By now you’ve seen all the quotes surrounding Media Day 2022 for the Phoenix Suns, and you’re probably trying like I am to put together an overall takeaway.
The kindest word I can come up with is ‘unfazed’, which is exactly how the Suns have been acting since James Jones, Monty Williams and Chris Paul entered the picture.
Yet, using the word ‘unfazed’ seems wrong. It was too quiet in there. Too subdued.
James Jones says the team is in a state of shock over the Sarver report.
Marc J. Spears of ESPN think it was the saddest Media Day he’s attended in 32 years covering NBA basketball. He says Ayton told him there’s a cloud over the franchise, thanks to the Sarver situation.
But the Sarver thing isn’t the only thing holding these Suns back.
They arrived today with a surprisingly long list of juicy storylines, considering we haven’t seen or heard from any of them in over four months —
- one starter (Jae Crowder) refusing to report to training camp
- another starter (Deandre Ayton) having to force a new contract onto the team this summer
- their top bench player (Cameron Johnson) still waiting for his own extension
- an as-yet-unexplained 33-point home loss in Game 7 of Round 2 to end their 2022 title hopes
And that’s in addition to...
- the banning of their owner from the NBA for abusing hundreds of employees over his 18 year ownership, and
- that owner’s subsequent decision to put the team up for sale
Given all those issues, we might have expected an emotional Suns team to show up.
We might have expected to see shaking fists and squinted expressions over Sarver’s unacceptable behavior. Instead, we got stone faces as they all answered several Sarver questions apiece.
We might have expected several-minute outbursts, decrying the fact that Sarver’s behavior went unchecked for so long and that he probably, certainly isn’t the only one in the NBA who acts like that. Instead we got a lot of “shocked” and “unacceptable”, but not much else.
We might have expected some frustration about Crowder going public with his trade demand and refusal to join the team, leaving his teammates high and dry as training camp opens. Instead we got a lot of love and respect for Crowder, and acceptance that everyone has to follow their own path and their universal support for him following his. “Guys will do what’s best for them. You’re your own advocate. As a teammate, you want what’s best for your boys. There’s no bad blood between Jae and I. It’s business — him trying to do what’s best for his career,” Cam Johnson said of Jae Crowder, echoed by all his teammates.
We might have expected Cam Johnson to show some anxiety over his ongoing negotiations for an extension, knowing the team’s final decision-maker (Robert Sarver) is unavailable, which could stall out any talks on big money spending before the season. Instead, we got Cam saying he’s not sweating it and he’s excited for the season. “It’s good. It’s exciting. We’re working on it, both sides together. I hope we can come together.”
We might have expected Deandre Ayton to give us better sound bites after the acrimonious contract negotiations this summer. But he was expressionless and concise, giving no fodder for media to twist and turn. “I was happy it was all done, I guess,” was all Ayton would say about the Suns matching the Pacers’ contract offer.
We might have expected detailed explanations for what went so wrong in that Mavericks playoff series, to the point where their own players wondered how that happened. Instead, we got a steady diet of “they beat us fair and square” “we weren’t ready” and “credit to them”.
We got what we always get from these Suns, albeit maybe a little “sadder” than usual, but really not a lot different than what we’ve seen for two years.
Ever since one-mood James Jones took over as General Manager, hired ever-reflective Monty Williams and traded for hyper-focused, professional media scrum master Chris Paul, these Suns have been a closed book with their emotions in front of media.
The lone voice that media could count on for a good sound bite, Deandre Ayton, seems to have jarringly matured beyond the goofy speak-before-I-think stage. He now just wants to focus on basketball, and being the best that he can be. How boring.
Chris Paul specifically said the first thing that came to mind when the Robert Sarver report came out was not to be first to go public, but to counsel his young teammates not to go blabbing to the media. He said raw reactions get twisted, sometimes interpreted in ways you didn’t want them to be.
It’s quite possible that the Suns basketball side, specifically from James Jones to Monty Williams to the young players, may never have seen Sarver the Abuser the way the business side of the franchise saw him. Several of them commented at Media Day today that they were shocked at the findings, partly because they hadn’t witnessed any of that behavior themselves. But they were all, to a man, very careful to express that the report was unacceptable and that they didn’t want to take away from all those who had suffered.
That muted, keep-it-in-house pattern was used for the other juicy-turned-dry storylines.
No less than six times did someone say “we had lots of conversations about (subject) but those are going to stay private”. I also heard “it’s internal” on a number of different topics, and “it’s between us” a few times as well.
What the media got today was a bland, don’t look back attitude from GM to the very last player.
“Everything I say is with the mindset of moving forward,” Booker said at the beginning of his press conference.
They clearly just wanted to get this uncomfortable Media Day over with as quickly as possible so they could get back to the subject of basketball.
So let’s basketball, then.
“The narrative that we don’t have enough is false,” GM Jones said. “I believe in the group that we have. We have some really good players. I see them, behind closed doors, putting in the work.”
“You’re going to see bodies that look a bit different,” Williams promised, of the Suns players we haven’t really seen since May. “This is the first normal summer that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Indeed, Cameron Johnson in particular looked much more bulked up. Not Ish-bulk, but bulked up nonetheless.
“I thought we had SO much time, I’m glad we’re back,” Mikal Bridges said.
Overall, we got the Media Day we probably should have expected all along. These Suns have never been ones to harp on the past, they’ve never grinded over issues and they’ve never lost their cool... at least in front of the media.
They are just ready to get a new season going.
“We’ll find it,” Mikal Bridges said with a smile, of the Suns recapturing their impeccable mojo of recent seasons. “Being around this summer, being around the guys, every day is great vibes.”
“I like our foundation here,” Booker said. “We have the chemistry, the experience of playing through a lot of situations.”
Still, Jones and Williams know there’s work to do, beginning with their team meeting at 5:00 PM today to kick off the season.
“[We are in] a state of shock,” James Jones said. “You don’t want that to be the narrative around the group. The big thing for me is to transition to a more positive environment.”
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