I caught up with Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker yesterday after he finished a competitive workout with most of his Suns teammates in a open gym format.

The coaches are around and giving advice, but not organizing any scrimmages. In the NBA, coaches cannot do anything more than individual drills and up to 3-on-3 play until training camp. But these days, they are just letting the guys have fun and run together.

"We are working out as a team," rookie Devin Booker said Thursday. "We've been doing a lot of weights and open gym. It's been really competitive."

You might have guessed that the young Suns players and camp invites are already around for pickup games, but Eric Bledsoe also remains in town and newly re-signed Brandon Knight is running with the guys as well. So are veterans Ronnie Price and P.J. Tucker as well as new import Sonny Weems.

"Everyone's really played well. It's just been really competitive," Booker said. "Everyone's counting their win and things like that. So it's been a good time."

In fact, only veterans Tyson Chandler, Mirza Teletovic and Markieff Morris haven't made it back in town yet for pickup games.

Before you get all up in arms over those missing guys, remember that most NBA teams don't even try to get together a 5-on-5 scrimmage until after Labor Day. Yet here we are in late August and nearly every roster player is already back in town for the long season.

I asked Devin what surprised him about any of the players.

"The physicality of the two guards, Brandon and Eric," he said. "You watch them on TV, but that's the first time stepping on the court with me. Just how physical they are. How mature and grown men they are on the court. It's just been really impressive."

Booker is the youngest player in the NBA. He was the youngest in his draft class this year and won't turn 19 until the night that Steve Nash gets inducted into the Suns Ring of Honor, October 30. That means he will play his first NBA game - if he gets in - still just 18 years old.

But that doesn't deter Booker. He already saw at Kentucky that being the youngest doesn't count you out. He had planned to stay at Kentucky two or three years despite that being a one-and-done factory.

"I always felt - I was the youngest kid in my class - that it might take my body a little bit more time to develop," he said. "With the Harrison twins staying, I didn't know how playing time was going to work. But at the end of the day, I feel like my work ethic put me over the top.

"I went in with that mindset I would be there two or three years. Once you start working hard and the team starts having success, things come fast at you."

He came in ready to play a role rather than be a star.

"Make the game simple," he said. "Know who you're playing with, and just play your role. Not everybody can be the star player. Especially on a team like that (Kentucky) with so much talent. I figured if I just found my niche on the team that I'd be good and it worked out well for me."

It also helped that he was the best shooter on the team, and certainly in his draft class. He wasn't surprised he was named the best shooter in the Draft by his peers.

I asked him to name another shooter who compared to him in his draft class this year.

"I don't think so," he said. Then, with a little chuckle because he realized how brash that sounded. "Yeah, I don't think so."

Booker had a lot more to say about what he's working on this summer, how he respects coach Hornacek and the connection he feels with his other one-and-done Kentucky Wildcats in the back court with him. Part two of this interview will drop sometime next week.

Rare Phoenix Suns items for sale on eBay!

18 Vintage Phoenix Suns Glass Tumblers

Nice collection here. Seller states the glasses are new and never used. 16 ounce glass tumblers, 18 in total, all featuring your favorite Suns logo. Bidding starts at 85 bucks, and it will cost you another 45 to ship.

Suns O'Doul's Neon Beer Sign

Neon signs for NBA teams are nothing new. A Phoenix Suns O'Doul's sign is a little rarer. Guess what I learned while researching this piece? O'Doul's actually does contain alcohol, 0.4%. I've never needed to know that before. If you're a fan, you can hang this on your wall for the buy it now price of $175 plus $50 shipping. Seller will hear offers.

Tina Majerle Magazine Clipping

Ebay has everything. Seller states that this picture of Dan Majerle, then with the Miami Heat, and his wife Tina was "carefully removed from a 1998 magazine." If this is something that must be added to your collection, it will run you a ten dollar bill, after shipping.

Suns Rocking Chair

Start 'em off right. Every responsible parent raises their child a Suns fan. This rocking chair will cost you $50 plus shipping, but the seller will hear offers.

Phoenix Suns Stadium Chairs

Brand new, this auction is for a pair of chairs. They do hook together. Buy the chairs now for $175, plus shipping. Good news though, if you're local to Peoria, Arizona, the seller does offer a free pickup option.

In the second home game of the 2015-16 season, the Phoenix Suns will induct Steve Nash into the Ring of Honor. As the greatest player in franchise history, it’s a much-deserved honor and after...

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Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek and I recently spent a few minutes talking about team leadership. The Suns announcement to induct Steve Nash, one of the greatest floor leaders of all time, into their Ring of Honor juxtaposes one big difference between recent Suns teams and those of Nash's era.

Leadership was clearly lacking in the team's 2014-15 season after they rocketed to an unexpected 48-34 record the year prior. You could argue that the coaches should be providing leadership, but those two are not the same thing.

Management (coaching) is all about putting people in the right place at the right time, setting them up for success in their chosen profession.

Leadership is about enabling them to succeed while sacrificing their own personal goals for the greater good. It's about convincing people to think about the team first, and to root on their teammates without worrying about what's in it for them and whether they have more _____ than the other guy.

Just look at the Suns 2004 Suns. Mike D'Antonio gave the players a blueprint to succeed, just like he gave the Nuggets before them and the Knicks and Lakers afterward. But it was Steve Nash's on-court and spiritual leadership that made the team successful. More talent = more wins, for sure. But nearly leading that decidedly mediocre 2011-12 team to the playoffs shows Nash's impact on the outcome.

The Suns coaches can be held accountable to putting players into a position to succeed, but they really can't be the heart and soul of the locker room.

"We're out there, they listen to us every single day, we're constantly saying stuff," Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek said during the Tyson Chandler press conference last month. "But when your teammates can help them out and mentor them, that's when guys really make strides."

The Disease of Me

This is exactly where the Suns went wrong last year.

"The most difficult thing for individuals to do when they become part of a team is to sacrifice. It's much easier to be selfish."

--Pat Riley, from 'The Winner Within'

At one point in Pat Riley's book, he described what happened to a very good Lakers team after they won the 1980 championship. Superstar phenom Magic Johnson missed half the season due to injury and took all the press coverage with him. The team, who managed to win 70% of their games in his absence, became consumed with jealousy and resentment. They turned on each other, got the coach fired and lost in the first round of the 1981 playoffs.

"Because of greed, pettiness, and resentment," he wrote, "We executed one the fastest falls from grace in NBA history. It was the ‘Disease of Me.'?" Whether you are an athlete or not, the vice of pride is the ground in which all other sins grow. It can weasel its way into our lives and destroy relationships and communities. C. S. Lewis said, "Pride is essentially competitive—is competitive by its very nature—while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man."

The 'Disease of Me'.

The Suns suffered from some of this disease last year. When they returned from summer break, no less than five players had brand new long-term contracts: Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, P.J. Tucker, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe.

You'd think that security would have calmed them down, made sacrifice easier. But the opposite happened. Players began the season resentful of those around them. They spent too much time worrying about their own statistics, their own touches, their own playing time. And too little time worried about team's success.

Part of the problem, of course, was faulty roster construction. Each of those long-term contracts, except for Markieff Morris, was given to players sharing the same position. Bledsoe and Thomas not only had to fight each other, but they had to fight free-agent-to-be Goran Dragic too. Tucker and Marcus Morris not only had each other, but also had rookie T.J. Warren to worry about.

Yet Bledsoe was the quietest and happiest of the bunch, despite having major competition for his touches and time. And Markieff Morris, who had no competition, somehow became one of the least satisfied.

So the roster construction problem wasn't just about players fighting for minutes. It was about the players' personal motivations as well.

Riley noted one of the danger signs of Disease of Me being 'feelings of frustration even when the team performs successfully'. Remember Thomas and Dragic talking about the struggle in terms of their own touches? Or the whole Morrii Path of Self-Destruction? Or Archie Goodwin complaining about opportunities? Or Gerald Green being in a bad mood most of the year? Most of that happened while the team had a winning record and a chance at the playoffs. Remember McDonough lamenting this isn't "singles tennis"?

Lack of leadership

The biggest roster construction problem had to do with lack of leadership.

The locker room last year was begging for leaders among the players. Not leaders who focused on individual success. Not leaders who formed cliques in the locker room. But leaders who would tell the other playes to stop worrying about themselves, and start accepting sacrifices for the betterment of the team.

Before we get to the one-on-one I had with coach Hornacek, let me rehash a couple of telling comments made by Hornacek and Tyson Chandler during the public portion of his introductory press conference.

"Almost all good teams I've ever been on," Hornacek said. "You have somebody that's gonna get on guys and you have players who accept that too. They're not gonna say, 'screw you, Tyson'. They know he's a veteran guy who won a championship. He's gonna be that leader. Guys are gonna follow that."

"It's really based on the character that you have in your locker room," Tyson Chandler said of how much leadership he can provide the Suns. "As an outsider looking in, and even having some time with a couple of these guys, I feel like it's a good group of guys. That being said, the only time you can't have an impact is when you don't have willing participants. But I feel like, in this case, its a good group of guys that want to get better."

One on one with coach, on leadership

After the press conference ended, coach Hornacek and I talked a bit more about leadership in an exclusive Bright Side interview.

"What Tyson said is exactly right," Hornacek said. "If guys aren't buying into it, he's not going to be effective. And that's part of our job. We feel we have the group, and if there are guys that won't listen we'll get them out of here and bring in the guys that will."

The Suns made some trades at the trade deadline, and even more this summer. Gone from last year's rotation are Gerald Green, Marcus Morris, Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Brandan Wright. In addition, Markieff Morris is demanding to be traded. Clearly, not all the guys who left were victims of the Disease of Me. But judging by Hornacek's comments, at least one or two of them were part of the problem last year.

"We'll break it down," he said. "We have guys now we're getting rid of that aren't gonna do that. And that's where [Chandler's] leadership will... I can't think of any guys in our locker room now that would give him any trouble. I think our guys really are looking for someone to lead them."

Hornacek has been wanting a team leader for two years now. He's mentioned Tucker as an on-court leader, but hasn't said much about Tucker's locker room leadership. He never mentioned Bledsoe, Dragic, Thomas or the Morrii as potential team leaders, despite being given plenty of opportunities to do so (by me in pre-game press conferences). He has said many times that Bledsoe, Len and the others have been just too quiet to be real leaders.

During the season when the Suns acquired Brandan Wright and Danny Granger, the front office and coaches touted them for their professionalism. Even Brandon Knight was touted as a leader. They were grasping at straws. Knight got hurt 11 games into his Suns career. Wright was a backup and a quiet person by nature, and Granger never played. Those guys were in the locker room, but had little impact on the strong clique of active rotation players.

"Let's face it, you can't have a 10th or 11th man be your leader. It's gotta be your main guys," Hornacek admitted.

You also can't expect a guy who shows up halfway through the season to become a leader when the locker room doesn't even really believe they were lacking leadership. It's easier to be selfish than it is to sacrifice for the betterment of the team. That locker room was full of the Disease of Me.

To put it mildly, Hornacek is excited about Tyson Chandler being that guy. Chandler isn't Nash. He isn't going to pump players up by high-fiving them all game long. But he will get in their faces when they mess up. And he will command more professionalism in the locker room.

Chandler has been in the playoffs 7 of the last 8 seasons. His Mavericks won a championship in 2011. He was the starting center for Gold-Medal winning USA in the 2012 Olympics. Just last year, he led a ragtag Mavs team to the playoffs.

"I think the guys are relishing, ‘hey we got a guy that we can follow, that can lead'," Hornacek said. "A lot of these guys are worried about themselves right now. They're new to playing. Now they can just relax on that part and follow somebody."

You know this is more hopeful-speak than real knowledge, considering Hornacek has barely seen the culprits he's referring to.

This interview occurred before the Suns were able to announce the signing of Mirza Teletovic, who might also be seen as a potential leader. At the least, Teletovic has a reputation of being a great locker room guy and one who is willing to sacrifice for the greater good. He doesn't complain about touches or minutes. Sounds a lot like the impact Channing Frye had - not an outward leader, but a calming one who helped keep players on an even keel.

Hornacek still holds out hope for Brandon Knight or Eric Bledsoe to become leaders as well. He says he needs at least one of them to assert himself next year.

"We still need one of our point guards to step it up in terms of their leadership, especially on the offensive end," Hornacek said. "Because they're going to have the ball and they're gonna call the plays. Just because we have Tyson as a leader, we still want these other guys to step up their leadership ability too. We don't want to lay it all on him. He's gonna be the main one, but everybody could step it up a little bit and it would help."

I can't re-iterate enough how many times Hornacek has been looking for an on-court leader to his team. Remember, he played next to point guards Kevin Johnson and John Stockton. He played for coaches Cotton Fitzsimmons and Jerry Sloan. His team's went to several Conference Finals and two NBA Finals.

He's found a way to win more games than he's lost in two years running the Suns, but he knows what's missing. He knows how teams need leadership on the court and in the locker room to be successful.

"I think we'll take the right steps," he said of next season with Chandler in the fold. "Does it get you in the playoffs? We hope so. It will be tough in the West."

He paused a moment, nodded and smiled.

"It gives us a legitimate shot."

Growing up in Phoenix, my parents had season tickets to the Phoenix Suns.  I was lucky enough that this was in the Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, Charles Barkely golden era of Phoenix basketball.  Back when they still played games at Veterans Memorial Coliseum (aka the Madhouse on McDowell), there was an older lady who had tickets next to us.

And she hated Eddie Johnson.

I have no idea why, but every time he touched the ball, she would yell "Don't give it to that damn number 8!"  Maybe it was because she didn't appreciate Johnson's silky smooth jumper.  Maybe it was because that meant Dan Majerle or Jeff Hornacek probably weren't in the game.  Maybe she had something against dudes from Illinois.  I don't know.

She usually yelled it the loudest at the beginning of games, because there was no point yelling it at the end of games. You can't really yell at a 20 point per game bench scorer without people starting to wonder if you're out of your damn mind.

Eddie Johnson joined the Suns in the transitional 1987-88 season.  He was a part of the influx of new players after Jerry Colangelo's purge of just about everyone implicated in the drug scandal leading up to the season.  It was the end of an era as it would also be the last season that Larry Nance, Alvan Adams and Walter Davis donned the purple and orange.  That team would finish a disappointing 28-54 and usher in a new era of Phoenix greatness.  Despite starting 59 games and putting up a solid 17.7 points per game, it wasn't until the following year that Johnson would make his true impact on the Suns.

The 1988-89 season was a renaissance for Phoenix basketball.  Many people credit the additions of Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers and Dan Majerle for the biggest single season turnaround in NBA history to that point.  And those people were not wrong.  But they might want to add Eddie Johnson to that list.

Relegated to the bench, EJ thrived in the second unit.  A preview of what lay ahead for opposing defenses was demonstrated 5 games into that magical season in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

After scoring a mere 2 points in the first half, EJ dropped 43 in the second half and overtime.  He was dirty, making fallaways, partially blocked shots and jumpers of all sorts.  You can see his form in the ugliest of makes: shoulders always square to the basket, shooting arm fully extended, wrist in perfect gooseneck at the end of the shot.

Eddie Johnson was deadly that year.  He put up a blistering 41.3% from behind the arc and managed to score almost 22 points a game... from the bench.  Like the recently departed Gerald Green, he had absolutely no conscience.  He forgot all the misses and remembered all the makes.  Eddie Johnson was probably the first gunner I fell in love with.  And the rest of the NBA did too.  Eddie Johnson would go on to win the NBA's "Sixth Man of the Year Award" that season.

Given his impact on the franchise and current position as color commentator par excellence, it's hard to believe he only played 3 seasons and change for the Suns.  In fact, EJ already had 2 teams and 6 years under his belt when he joined Phoenix.  He would go on to play for another 9 years (including a tour in Greece) and for 4 more NBA franchises.

While he never matched that 41.3% mark from long-range again in his career, he was a consistent scorer wherever he went.  Aside from his Sixth Man trophy, his other great claim to fame is to be the highest scorer in NBA history never to be named to an All-Star Team.  For his career, he's #47 on the NBA's all-time points list with 19,202.  That's more points than Isiah Thomas, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson or Julius Erving.

If you go to Eddie's website, he refers to himself as an average NBA player.  But the numbers tell another story.  Average players don't have nearly 20 year careers.  Average players don't have better scoring careers than several hall of famers.  Average players don't stick in your head two decades after they stopped playing for your favorite team.

I'm glad the Phoenix Suns and their fans were able to experience peak Eddie Johnson (both on the court and behind the mic).  And I'm glad they kept passing it to that damn number 8.

*All stats courtesy of NBA.com and basketball-reference.com

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