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The Phoenix Suns have a brand-new Big 3, but so far, they’ve only been able to watch them in action for two preseason games. The last time fans got to enjoy Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal on the court together was more than two weeks ago, and a lot has happened since then.
Since dropping 32 points and 8 assists in a remarkable Point Book performance against the Golden State Warriors, Booker has missed the Suns’ last three games. Beal has missed all four games to start the season, and there’s increasing concern on the outside about whether they can all stay healthy enough to avoid the same fate as the Brooklyn Nets’ Big 3.
What is the severity of these early-season injuries? Are the Suns load managing, or are these legitimate issues? And what’s a realistic timetable for them to return? Let’s set the record straight on all of that.
Devin Booker’s ankle sprain
Leading up to the season opener, Booker was listed as questionable with a “sore left big toe,” which had held him out of the Suns’ preseason finale. It was a contact injury that happened during practice when someone landed on his foot, but it wasn’t considered serious. Booker played in the Warriors game, but was then listed as questionable with “left foot soreness” for Phoenix’s second game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Those two injuries were not related, nor was the foot soreness a byproduct of playing on the sore left toe. Booker admitted to AZ Central’s Duane Rankin that he was “tired as hell” after the season opener, but coach Frank Vogel confirmed the foot injury occurred near the end of the Warriors game.
It’s unclear when he tweaked his foot, but it may have been this travel where it seemed to give out underneath him:
NBA on TNT’s Jared Greenberg reported it was a mid-foot sprain. He also reported that Booker was aiming to return Tuesday against the San Antonio Spurs, pending the results of an MRI back in Phoenix after the team’s opening road trip.
Before the Lakers game, Vogel said he didn’t consider the injuries for Booker and Beal to be serious, but they were relevant enough that neither one could play. He described Book as dealing with “significant left foot soreness.”
Since then, Booker has remained “doubtful” on the injury report, with his injury being reclassified as a “left ankle sprain.” The Suns don’t make injured players available to the media, so reporters stationed here in Phoenix haven’t heard from Booker since the last Blazers preseason game he played in. That’s left Vogel to handle the avalanche of questions about Booker and Beal’s status.
Before the Utah Jazz game on Saturday, Vogel said they were both working hard with the medical team to get back but declined to get into it any deeper. When asked whether the league had contacted the Suns about any potential violation of the NBA’s new player participation policies, Vogel set the record straight.
“They’re injured,” he said. “No, they’re not resting, they’re injured.”
The Suns didn’t practice Sunday, so at practice on Monday, Vogel provided an update, saying they both were getting “closer” and “making progress,” but not there yet. Neither one practiced fully and they were only able to do some “light shooting.”
“Those guys are both chomping at the bit, and as soon as they get cleared medically and are feeling right with what’s ailing them, they’ll be out there,” Vogel said.
Before the Spurs game on Tuesday, the Suns coach offered some clarity on their timelines with a phrase that was quickly misconstrued.
“I don’t know, there’s no real timetable on that right now,” Vogel said. “They’re working very hard to get back as soon as possible. Both have begun doing some on-court work, but mostly light shooting, so still not sure yet.”
Vogel’s “real timetable” comment was interpreted as the Suns’ stars still being a ways away from returning, but it was a simple acknowledgement that these types of day-to-day injuries are difficult to set a firm timeline on.
The two have been getting their conditioning done in the weight room, but over the last two media sessions at the practice facility, reporters were asked to leave the court near the end, most likely to allow Booker to ramp up his activity without being seen by prying eyes. It’s something the Suns have done in the recent past with star players as they ramp up their activity to return from injury.
Before the Spurs game, Vogel was asked if it was safe to say that Booker would return before Beal. The Suns coach responded, “I can’t really say that,” leaving the severity of Book’s injury in question.
According to PHNX‘s Flex from Jersey, Booker’s ankle sprain was considered mild and came with a 2-3 week timeline to return. The first week called for complete rest, with the next week being devoted to revving up his activity. If the ramp-up period went well, he’d be back sooner. If not, that third week would act as a security blanket to give him more time to recover fully.
The Suns hit the one-week mark on Tuesday, and Booker was feeling well enough on Monday to start his ramp-up sooner.
Before Tuesday’s meltdown against the Spurs, Flex listed the Chicago Bulls game on Nov. 8 or the Lakers rematch on Nov. 10 as potential target dates for Book’s return. But since the Suns were unable to hold on to their 20-point lead and finish the job, Booker’s notorious itch to be on the court got more severe.
The notion that Booker (or Beal) would “load manage” at any point in the season, let alone this early on, was always ridiculous. Jokes are jokes, but if anything, the Suns have had to try and protect Booker from himself in the past — and they’ve struggled to do so.
The 27-year-old is a purebred hooper who wants to be on the court at all times, which can always be a tricky dynamic when a player is recovering from injury. Phoenix’s Christmas Day game against the Denver Nuggets last year was a prime example, as Booker tried to push through a groin injury that he made even worse just a few plays into the game. That restlessness wound up costing him an additional six weeks.
Booker has always trusted his teammates on the court and vocally supported them off it, so his desire to return isn’t due to a lack of faith in the Suns’ new roster. But the manner of Tuesday night’s collapse undoubtedly strengthened his anxiousness to return, and the Suns are likely cognizant of the extra toll this stretch might exert on Kevin Durant while Booker and Beal remain sidelined.
Durant has shown signs of fatigue late in the Suns’ two losses, with the offense growing stagnant and relying on him to do the heavy lifting. He’s logged 39 and 37 minutes in those two defeats, and the Suns have struggled without him on the court. Staggering even one more member of the Big 3 would certainly alleviate this problem:
Booker reportedly believes he’s feeling great and is pushing hard behind the scenes to return as soon as Thursday’s rematch against San Antonio. Whether he gets his way remains to be seen, but the Suns did upgrade his injury status to “questionable” for Thursday’s game. In other words, don’t be surprised to see the face of the franchise back on the court within the next week or so.
Bradley Beal’s bad back
Vogel and the Suns went into the team’s preseason finale expecting to play their main guys heavier minutes in order to ramp up for the season opener. But thanks to Booker’s toe injury in practice and Beal’s back tweak — which happened in practice the day before the Lakers preseason game and started bothering him the following morning — neither one suited up.
“Little tweak last week, but definitely trending right and feeling better,” Beal said at practice the day before the Suns’ season opener. “Was able to practice the last two days, so it’s been good.”
Vogel clarified he had limited Beal and Booker with “minor stuff” in those two practices before the regular season. Beal hoped to play in the Warriors game, but said he needed to see how his body responded the following morning first.
Beal was originally listed as questionable with “low back tightness” for the Warriors game, but was downgraded to doubtful for the Lakers matchup. Before the LA game, Vogel denied that they were “serious” injuries, mentioning that Beal was ramping up his work, but continued to be “symptomatic in response to the work.”
For the next two games, Beal was listed as out with “low back spasms.” According to Flex from Jersey, the Suns are following the type of recovery regimen that should be in place for any back injury, which reinforces what Vogel said on Tuesday before the Spurs game.
“No, I don’t think it’s really about being cautious,” he explained. “I think he’s got an injury that has a timeline with his treatment plan to try to get right. And until that’s behind him, then we’ll see him out there. But I don’t think we’re being cautious with it.”
Beal is reportedly progressing well, but back injuries — and the potential to re-tweak them — makes this a trickier beast to handle. Given Vogel’s “can’t really say that” comments and the original 2-3 week timeline for Booker’s return, there’s a chance Beal is back before Booker. Then again, that may depend on how Book’s current conversations with the medical staff go.
Ultimately, Vogel’s comments about handling injuries from over a week ago still apply.
“Just make all decisions on all injuries on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “I’m a pro-play guy if guys are healthy, but if guys are dinged up and we have to manage certain injuries, then you manage them case-by-case.”
Flex from Jersey contributed to this article.
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