The expectations surrounding Phoenix Suns basketball over the last month has seemed to take a turn, seeing Phoenix go from fringe playoff team to expected contender in a stacked Western Conference after the signings of future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul and veteran three and D forward Jae Crowder.
For star franchise player Devin Booker, that means his work ethic and mindset has elevated. Although he tries to remain even keel and not get ahead of himself, he sees the pieces that the organization has brought in, and that only motivates him.
“I feel like the culture has definitely changed, even from the bubble to now,” Booker said. “Over any amount of time, you’re going to build, nurture, and grow. We’ve taken tremendous steps and with the additions of the players that we added, we have a depth team with a lot of IQ and guys that know how to play the game. I think everyone in this locker room is locked in.”
For a player of Booker’s caliber – putting up over 26 points per game and being an NBA All-Star and one of the rising stars, the veteran knowledge and experience of Crowder and Paul can’t be understated.
With Booker going through past offseason workouts with Paul, D’Angelo Russell, and Karl Anthony-Towns when Booker was young, the veteran Paul offered life lessons and advice on how to be a pro coming into the league.
Then a member of the Los Angeles Clippers while Booker was coming into the league, Paul’s demeanor and presence spoke volumes to the Suns star, and it’s carried over to now as the two become teammates.
“That meant a lot to us for a Hall of Fame, All-Star guy to come in the gym and work with us guys that hadn’t proven anything in our careers yet,” said Booker recalling his earliest memories of meeting CP3 during pre-draft workouts. “It just shows you how much he loves the game…I remember afterwards, he invited us to his house and started talking to us about off the court things and things we have to look forward to or look out for going into the NBA. Just his presence, and not even in basketball, his resume speaks for itself, but the things he does for the players association and the things he does for this league, and the leadership that he brings to all of us, it’s big time.”
As a teen, Booker even used to visit his father in Mississippi and make the occasional trip to New Orleans to watch Paul play with the Hornets.
He understands the competitive edge that will come between the two, but it’s all in hopes of winning games. Booker is trying to soak up as much information as he can from his new teammates, as Phoenix tries to finally come out of its long postseason slumber and reach the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.
Booker and center Deandre Ayton are the young faces of the future for the Suns, but Paul’s addition, along with Crowder and the rest of the young core, might be exactly what the team needs to get over the next hump.
“I’ve pulled Deandre aside a couple of times and said, ‘This is what you needed. This is what I needed also,'” Booker said of the new look Suns. “…Chris expects greatness out of us. He expects to win and he wants to win very badly. I’m on the same page as him and I know he’s going to do and say some things to hold people accountable at all times to reach that goal that we’re trying to make. We all have the same goals with where we want to go, so there’s going to be a lot of constructive criticism around here. I feel like that’s how you build culture is being honest with each other…Hopefully we can all create an environment where we can learn from Chris in that way.”