The Phoenix Suns endured a disappointing Christmas Day at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, as Luka Doncic rode into town, dropped 50 on their heads, and left with the win. The loss putting the Suns under .500 and out of postseason contention entirely, but with still more than half of the season left to change that.
The fact that it was Doncic - one of the Suns' and Devin Booker's main foes at this point in their rivalry - makes it sting all the more to fans, but don't let that distract you from the terrible direction this season has been heading for several weeks now. The Suns aren't good enough to consistently beat the best teams, and at this point are no longer even contenders in the Western Conference.
Nice as it is to see the occasional role player like Chimezie Metu step up when needed, that alone is nowhere near good enough for a roster that features Booker, Durant and Bradley Beal. Durant is apparently frustrated with how this season has unfolded, and his at times disinterested play against the Mavericks did little to hide that.
Which was why when the Suns needed him most, Booker came out and gladly accepted the challenge of turning this season around, instead of hiding.
Throughout his time in The Valley, Booker has never once given any indication that he would want to continue his career elsewhere. Instead he has grown with the franchise, going from bottom-feeders all the way to NBA Finalists, before crashing back down to earth in the last couple of seasons. In the playoffs last year, he averaged a league high 33.1 points per game.
But with Durant not responding to the adversity the way many would like - and Beal also pointing out how rocky the season has been without currently being able to do anything about it - it was refreshing to hear what Booker had to say about the Suns' struggles. Better yet, what he is going to do about it, as he told the media after the Mavericks loss;
"We just have to get it together and you know that's on me, on coach (Frank Vogel), on KD (Durant), Eric (Gordon) and the leaders that we have in here to make sure that we're more prepared."- Devin Booker
It is interesting that Booker chose to mention Eric Gordon by name, after he recently spoke out about his role on the team right now. But doing this just shows the kind of leader Booker is, and why these seemingly run of the mill comments have actually come at a vital time for the organization.
Booker has never come across as the most outspoken leader, while Durant right now appears more than happy to let this be Booker's team. So to mention a role player by name who expressed dissatisfaction recently shows great leadership from Booker, as does mentioning that it is he who needs to be the one to help this team get it together.
It went under the radar during the game, but the below moment that the microphones caught of Booker questioning his teammate's commitment does show he is willing to say what needs to be said. Not that it is helping right now - and the turnover was largely on him - but Booker's mentality is that of a team who help each other out, which we have not seen from this group recently.
Booker has played primarily as the team's point guard this season, and he has not spoken out against that decision publicly either. At a time when he is entering his prime - and is one of the best two-guards in the league - to have him change up his role so much while trying to compete for a championship is difficult.
Even more so when you're working with a new head coach in Frank Vogel, and you don't have the safety blanket of a veteran floor general on the bench to revert back to if needed. Really we have learnt a lot about Booker this season for all that he has not said in airing out any frustrations he may have publically, unlike Durant and Gordon.
Which is what the Suns need from their best player and their leader. No matter the circumstances, Booker is going to answer these questions with a level head, and he will never shy away from the hard work that has to be done either. To name-check a teammate shows he is paying attention to this team's struggles, and in this difficult moment, the Suns are lucky to have a cornerstone like Booker.