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Dan Bickley

Suns’ dip into ‘Jimmer Mania’ is latest oddity of perplexing season

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 25: Jimmer Fredette #32 of the Phoenix Suns looks on during a game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena on March 25, 2019 in Salt Lake City, (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

The Suns have achieved peak weirdness.

The team has twice turned a corner only to embark on embarrassing stretches of basketball. Their No. 1 pick has resurfaced in the NCAA corruption case. They are so low on juice that Devin Booker scored 56 of his team’s first 83 points in Monday’s loss to the Jazz, only to be the player most disrespected by Utah coach Quin Snyder.

Maybe this is Igor Kokoskov’s fault. Maybe it’s the latest gaffe that will get him fired. Or maybe it’s proof the rest of the league despises the Suns far more than we do.

For your recollection:

Booker was removed from the game with just over five minutes to play in a blowout loss to the Jazz. He had 56 points at the time but was completely gassed, having played the entire second half until that point. The Suns were losing by 17 points at the time.

But Booker caught his breath and was reinserted some two minutes later, even though the game was well out of reach. He was playing for the sole purpose of notching a 60-point game to pair with his 70-point performance in Boston, another prodigious output that had a manufactured feel.

Bad move. And once Booker reached 59 points, Snyder would not allow Booker to touch the basketball again, even if it meant sending others to the free throw line. His maneuvering was heavy-handed and cowardly and spoke volumes about the perception of basketball in Phoenix.

Booker also walked into a Jimmer Fredette Freak Show, and that’s where the story and the season officially went off the rails.

Fredette’s NBA homecoming is an intriguing, heartwarming story. His return to Utah resembled a lovefest. He started jacking up shots in the fourth quarter, determined to score his first points as a member of the Suns, to appease the adoring crowd, to jumpstart his second NBA career. To create some of the intangible magic.

He had no awareness that Booker was the show and not “Jimmer Mania.”

It was horrifying. And nobody said a word. Because the ulterior motive – staging a 60-point performance for the glory of a franchise player who must stay happy on a team currently in the tank and the scourge of the NBA – is equally worse.

After re-entering Monday’s game, Booker made a free throw that was awarded via technical foul. He missed a runner while hounded by a double team, something of a desperation heave full of naked ambition. He made up for that with a gorgeous fade-away from the far corner, with Jazz players flying around his face.

Thanks to Fredette and Snyder, he never touched the ball again.

It all feels so stupid. Fredette had a small window to impress the Suns, their fan base and their franchise player. He’s already alienated all three with his daffy performance in Salt Lake City. And if this the best the Suns can do for a point guard …

Kokoskov erred in putting his star back in the game. There are no issues with letting Booker pursue 60, maybe stalling or buying a few breathers along the way. But once he took Booker out, that should’ve been it. Instead, it was the prelude to yet another embarrassing moment on Planet Orange, one that had national pundits sympathizing with Booker’s plight.

He is officially a martyr now. And that’s not good.

Maybe this will be rock bottom. Down the stretch of the 2018-19 season, the Suns have prudently protected their lottery interests by not pursuing victory at all costs. They will be in the game for Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, two players who will be better than anything the 2018 NBA Draft produced. But this has been one of the worst seasons on record, and for a 50-something franchise, that’s saying something.

Their GM was fired nine days before the regular season. The owner was accused of relocation threats. Two players acquired by Phoenix in trades refused to report. Two high-priced veterans were highly overpaid and still couldn’t wait to leave. James Jones had to buy beer for all the fans who showed up at a grocery store only to be stiffed by Josh Jackson. Deandre Ayton is more comfortable guarding LeBron and Giannis than he is Rudy Gobert and Boban Marjanovic. It’s proof that we’ve officially seen it all.

Until the Suns had a player score 50 or more points and still lost by 30.

Goodnight, everybody. Turn out the lights when it’s over. And call me when the Suns are on the clock.

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