah, pretty happy.

With one signature, Booker’s life changed. He’s a big baller now, among the league’s elite earners. He’s the highest-paid player in franchise history. He’s only 21, with his biggest paydays still to come. He just secured more in future earnings than Larry Fitzgerald has accrued on the playing field during his Hall of Fame career.

But the bigger story centers on the man signing the paychecks, not the player who will soon be on the receiving end of all those dizzying direct deposits.

During much of Robert Sarver’s tenure as majority owner of the Suns, the franchise has been plagued by playoff droughts and image problems. They have a history of frugality and poor player relations. Too many former players have left in a huff, destined to speak ill of the franchise.

The Booker contract changes everything.

And when some critics claimed that the Suns overpaid for the centerpiece of a 21-win team, champagne corks should’ve been popping all over the Valley. We have waited a long time for Sarver to resemble his predecessor, overpaying for talent, throwing caution to the wind, rewarding a player before it was absolutely necessary.

Over the past season, there were encouraging signs that Sarver has committed to being a better owner, a better custodian of public trust. He limited his meddling. He wasn’t omnipresent after games, when players and coaches need space to bond in triumph or decompress after failure. He empowered James Jones, who brings a different level of credibility to the front office.  And the clean, easy transaction that marked Booker’s contract is just the latest proof.

The Suns will discover that $158 million still goes a long way in the NBA, purchasing something even more important than happiness.

In the transient, self-empowered world of NBA superstars, Sarver adroitly purchased loyalty, trust and commitment from Booker, the team’s most important asset. The gesture can’t be overstated.

Look at the Western Conference. Following the addition of DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors will field the best starting lineup in NBA history. They are making a mockery of parity and competitive balance, presenting a serious deterrent for sports fans who detest foregone conclusions and demand uncertainty of outcome.

Meanwhile, the Lakers signed LeBron James, and could soon land Kawhi Leonard in a trade. A serious playoff run in Phoenix seems light years away, even with Ryan McDonough’s stellar performance during the NBA draft.

Along the way, Booker has offered hints of frustration. He craves the big stage. He’s tired of missing the playoffs. He was unhappy with how the Suns dismissed his best friend, Tyler Ulis. All of that changed with a generous contract that clarified Booker’s importance to the organization. It will feed his patience at a crucial time.

It’s reasonable to fear that Booker might be marginalized by his instant fortune. History is filled with athletes who become succumb to a different kind of pressure, the need to affirm their newfound wealth. Others are sated by money and robbed of the incentive to grow, losing the edge that made them professional athletes in the first place.

Fortunately, Booker seems like the safest bet. His ambition is unquestioned. His polished persona belies his cutthroat nature, a trait that defines some of the greatest players in history. He is equipped to be just like Fitzgerald, who became rich but never soft, using the thrill of one enormous contract to pursue another of even greater value. He is unburdened by self-doubt and unconcerned with the outside noise, a trait that has served Zack Greinke very well during his pricey tenure with the Diamondbacks.

Best of all, players around the league will begin to understand that Sarver isn’t an owner to avoid and the Suns are not a dead-end destination. How do you quantify that return on investment?

Priceless.

Booker has been an instant fan favorite in Phoenix. His 70-point performance in Boston sparked our collective imagination. He’s extremely popular among young basketball fans, those who don’t want to cheer for copycats, those who want to identify with something new and different. He is a player with his own style and his own story yet well-versed in our history and traditions.

The dollar signs are dangerous. They will change your expectations of Booker and how you process his subpar performances. That’s part of his new reality.

Yet Booker also said he was “humbled and honored to commit to the Suns organization long term.”

If his word is his bond, he will be worth every penny.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier