At Phoenix Suns practice this week Deandre Ayton said he hasn’t spoken to head coach Monty Williams since Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. Ayton and Williams got into an argument and the 24-year-old center was benched in their Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Given everything going on with the Suns, Williams is going to have to get his arms around this situation and get things right with Ayton.
“I haven’t spoken to him at all, ever since the game,” Ayton told reporters after the first practice of the season on Tuesday. “I can show him better than I can tell him. It’s life. Nobody cares about the uncomfortable nature of it, it’s how you perform and what you bring to the table. What’s said is already said.”
Deandre Ayton said he and Monty Williams have not spoken about their sideline incident in Game 7: pic.twitter.com/Z9rHYHr5yX
— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) September 27, 2022
Williams tried to downplay the situation, saying he hasn’t talked to a lot of the guys on this team since the playoffs.
“I think one-on-ones are always needed between guys I’ve been around for a while,” Williams said. “Some guys need it and some guys don’t. I’ll identify that as the season progresses. I’ll talk to everybody as I always do during camp, and it won’t be an issue at all.”
Williams is widely regarded as one of the best leaders of men in the entire league. Few have a bad word to say about him. His reputation is that he’s kind, genuine, and leads with empathy.
TrueHoop’s David Thorpe, a player development coach who has coached hundreds of professional players, defines leadership as breathing spirit into the hearts and minds of others. That’s Williams.
“On a really good day, I’m pretty average at coaching. I know that. I’ve been around the great ones, and I kind of know I’m not that, and so I rely on the Lord to do what He’s gonna do through me. The only thing I know that I can do every day is serve others, and that’s basically the foundation of my coaching,” Williams said.
Williams is going to have to lean on his empathetic spirit, his leadership and his heart to serve because something is broken in the relationship with Ayton.
The Suns did not offer Ayton a contract extension during his restricted free agency this summer, instead waiting to see what offers he received. They eventually matched the Indiana Pacers four-year $133 million offer. But the delay never sat right with Ayton.
As soon as the Suns received the four-year, $133M offer sheet, the franchise matched it. Deandre Ayton returns to Phoenix and can't be traded without his consent for a full year. https://t.co/dBXGN3qbCK
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 15, 2022
Ayton was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, his fellow peers in the top five have all received massive contract extensions, except Marvin Bagley III. Now, to be fair, those other players: Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Trae Young have earned All-Star, All-NBA and All-Defensive honors.
When you’re drafted first overall you expect to be one of the franchise cornerstones and that’s where things were headed. But the Suns were able to acquire Chris Paul in 2020 and the team’s timeline was accelerated.
Ayton was asked to be a defensive ace and he would catch lobs and rim run. He wouldn’t get the amount of shots on offense that he wanted, but with his sacrifice the Suns would have a chance to win and everything would be better.
The Suns went to the NBA Finals in 2021 and had the best record in the league last season. But something happened that was building up and led to that argument and subsequent benching in the playoffs.
It’s clear that Ayton has not moved past it, and perhaps Williams hasn’t either. But as the man with the temperament and spirit to lead, he is the one that needs to find a way to meet Ayton where he is and get this situation resolved.
The Suns have enough drama hanging over their franchise with their owner Robert Sarver. Chris Paul is 37, and we don’t know how many years of elite production he still has left. The team blew two really good opportunities the last two seasons. This upcoming season might be their last, in the current iteration.
Time for Williams to show what has been touted about him for years. He needs to find a way to bring Ayton back into the fold and galvanize this team so they can make another run.
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