Booker finished with a game-high 26 points, but took issues with the officiating and his team’s play all night. It reached a boiling point when rookie point guard De’Anthony Melton once again turned the ball over after stepping out of bounds. “Take his ass out,” Booker shouted across the court to Suns coach Igor Kokoskov. “Put Elie in the game”
After the game, Booker and Melton were having a fun conversation in the locker room as cooler heads had prevailed. Still, Booker didn't hesitate when it came to talking about Melton's turnovers when asked about his frustrations with the rookie point guard. "I told him the court don't move," said a grinning Booker. "P.J. Tucker used to do that all the time (to him). I used to hate it, but it's just part of the game. It's a learning experience. Just knowing the floor and how to run the floor on the wing. He's usually a point guard and probably never been in the corner that much. It's a tough learn, but he'll pick up on it."
Before Friday's game against New Orleans, Jackson went into greater detail about why he missed the autograph session. "I got a phone call like right before the event was supposed to start," Jackson said. "I had to rush over to my mom's place. Really wish I could've been there, but I couldn't. I don't think you're going to schedule something and not just show up. If I could've been there, I really would have."
After tending to his mom, Jackson said he considered trying to make his way over to the event. "The time was too far in by the time I got done doing what I was," Jackson said. "I was going to rush over to the event, but I got a phone call from the guys there and they said don't worry about it. It was a little late."
"Honestly, It shouldn't have never been public knowledge," he said "We have team rules. We've been fined in the past before and you've never known about it. That shouldn't be public information."
One longtime former player remembers the owner barging into the locker room following a loss to officiously instruct big men on how to set better screens. A former assistant coach was floored when Sarver confronted his boss on the way from the court to the coaches' office immediately after the buzzer to berate him on his substitution patterns. Another former coach was taken aback when Sarver marched into the head coach's office at halftime and insisted the team run a trap at an opposing point guard who had abused the Suns' defense.
Sarver certainly isn't the first owner to preside over his franchise with a heavy hand and heated emotions. And several sources say that in moments of calm, Sarver can be genuinely warm on a personal level. Even those who have been on the receiving end of outbursts say Sarver, at other times, took a sincere interest in their families, or offered thoughtful financial advice.
FOUR YEARS AFTER naming McDonough general manager, Sarver acquired some live goats from a Diana Taurasi event at Talking Stick Resort Arena and planted them upstairs in McDonough's office. The stunt was both a practical joke and an inspirational message -- the Suns should find a GOAT of their own, one who dominates like Taurasi. The goats, unaware of their metaphorical connotation, proceeded to defecate all over McDonough's office.
But just as troubling as invading the work spaces of his players and coaches, say those who have worked for Sarver, is his meddling in personnel decisions. An individual who has worked in the Suns' front office says Sarver, in his best moments, poses challenging questions that can help frame a conversation. But often, process can get derailed by impulse.
McDonough was regarded as less capable at communication, people skills and fostering relationships with players. There's a strong sense that McDonough, in a characterization that was made by several sources, prioritized job security ahead of personal conviction. Though Sarver had a tendency to meddle, sources say McDonough's struggles to forcefully make his case on strategy and personnel matters demonstrated his ultimate failing as a GM: an inability to manage an owner.
Jones' detractors concede he has fulfilled his role as front-office emissary to the locker room, where players genuinely respect him and have responded to his counsel. But many of those who have observed Jones say that, on his best days, he functions more like a consultant or junior exec in charge of player programs, and less like a commanding general manager, which is his current title.
"There's a perception of what a GM is and what a GM does, that you have to log the hours and open up the laptop. I've never purported to be that guy," Jones says. "I think it would diminish what Trevor does. He's a star when it comes to the cap, scenario planning, contracts and negotiations. And he's been really good the whole time he's been here. We have different responsibilities. My primary focus has been to manage and improve the performance and relationships within our different units: our coaching, performance team, development. The players -- that has been my focus."
Jones is universally regarded as bright, but there's a collective sense that he lacks the curiosity or hunger that a relative novice in such a position should display. Former players such as Elton Brand, Malik Rose and Sean Marks throw themselves into every facet of basketball operations, from the G League to cap strategy. In contrast, sources say, Jones seems content to defer to Bukstein. Jones also relies a great deal on another young front-office associate who was initially hired as a liaison between former coach Earl Watson's staff and the analytics department, but has less than two seasons' experience in the NBA. Sources say that much of the Suns' front office finds this confounding.
Duane Rankin: "We don't deserve an all-star break. We need to work on our game as players. I know me, I'm going to be at all-star weekend, but right after that, I've got to touch a basketball and still polish up on things. I hope that everybody has that same mindset." #Suns Devin Booker
Gina Mizell: I asked Kokoskov about the closed-door meeting after Denver loss: “It’s a healthy, good thing...we call ourselves ‘family,’ and a family’s got moments where you have to close the doors and discuss some things. Trust me, there’s no drama. There’s no story behind it.” #Suns
The Suns extended what is usually a 10-minute cooling off period to almost an hour talking about, well, they didn’t reveal what they discussed. “We’re just going to keep everything in-house,” Suns 18-year veteran Jamal Crawford said in a calm, relaxed voice. “We had a nice talk. That’s it.” The locker room was initially opened after the 10-minute cooling off period, but the media was asked to go back outside. Another 40 minutes went by before it was open again. Hmmm.
So when asked what led to the postgame meeting, Devin Booker looked up and said: “What meeting.” Really Devin? “I just showered,” Booker said. Wasn’t that a longer cooling off period than normal, though? “I like long showers,” Booker said with a grin.
Gina Mazell: After his exchange with Igor Kokoskov spread on the Interwebs last night, Mikal Bridges said he apologized to his coach on the flight back from Portland: "All he was trying to do was just get my attention. I was kind of beating up on myself, and I was being disrespectful." #Suns
Gina Mazell: More Bridges: "I know how I was raised. My mom was even beating me up (about) it...we're good now. We talked about it, and saw each other today like it really didn't even happen." Important to note that Bridges has constantly been praised for his maturity as a rookie. #Suns
That led to Ayton talking about being an “emotional guy,” which showed itself when he and Booker, who is out with a hamstring injury, exchanged words with the media present in the locker room following the 10-minute cooling off period. While they didn't scream at each other, Booker and Ayton clearly were at odds.
“I start to feel stuff,” Ayton said. “When I don’t sense it, that the energy is not there, that’s when you start to hear my mouth. I don’t care who it is. Nineteen-year vet or 15 years, it doesn’t matter. We all have a job to do and I have to step it up a little more, too. Just show more. Even if I think I’m showing more, just show extra. Exaggerate it a little bit just to make it spread. Make it vocal. Make everybody see it.”
Phoenix’s top two players, Booker and Ayton, exchanged words after the 10-minute cooling off period as members of the media entered the visiting locker room for the tail end of that conversation. These two have had words before on the court, with Booker correcting Ayton on what to do on certain plays. Both have agreed to hold players accountable, but this felt different. “I’m an emotional guy, too,” Ayton said. “I start to feel stuff. When I don’t sense it and the energy is not there, that’s when you start to hear my mouth. I don’t care who it is. Nineteen-year vet or 15 years, it don’t matter. We all have a job to do and I have to step it up a little more, too.”
From Jamal Crawford, one of the more positive players in the NBA, slamming the ball on the floor at the end of the third quarter to the friction on the bench between Bridges and Kokoskov, the frustration was apparent. “How long have you been around basketball,” Suns veteran Trevor Ariza asked a reporter in a calm voice when asked what the conversations are like on the bench when trailing by 25 after the first quarter. “So what do you think the conversation would be like after that? “Probably not very positive." Ariza laughed. “Exactly,” he said. “Not too happy, but again, that’s on us for not playing hard.”
Being 4-21 can bring out the worst in a team and Kokoskov, a first-year NBA head coach, has the challenge of trying to keep the Suns together just as all seems lost right now for an franchise having its worst start ever. “At this point, we’ve got to just look in the mirror,” Suns reserve center Richaun Holmes said. “We’ve got to change something.”
Jamal Crawford: Frustrations are part of the game, but we won't let the outside divide us. Win as a team, lose as one…
Booker isn’t certain how to make this happen, but he knows the Suns need to establish the type of closeness that allows them to get on each other. “All good teams have that trust and chemistry where you’re able to get on each other and know it’s for a better purpose,” Booker said. “I don’t think we have that right now. We’re not comfortable with each other. Step on each other’s toes. We don’t push each other. I think that’s what we need to do.”
Ayton has an idea of how do to that. “Know who to yell at, know who not to tell at,” Ayton said. “Know who to encourage. There’s certain guys on the team, you curse them out, you’re basically cursing with them. That’s what amps them up. Cuss me out. Like, why you not on me? Some guys, you have say, ‘Come on man, let’s go, let’s go.’ ”
Scott Bordow: News: Suns are saying Chriss isn't suspended per se but won't be at Sunday's game. They're describing it as a cooling off period. Chriss was not at practice today. Both McDonough and Triano told me thy're handling it "in house."
June 28, 2022 | 4:49 pm EDT Update
Tim MacMahon: At this point, it’s widely anticipated that Jalen Brunson will go to the Knicks on a four-year deal in excess of $100M. It remains to be seen how New York will clear the rest of the necessary cap space and whether the Mavs can work a sign-and-trade to recoup assets.
Chris Mannix: Part of the Knicks pitch to Jalen Brunson, I’m told, is the opportunity to be a full time point guard. In Dallas, Brunson can play with Luka. But Luka is the de facto point guard. In New York, Brunson would run the show.
Ben Anderson: At 34, Will Hardy joins Lawrence Frank, George Karl, and Jeff Van Gundy as the third-youngest full-time head coaches in NBA history. Only Minnesota Timberwolves coaches Ryan Saunders and Sidney Lowe (both 33) were younger.
The Michigan Sports Hall of Fame announced Thursday the latest group of inductees. Antonio Gates, Chris Webber, Jennie Ritter, Meryl Davis, Charlie White, John Beilein, Mickey Redmond and Kathy Beauregard are the eight new faces for the class of 2022.
June 28, 2022 | 4:37 pm EDT Update
Wrote Friday that the Knicks had amassed “major momentum” in their pursuit of Jalen Brunson after draft night. There is a growing resignation in Dallas, sources say, that the Knicks are indeed Brunson’s top choice and his inevitable destination. More: https://marcstein.substack.com/p/brunson-sweepstakes-just-got-real