PHOENIX SUNS

Suns have 27 games to prep before chase for poetic justice begins

Feb 20, 2024, 1:28 PM

Kevin Durant and Devin Booker look on...

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

NBA commissioner Adam Silver handed a trophy to LeBron James after the contrived regular season tournament in December. He gave another trophy to Giannis Antetokounmpo after Sunday’s nauseating All-Star Game.

Let’s hope the last bit of hardware ends up in the hands of Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, co-MVPs of the NBA Finals.

That would be poetic justice. That would be our encore to Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, co-MVPs of the 2001 World Series.

It would be a fitting reward for Booker, solidifying his status as greatest player in Suns history. It would bring the kind of universal recognition that has eluded Booker for most of his nine years as a professional, a player who had to wear all the defeats and dysfunction of Robert Sarver’s Suns. And yet Booker never complained publicly, never requested a trade, never once embarrassed the sport.

It would be redemption for Durant, a player who was roundly ridiculed for joining the 73-win Warriors in search of a championship ring. Leading the Suns to their first NBA title in franchise history would be a powerful counterpunch to those who minimize his legacy and his first two championship rings.

The Suns have a shot. They also have some issues. They do not possess an established point guard. They refitted most of their bench at the NBA’s trade deadline. They have more pieces to integrate before head coach Frank Vogel can begin to even think about his playoff rotation. And there are only 27 games remaining in the regular season, a schedule that ranks among the most difficult closing acts in the NBA.

There is also the question of leadership, and if the Suns have enough of the intangible stuff. Former Suns great Charles Barkley verbalized these concerns over the weekend by calling Durant “a follower” and imploring Booker to take a firmer grasp of the reigns.

Alas, Barkley’s observation was met with anger and not reflection.

After numerous failed attempts at a title in the past 20 years, a large swath of the fan base is rooted in a persecution complex, prone to conspiracy theories and overly sensitive to objective criticism. We are the NBA’s version of the Buffalo Bills, a fan base tortured by injustice and near misses. If you haven’t noticed, the temperature runs hot on Planet Orange.

That’s why the Suns need to win a championship.

We are the rare Major League sports town where the NBA came first, and a title would liberate and validate a longstanding love affair with our basketball team. And even though Booker and Durant remain polarizing players outside of Arizona, a championship parade in Phoenix is one of the few great sports stories remaining in America.

I’m sure Silver would agree. After all, he poked fun at LeBron after handing him the MVP trophy of the regular season tournament, apologizing that “it doesn’t come with (the Las Vegas) franchise.”

And he begrudgingly gave the Eastern Conference’s victory trophy to Giannis after a collection of NBA All-Stars debased the game with half-hearted efforts and shocking indifference.

The commissioner also knows that during LeBron’s reign as king, player empowerment issues have increased dramatically, spawning the pox of load management, along with trade requests from unhappy superstars and a slew of really bad All-Star Games. All have damaged the league and its brand.

Booker has loyally served our market and the city that drafted him. We have seemingly brought out the best in Durant. The Suns have been one of the few organizations that reject the idea of resting healthy players while our new owner is the only one who added to his luxury tax bill at the trade deadline.

In Phoenix, our stars seem to be playing for something greater than self-gain, for something bigger than themselves. It’s about time we all get our due.

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

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