DAN BICKLEY

Devin Booker’s silence raises questions on his state of mind

May 23, 2023, 4:52 PM

Phoenix Suns Devin Booker...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns looks on before game six of the Western Conference Semifinal Playoffs against the Denver Nuggets at Footprint Center on May 11, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Superstars talk after big games. That’s the way it works in the NBA playoffs.

LeBron James spoke after his team was swept out of the Western Conference Finals and hinted at retirement. Joel Embiid spoke after the 76ers squandered a 3-2 series lead against the Celtics and threw most of his teammates under the bus.

Devin Booker still hasn’t said a word. It is both wildly unaccountable and wildly uncharacteristic.

That alone should make you worry.

Remove the curious tone of Booker’s exit, and this should be an exciting time for the Suns. They traded haymakers with the Nuggets for four games, a team that has otherwise blitzed through the NBA playoffs. Two of Denver’s three postseason losses came in Phoenix against a top-heavy Suns team that was taxing Booker and Kevin Durant with exhaustive minutes, a flawed roster, a thin bench and another postseason injury to Chris Paul.

Which means the Suns are close to the finish line and the championship parade. This should be a time of recalibration and renewal, a time to implement a new voice, a new winning culture, a chance to surround Booker and Durant with a cohesive supporting cast.

Unless something is truly bothering the greatest player in Suns history.

Best-case scenario? Booker is angry and embarrassed, wearing the stain of another 30-point halftime deficit in an elimination game on his home court and for averaging 14 points per game while shooting only 30 percent from the field in the team’s previous three win-or-go-home situations.

Booker hurt his foot in Game 5 against the Nuggets. He refused to acknowledge the injury, but it affected his performance to a nuanced degree in Game 6, robbing him of his highest gear and the hell-bent aggression that made him impossible to guard.

To speak of the injury would only backfire, sounding like alibis and excuses. To speak about the fate of Monty Williams might feel like betrayal.

Booker also understands the arc of history. Given his appreciation for Al McCoy, it’s possible he’s feeling guilty for failing to deliver a championship to the legendary broadcaster in his 51st and final season. That is an opportunity he will never get again.

All of these emotions are understandable. But at some point, Booker should recognize the anxiety he’s causing on Planet Orange and let everyone know that he’s doing just fine. This is not the time for brooding silence and cryptic tweets.

This is the time for a franchise player to reassure a fan base that the future is bright and prosperous, and how nothing will derail our journey together.

Unless Booker is unhappy about something completely different.

Like what, exactly? Renowned NBA insider Shams Charania said Booker and Durant were involved in the decision to fire Williams. That makes perfect sense, but it does not make it true, and it could mean a lot of things.

Was Booker surprised to learn of his coach’s dismissal at his exit interview on Friday, prompting him to double down on his media silence? Was he surprised that general manager James Jones was putting his name on the press release announcing the termination of Williams despite reports that the new owner was the one calling the shots? Did he not appreciate the lurking presence of Isiah Thomas and how it might have affected the demeanor of Williams? And how does he really feel about the rumored attraction to Kyrie Irving?

Fact: Williams lost the beating heart of this team before that fateful Game 7 against the Mavericks, and he never got it back. He wouldn’t deal with Jae Crowder, he wouldn’t talk to Deandre Ayton, and he was always chasing the opponent when the playoffs arrived. But Williams is also extremely loyal, maybe to a fault. So is Booker, and I worry something has fundamentally changed.

Either way, I’d make sure Booker really likes and bonds with the next head coach of the Suns, a franchise operating in a small window of opportunity, a franchise that needs to be rounding third base and heading for home. Before it gets uncomfortably hot around here.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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