If you haven’t yet read Dave King’s article covering the fact that Phoenix Suns’ Head Coach Monty Williams hasn’t spoken to center Deandre Ayton in some five months since an altercation on the sidelines during the team’s game seven loss to the Dallas Mavericks, do that now. I can wait.
I’ve been the first guy to want to move on from the sordid Robert Sarver affair and talk about real basketball. But this demands a closer look, because this is not normal. As Dave noted, these guys have been in close proximity for weeks and have had plenty of time and chances to air this out. But they haven’t, and it’s pretty clearly a mutual choice not to. If it weren’t, one of them would have extended the olive branch.
During media day yesterday, both guys were offered softball chances to embrace the other, and also chose not to. Ayton seemed almost to challenge Monty to make the first move, saying “I’m here.” Monty tried to just ignore the issue, offering a hollow explanation that “Oh, well, I haven’t talked to a number of guys.”
Compare that to the behavior of Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash, who used his media opportunity to project the warm and fuzzies onto apparently disgruntled superstar Kevin Durant.
“We’re fine,” Nash said Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy.”
Talk is just talk. What ultimately matters is what happens on the court, but this situation has a lot of potential to impact the Suns moving forward.
Is Ayton’s future really with the Suns?
Ayton got a big contract extension after the Suns matched the Indiana Pacers’ offer sheet, giving the big man a four-year deal worth about $133 million. But all he had to say when offered a chance to say he was thrilled to be staying in Phoenix was a subdued “I was happy it was all done.” He then troublingly qualified that with “I guess.”
I’m not usually prone to conspiracy theories, but to me this seems like Ayton hanging out a big flag for other general managers around the league not to forget about him when he becomes eligible to be traded in January. He’s not happy with James Jones or Monty Williams, neither of them appear to be on the way out, so he’s keeping that lifeboat available to himself. Maybe that keeps Durant in play for the Suns down the line, or some other superstar deal might make sense.
Or maybe time and on-court success will salve these wounds. The good news for the Suns is that if Ayton is trying to backdoor his way out of Phoenix, he’ll need to be a high performer to compel other teams to offer the Suns something the Suns will accept.
Will this impact the other Suns?
How can it not? NBA twitter is basically hitting the panic button on the Suns, declaring the franchise a smoking ruin of dysfunction. Between this and the club’s impending sale in the wake of the Sarver debacle, they may have a point.
This is where leadership from Chris Paul and Devin Booker really needs to shine. To remind everyone that whether they’re in this for the long haul or are anticipating being gone soon (I’m looking at you, Jae Crowder) that they need to remain professional and focused on the goal of winning basketball games every time they go out on the court to represent the Phoenix Suns.
Personally, this has me more than a little nervous. Plenty of good teams have been derailed by locker room dysfunction over the years, and it’s pretty obvious there are simmering tensions that have multiple Suns either outright unhappy or lukewarm on staying, which is crazy for guys on a contending team.
My take? Monty Williams should take the high road and soothe Ayton’s ego, if it’s at all possible. That’s part of the job of being an NBA head coach...you have to accommodate the personalities you are given. Pride can be a tough thing to overcome, and I don’t know who is “at fault” in all this if anyone is.
But I know it needs to be fixed, one way or another. Soon.
How concerned are you about the apparent continuing rift between Monty and Ayton?
This poll is closed
Very. This has to be fixed immediately.
A little, but it shouldn’t be a distraction once the season starts.
Not at all. It’s empty talk.