Long before the phrase “Greatest of all-time” (G.O.A.T.) became as overused a cliche in sports as any other, “goat” meant that a player was the excuse of the downfall of a team or franchise. Now that Devin Booker has received his max contract, when things are all said and done, which usage of the word will Phoenix Suns fans eventually use?
Devin Booker is the Phoenix Suns’ newest million-dollar man – and by million, I mean $158 million. By the time Booker turns 28 and is ready for his next contract, he’ll have already earned just under $170 million.
God bless him. If he can get it, take it.
That said, the Phoenix Suns offered him a max contract for two reasons: what he has done individually so far, and what is expected of him to do for the franchise in the future.
However, will he be worth it in the end?
If you search for tweets about Devin Booker, even before news of his max extension was made public, you’d find a great number of opinions on either side of the topic – whether he is deserving a max or not. Individual statistics aside, Booker has never been to the playoffs and certainly never on a winning team.
While he has improved statistically each year of his career, his team has not.
Now, for the most part, that argument is entirely unfair. The Phoenix Suns were tanking and didn’t want to win. Last year they wanted Lonzo Ball. This year they wanted Deandre Ayton. They needed to lose to have the best odds of selecting at least one of those players, and that’s what they did: they lost enough to be in the right position, and selected one of those two.
Booker was put in a situation where he was not expected to drag the team to more victories than was possible with the roster constructed around him, and he didn’t. He couldn’t.
In all fairness, only LeBron James could have probably made the Phoenix Suns into a Western Conference playoff contender last year with the roster as constructed, and no one else.
But now that Booker is being paid like LeBron, his individual statistics must now translate into more victories. Booker said it himself at the end of last season that he was done missing the playoffs, and the franchise as a whole (by all accounts), is done intentionally tanking.
They finally want to start to win and Devin Booker is being paid like the guy who is going to make it happen.
That is a lot of pressure to be placed on a 21-year-old who will still only be 22 when he starts making the big bucks.
The question to ponder moving forward is, what if he can’t provide the results that everyone is hoping for?
Very few players can actually take a bad team and drag them to the top. For as great as LeBron James is, even he wouldn’t have been able to take the 2017-18 Phoenix Suns past the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors. While he did drag the Cleveland Cavaliers kicking and screaming through the weak Eastern Conference all the way to the NBA Finals last season, his team as a whole was no match for the far better put together Warriors.
Devin Booker, for as good as he is and as much as he will soon be paid, will absolutely need better talent around him to win (which recent draft picks seems to be what he has been given). That said, the the burden of winning will still rest on his shoulders.
Even if he eventually is not the only max contract on the roster (hopefully at least one of either Josh Jackson or Ayton are eventually good enough to deserve such a future payday), being the first – and longest-tenured face of the franchise – accolades will be heaped on him with success, along with the brunt of the blame in the event of failure.
Certainly expectations for the 2018-19 season, the year before his max kicks in, will remain tepid at best: a trip to the playoffs to be swept at the hands of either Golden State or Houston would be an absolute triumph and mark the season as a complete success. Yet even if they simply improve upon their 2017-18 record and still fall short of at least 8th overall in the West, a step forward will be seen as such, and overall disappointment should be at a minimum.
As soon as his max contract kicks in, however, the playoffs will not only become the goal, but the expectation, and both the team’s successes and failures will fall on Devin Booker’s shoulders.
By the end of this particular max contract, nothing short of title runs (in an era when the Warriors and whoever LeBron is playing for will no longer be the undisputed preseason choices to hoist the trophy at the end of the season) will be expected.
If he pulls it off, he will be the G.O.A.T.
But if Devin Booker does not supply the Phoenix Suns with opportunities to win titles, and while paid a salary of one of the league’s greats he is unable to get his team over the top, well then, there might be a whole different meaning of the word attached to his name, and the contract he just signed will have been for the individual success he showed in his first three years, and not for met team expectations of the next six.