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Dan Bickley

With Devin Booker’s clock ticking, Suns need to swing for fences

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Larry Fitzgerald won’t play forever. Paul Goldschmidt is no longer ours. Devin Booker is the Valley’s next Hall of Fame Homegrown Hopeful, the impending face of Arizona sports.

Unless he becomes our worst nightmare, the next NBA star who demands a new address. And the way up suddenly becomes a way out.

As professional basketball players reach new levels of empowerment, the issue is relevant once again. Anthony Davis just asked for a trade to a championship contender. Small markets like Memphis, Minnesota and New Orleans can no longer hold onto their superstars.

And in the dog days of his fourth NBA season, Booker has never shown more frustration or unhappiness in the workplace.

He ranks fifth in the NBA in technical fouls. He’s fighting crazed battles for respect, with opponents who don’t belong in the same sentence. He’s the ringleader of a rudderless crew in Phoenix, where Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren also rank among the top 11 in technical fouls but the coach doesn’t even have one.

Booker wants star treatment from officials, tired of being the hood ornament for a dumpster fire. He worked on his game all summer and is far better than he was last season, able to get to the basket and score around the rim like never before. And he still can’t sniff the All-Star Game. He’d like to play a basketball game in the month of May, if that isn’t too much to ask.

And now, the declaration of Davis, who can decline a player option in his contract after the 2019-2020 season.

Optimists and delusional fans see opportunity. The Suns could trade for Davis, putting together a great package for the Pelicans star that includes Deandre Ayton, Warren and a future draft pick. Booker and Davis would be a formidable foundation for the NBA’s next super team.

The Suns could also pounce when Kevin Durant becomes a free agent in the offseason, entering the 2019-20 season as championship contenders.

Of course, they will do nothing because they have no vision and no confidence in their own future. They will do nothing because Davis doesn’t want to be saddled with one of the league’s most dysfunctional franchises. The Suns can’t even get a legitimate point guard for Booker, a necessity that ranks well above luxury automobiles like Davis and Durant.

But the situation is growing ominous, and they have to try. Very publicly, they have to show Booker and the rest of the NBA that they believe enough in what they’re doing and what they’re growing to make a high-volume pitch for Davis and Durant. Without the recipient doubling over with laughter.

Here’s why:

Booker flourishes on big stages. The Suns are giving him nothing. No point guard. No playoff series. No stability. No leadership. No teammate(s) to push him and make him better. No postseason proving grounds to proclaim his individual greatness. No Christmas Day games or All-Star berths. That’s why he’s developing bad habits.

Under Robert Sarver’s reign of error, the Suns allegedly courted LeBron James. It was more akin to waving to someone across a parking lot.

They failed to recruit LaMarcus Aldridge. They whiffed badly on Kyrie Irving, believing more in a raw prototype like Jackson. They couldn’t commit to a high-dollar coach in Mike Budenholzer, who has made a huge impact in Milwaukee. They need to swing for the fences soon because the clock is ticking. And because things change fast in the NBA.

It was only last year when Davis pledged his allegiance to New Orleans, saying, “… I’m here until 2021, man, and then (I’ll) make a decision from there. I don’t plan on leaving in the next couple of years or anything like that. Like I’ve said, I’ve always wanted to be here and that’s still true.”

Booker has professed similar, undying love for the Valley. He cares about the team’s lineage and its rich history. But it’s getting messy. He’s withering in Phoenix just like Davis was in New Orleans. And now that the Pelicans star has ruined Mardi Gras in New Orleans, declaring inevitable divorce in the wake of the Saints’ crushing playoff loss, only one question remains:

Who will be the next Anthony Davis? Someone we know?

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