The Phoenix Suns’ shocking loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of the conference semifinals was made even more puzzling by Suns big man Deandre Ayton’s limited playing time and only taking five shots in the final game. When asked about it, head coach Monty Williams said, “it’s internal.” Now, according to an article in Bleacher Report, Ayton’s effort has waxed and waned all season, Williams is not his fan, and the team might be preparing to move on.
According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report:
There were intel questions surrounding Ayton’s motor and work ethic dating back to his days at Arizona, but the 23-year-old has seemed to largely answer those doubts throughout the first four seasons of his professional career.
The recent Williams dynamic may simply echo consistent word—dating back to the trade deadline—from league sources with knowledge of the situation that Ayton is not particularly a favorite of Phoenix’s head coach. Williams has purportedly griped about Ayton’s waning focus, which some people contacted by B/R said has often been reflected by the ebbs of his playing time.
Last offseason Ayton’s reps told the Suns they wanted the rookie max extension of five years and $170 million for their client. The Suns pushed back, and no extension agreement was reached.
When a player is extension eligible and feels that he deserves to be paid based on his performance and a deal is not reached bad feelings start to develop. Ayton, along with Marvin Bagley III, were the only top five picks from the 2018 draft that were not offered rookie extensions.
But Ayton had a good season, and the Suns were the best team in the league, so everything was seemingly good and would get worked out this offseason.
Ayton’s play during the Mavericks series was strange. There were moments where he looked dominant and others where he was passive and when he had opportunities to attack the rim with force he opted for finesse plays. For the series he averaged 16 points and eight rebounds a game in just under 27 minutes.
His motor was a question heading into the draft, but he had a dominant stretch in last year’s postseason run and at times this season. Something is clearly going on, and the lack of an extension could be a reason.
As a No. 1 pick you expect a certain amount of touches and opportunities on the offensive end. He had that when it was him and Devin Booker. When the team acquired Chris Paul, Ayton’s offense was reduced a bit. While he seemingly bought into it, perhaps it came to a head this season.
The report also said that when the Suns declined to give him the max extension they began to gauge his market value in a trade.
This is a big-time gamble by the Suns. Allowing a 23-year-old big man as good as Ayton to walk via restricted free agency is a bad move. It’s unlikely general manager James Jones does that.
Maybe they ink Ayton to an extension and move him in a sign-and-trade and bring back another wing player like Detroit’s Jerami Grant and a backup point guard and they patch up the center position with Bismack Biyombo, JaVale McGee and Dario Saric, who is returning from injury.
Either way, Ayton’s time in Phoenix may have set with that bizarre Game 7.