PHOENIX SUNS

Legacies are on the line for Suns stars entering the playoffs

Apr 19, 2024, 7:00 PM

Devin Booker and Kevin Durant...

Devin Booker #1 and Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns during a 124-108 Suns win over the LA Clippers at Crypto.com Arena on April 10, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Great basketball players are blessed with inconceivable wealth and fame. They are burdened by legacy and questions about jewelry.

How many rings do you have?

The question connects Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Chris Paul and Steve Nash. They’re immortalized as the best NBA stars to never win a championship.

It’s the reason Bill Russell (11 titles) is considered well above Wilt Chamberlain (two titles) on the GOAT list, even though Chamberlain once averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds a game.

Legacy is a central question on the eve of the Suns’ 2023-24 postseason journey.

Start with the reputation of Devin Booker, who is widely viewed as the greatest player in Suns history. But his postseason record is spotty. Elimination games have brought out the worst in him.

Tied at 2-2 in the NBA Finals, Booker had the outcome of Game 5 in his hands, on his homecourt. He had the ball stripped and stolen by Bucks defensive ace Jrue Holiday. Failing in a high-altitude moment like that will haunt a player who yearns to be legendary.

The following season, Booker taunted and trolled Luka Doncic in a rousing Game 5 victory, only to be outplayed and embarrassed in the final two games. And in 2022-23, Booker performed at a superstar level for the first four games against the Nuggets, only to be nicked, clipped and tagged with another lopsided elimination loss at Footprint Center.

From a statistical standpoint, Booker has had a fine season with any number of spectacular performances. But his leadership has been fairly questioned. His nonchalant attitude and “chillin” comment after an ugly loss to the Clippers shook the entire fan base. He said his story only begins when the postseason arrives.

Well, we’re here. And it’s time for Booker to deliver.

Same with Kevin Durant. He has two rings, but they come with an army of critics. He joined the 73-win Warriors after they eliminated Durant’s Thunder in the playoffs. He never won a ring before joining Golden State and hasn’t been out of the second round of the playoffs since.

The criticism is wildly unfair. As former Pistons star Isiah Thomas pointed out, Durant may have saved the Warriors legacy. What if that Golden State team never won another title following that NBA Finals collapse to LeBron James and the Cavaliers? They would’ve been eternally mocked. Instead, they are viewed as basketball royalty while Durant is the extremely talented carpetbagger and ring chaser.

At age 35, Durant played in 75 games with the Suns, averaging over 37 minutes and 27 points a game. If he makes big shots and helps lead the Suns to their first title in 56 years, no one will dare question his legacy ever again.

Meanwhile, if Bradley Beal continues to shine throughout the playoffs, his credentials will grow exponentially. A ring would affirm all those meaningless points he scored in Washington, D.C. It would silence all those who consider his defense a liability. It would prove that he’s been languishing in a basketball wasteland all these years. He might even become a blip on the Hall of Fame’s radar screen.

Bottom line: There are great rewards awaiting the Big Three if the Suns pull this off, if they can finally bring us a banner and slay the final dragon in their path:

Namely, playoff basketball.

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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Legacies are on the line for Suns stars entering the playoffs