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Ayton remains out, return date unknown

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton still feels pain from a knee bruise

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns starting center Deandre Ayton (knee contusion/bruise) has missed two of three games since suffering the injury in a game last week, and will likely miss a few more until he can play without pain.

Ayton had been on a roll, posting his second career 20-20 game (21 points, 21 rebounds, plus 3 steals) and tallied 17 points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes of the next game before coming up injured.

In his absence, the Suns have moved backup JaVale McGee (9.6 points, 6.1 rebounds per game) into a starting role, with Frank Kaminsky coming off the bench. Kaminsky has been a revelation, averaging 16.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in 28.5 minutes in the two games Ayton has missed so far.

Neither McGee nor Kaminsky have the individual talents of Ayton, but McGee has carved out a very nice niche late in his career as a short-minutes backup/starter, while Kaminsky is a good ‘connector’ on offense with his decision-making in the short roll.

McGee and Kaminsky combined for 21 points and 11 rebounds in Saturday’s win over a good Atlanta Hawks team.

Ayton did not suffer any structural damage, as shared by Suns head coach Monty Williams, but he has been ruled out of Monday’s game in Sacramento and will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis the rest of the week.

“We got so many games... game, day off, game, day off... he wasn’t able to do anything,” Williams said of Ayton on Sunday’s off day. “We don’t foresee him playing in the next game.”

The Suns play Monday at Sacramento, then home versus Portland on Wednesday, then back on the road for three games: at Memphis (Friday), at Houston (Sunday) and at Minnesota (Monday).

“His stuff has come back clean,” Williams says. “Structurally he’s fine. He’s just got to get to a place where he’s not playing with pain and soreness. It may take him a few games to get there but we’re confident with the medical assessment as to where he is.”

At some point in the third quarter of last Saturday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton banged knees with another player. He kept playing but did not return after he was subbed out for rest late in the third with a 24-point Suns lead. On that night, he finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 3 steals in just 24 minutes of action.

Since then, Ayton has been in and out. He missed one game with that soreness, but played the game after that. In the win over Houston, Ayton had 16 points, 11 rebounds and a block in 26 minutes but clearly was not moving at full speed. He was off the injury report Friday but then was ruled out on Saturday after reporting more soreness in the knee.

Most times, a bruise is just a bruise.

But let me fall down the rabbit hole for a moment...

It’s likely pure coincidence that Ayton’s knee pain returned a day after he was cleared from the daily injury report, mere hours after former player-turned-media Jalen Rose drops a bombshell that Suns owner Robert Sarver called Ayton a ‘lazy n-word’ during contract negotiations.

Rose made that comment on ESPN air a day after that same network published the big expose on Suns owner Robert Sarver last week with allegations of racism, sexism and misogyny from current and former employees.

The NBA has since opened an independent investigation and will use the same legal firm that helped the league depose two owners in the past decade — Clippers owner Donald Sterling and Hawks owner Bruce Levenson (both for racism) — but merely slapped the wrist of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (sexism/misogyny).

I’m not suggesting that Rose’s revelation, which had not been reported in the larger expose and goes against Sarver’s claim that he only used the n-word once when recounting Draymond Green’s use of it, was news to Ayton and caused him to suddenly re-evaluate playing through knee pain.

Ayton and the Suns had just recently failed to come to terms on a contract extension, making Ayton only the fourth top overall pick in the last 20 years to be refused a maximum-salary extension. The other three had suffered major injuries or performance issues ahead of their negotiations, whereas Ayton had just helped lead the Suns to the NBA Finals in just his third year. Teammates called him the playoffs MVP. Yet, the Suns refused to discuss a maximum extension and eventually just decided to wait until next summer to talk again. At the time, Ayton said he was ‘disappointed’ and just wanted ‘respect’ like his draft peers (four other players from that same draft got max extensions), but stayed focused with the team and was producing on the court.

Ayton was not on the sidelines with the team on Saturday night, which is unusual because he and other players are almost always on the bench with the team even while injured especially at home games. The picture used for this article was of Ayton cheering on teammates from the sideline this past Tuesday, wearing the Booker broken nose t-shirt.

Since he has already been ruled out of Monday’s game before the team flew to Sacramento, I would not expect Ayton to be with the team at tonight’s game either.

Let’s hope his knee, and head if necessary, are clear to play again soon.

The Suns (5-3) are currently riding a four-game win streak, but the next three games will be a big test against teams off to good starts this season, including a pair of teams that already beat the Suns this year (Kings, Blazers).

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