Devin Booker says he'll make sure Suns don't miss playoffs again

PHOENIX -- For the eighth season in a row, the Phoenix Suns won't make the playoffs. The win totals the past three seasons including this one: 23, 24 and 21. The 21-61 mark in the team's 50th season is the worst since Phoenix went 16-66 in its inaugural 1968-69 season.

Now, everyone involved is insisting, enough is enough.

"I'm done with not making the playoffs," rising star Devin Booker said as the players cleaned out their lockers and conducted exit interviews Wednesday. "I'm serious. This is probably my last year ever not making the playoffs. If that's putting pressure on myself, I'm going to take this summer and work that hard so that it doesn't happen again."

The season devolved in the final months, with injuries depleting the already exceedingly young roster, leaving a contingent of G League transfers to fill out the lineup in the final days. The Suns lost a franchise-record 15 straight in one stretch.

Booker's goal is "turning the franchise around and getting it back how it used to be."

"You watch the highlights of [Charles] Barkley, [Steve] Nash and them and how alive the arena was," Booker said. "So, one of my goals is to get it back that way."

Booker, who is eligible for a maximum contract extension this offseason, along with TJ Warren and rookie Josh Jackson form the core of the young talent the Suns have accumulated. Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss could be part of it, too, although their development has been uneven.

And while interim coach Jay Triano says, "People around the league want to play with Devin Booker," there's no guarantee Triano will be around to coach him.

Triano, who assumed the interim role after Earl Watson was fired just three games into the season, has said he would like to remain the team's coach.

General manager Ryan McDonough said the search will begin immediately for a head coach, with a list of 5-10 candidates in mind.

McDonough said he would like to have a coach in place before the draft combine and lottery in mid-May.

In addition to a permanent coach, Phoenix needs experienced players, and not just old guys to cheer on from the sidelines.

"The voice in the locker room or the voice when they're teaching carries a lot more weight when the person is contributing," Triano said, "not just there as a teacher. ... They need those guys on the court to follow."

McDonough agrees the time has come to ratchet up investment. To begin with, Phoenix has the most pingpong balls in the May 15 lottery and a chance at the No. 1 overall pick. At worst, the Suns will draft No. 4. They will have one, and maybe two, more first-round picks.

"We'll be one of five or six teams with more than $10 million in cap space," McDonough said, "and I think we have the ability to create significantly more if we want it."

So the assets are there if they can be translated into needed players, and not teenagers, except that early first-round pick.

Three years of concentrating on acquiring this young talent is long enough, McDonough said.

"If you go beyond that, I think the losing starts to set in and the guys start to become accustomed to that and the bar is lower," he said. "Next year we're going to try to raise the bar. We're going to try to raise our standards. We won't be as young. We won't have nearly as many young players as we had last year."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.