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Dan Bickley

Devin Booker’s departure closer than you think if Suns pass on Russell

D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Brooklyn Nets reacts after a call in the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers during game three of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center on April 18, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Vile is the business that preys on its most passionate customers. Basketball fans in Phoenix are especially gullible, an organization that once filled us with civic pride; putting Phoenix on national television; rarely missing the playoffs under Jerry Colangelo.

But Devin Booker is not a sheep. He knows our collective history is much different than his personal history in Phoenix, where he has won 23, 24, 21 and 19 games in four fruitless seasons.

He has never been to the playoffs, once a birthright for basketball fans in the Valley.

What truly great player has ever won less out of the gate?

The Suns have tanked a lot of games in recent years. Booker has been injured for a lot of those games, and both could’ve pushed harder for the bottom line. So to Booker and the Suns, it’s not as bad as it looks. And that’s a fundamental problem around here.

Either way, it won’t be much longer before Booker has missed the playoffs long enough. Especially if the Suns pass on a chance to acquire D’Angelo Russell, thumbing their noses at an All-Star point guard and one of Booker’s closest friends.

That would be indefensible. As much as we all love the heart of Kelly Oubre Jr., he is not a game-changer like Russell. And that’s when Booker starts to see writing on the wall. Namely, an Exit sign above the front door.

Remember, Booker was a No. 13 pick. He didn’t start a game in college. He flourishes on big stages, from Boston to Mexico City. He’s only been an All-Star Game sideshow, and yet he won the 3-point shooting contest in his first try. He is yearning for the next level of league-wide recognition. And the only thing holding him back is the team he plays for.

Like Kawhi Leonard (15th pick), Steve Nash (15th pick) and Giannis Antentokounmpo (15th pick), Booker’s naked ambition is one of his greatest attributes. He has all the psychological triggers that marks some of the NBA’s greatest players: he relishes attention, loves the art of trash-talking, scores effortlessly, gets better constantly and the words that come out of his mouth would probably shock you.

That’s the way it works with the maniacally successful athletes. They’re polished, ruthless and frighteningly insatiable. They are gifted/burdened with a dark heart. That’s why we watch them, sometimes with jaws agape.

But the Suns are threatening to sell Booker short, and the dangers are immense.

Booker, Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns are threatening to become the next generational Super Team in the NBA. The city that lands two of those players will be NBA champion within five years.

It could be Phoenix. But that would require bold maneuvering and whimsical spending.

It could be Minnesota. But that would require Booker tapping out, staging his unhappiness, hiring Rich Paul as his agent and demanding a trade out of Phoenix.

It’s not only possible. It’s closer than you think. Especially if the Suns pass on Russell. Especially if Booker knows that Russell was yearning to play alongside him in Phoenix.

To the contrary, signing Russell, if possible, would pacify Booker forever. The Suns would’ve given him his money and his best friend in the league, making up for their appalling lack of structure and stability in Booker’s early years, just as he was attempting to make a name for himself in the NBA.

And this could be the moment we all dreaded, when the Suns do something really awful, like passing on a chance to Russell. And then Booker begins to turn that same maniacal fervor against the Suns, only his new desire is to get out.

Because they never gave him a team worthy of his talent. Or our passion.

The Suns are advised to never let that happen. No matter what it might cost in luxury taxes.

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