“Deandre Ayton said it best, our relationship is calm”— SiriusXM NBA Radio (@SiriusXMNBA) August 26, 2022
Phoenix head coach, Monty Williams, tells @TermineRadio & @JumpShot8 that he hears all the narratives in regards to the way he coaches Ayton, but that’s the way he coaches all of his players. pic.twitter.com/qal5SkgXeb
Williams and Ayton seemed to have a disagreement during the Suns’ 123-90 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals last season, when Ayton was benched three minutes into the second half and appeared to say, “I can’t pass myself the ball,” to Williams in a clip posted on social media.
Asked after the game why Ayton played just 17 minutes, Williams replied sternly, “It’s internal.”
“I’ve heard all that stuff (about he and Ayton potentially having a bad relationship through) second- and third-hand, all the narratives,” Williams told Justin Termine and former Phoenix Suns forward and current color analyst Eddie Johnson on Sirius XM’s ‘The NBA Today’ show. “And the bottom line is I have to coach, and all of our players will tell you that I coach everybody.
“When I have to make a move like that, it’s me calling them up. It’s never personal, and I think [DA] said it best when he did an interview, our relationship is calm. I’ve invested a lot of time into the player and the person, and when I do something like that, it’s because I want what’s best for you, but I also have to try my best to hold everybody accountable. At the same time, there are times in which I wish I could have handled things a little bit differently. I will take it myself. But our relationship, I don’t know where all that stuff is coming from.”
Given the Suns reportedly did not value Ayton as a max player and he was set to become a restricted free agent this offseason, Ayton’s apparent argument with Williams appeared to some to be a final sign he would not return to Phoenix.
However, Suns general manager James Jones said after the season the team wanted to maintain the “continuity” of its young corps, and even though a potential sign-and-trade involving Ayton with the Indiana Pacers was not completed, Phoenix showed it valued Ayton by reportedly matching his four-year, $133 million offer sheet from the Pacers within three minutes.
“We wanted Deandre here,” Jones reportedly told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “He’s vital to what we do, at the core of everything that we do. And throughout this whole process it was, it rang true. We wanted to keep him here, and the moment we can come to an agreement, we would. So waiting 24, 48 hours, that wasn’t something we needed to do because going into it, we knew this is where he wanted to be and where we wanted him to be.”
On Ayton’s signing on Wojnarowski’s story, Williams said: “James and myself, we talk a lot and he’ll let me know what’s going on with the contract and ask for my opinion. I try to stay out of persuading him when it comes to him making decisions. But we knew any offer that [Ayton] got, we were going to match.”
The Suns appear to be set on moving forward with a majority of their roster from last season’s record-breaking 64-win campaign. Phoenix’s pursuit — assuming it seriously considered it — for Brooklyn Nets superstar forward Kevin Durant ended earlier this week when Durant reached an agreement to stay with Brooklyn after reportedly demanding a trade request at least twice.
Before Ayton resigned with the Suns, he was mentioned as a potential trade asset for Durant, including Phoenix forwards Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson and players under expiring contracts, like starting forward Jae Crowder, backup guard Cameron Payne and backup forward Dario Saric, along with draft compensation.
Williams spoke about the Suns’ trade rumors with Durant, which seemed serious when Durant reportedly listed Phoenix as a preferred destination.
“I never talked to any of our guys about that,” Williams said. “One, people don’t understand how hard trades are to pull off. And when I first heard about the Kevin Durant stuff, I was kind of blown away by it, just because we’ve been so blessed here to have guys who want to come.”
“At the same time, ‘At the expense of what?’, was my thinking. And I like our team, I love our guys. But I wasn’t going to have conversations that didn’t need to be had. I think our guys are mature enough to understand that part of our business. So I didn’t want to have conversations about stuff that didn’t need to be brought up.”
Williams, Ayton and the Suns are fast-approaching the start of their 2022-2023 season. Phoenix will open preseason play on Oct. 2 against the National Basketball League’s Adelaide 36ers and will open its regular season against the Mavericks on Oct. 19.