There are no victory laps. There is no joy when, “See? I told you so” statements are made. We all want Deandre Ayton to play well. We need him to play well. If this team is to win a championship, Ayton is an x-factor for the Phoenix Suns. Perhaps he is the x-factor.
What we witnessed during Game 3 against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals from Deandre Ayton was bad. Lost on defense, absent on offense; Ayton’s effort what that of someone whose mind was elsewhere. Maybe he’s wondering if KD gave him the right Call of Duty code to unlock the Durant character?
You can get away with that type of performance if you’re a league-minimum guy, someone without expectation or a future with the franchise. But when you are a former number one overall pick? When you’re a maximum contract center, earning $33.3M a year? People are going to notice.
And people noticed. They went to their sheds, grabbed their pitchforks, and justifiably hit ‘send’ on many a Tweet:
Trade Ayton for anything. I don’t care. Anything.— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) May 6, 2023
I spent a lot of time defending Ayton pre contract, but now I see how foolish I was— David Sillyman (@Dante_Bastos) May 6, 2023
Bruh I always tried to stay positive with him but dude is a bum— Tyler Olson (@TOshow24) May 6, 2023
The accountability from the fanbase is their desire to receive price for value paid, which Ayton hasn’t consistently provided since signing his contract last summer.
You know what that’s like. Have you ever stayed at a hotel, paying your hard-earned money for an experience that you hope is memorable, only to have numerous problems occur? The room rate is a reflection of the value of your vacation, and when it fails to meet your expectations, frustration sets in.
This sums up the fanbases simmering discontent with Ayton over his five years in Phoenix.
It’s been said that DA can’t be played off the floor due to his athleticism and defensive versatility. It’s been said that he has the ability to turn it on when the playoffs occur, that the playoffs is when he is at his best.
On Friday, he was played off the court. This postseason, his motor and effort has come into question.
The fire and passion that he possesses in press conferences, for which he absent after Game 3, is becoming all talk. His lack of engagement on the court is seeping to interactions off the court.
Ayton went over to the coaches huddle to double check himself. CP3 gave him a tap and then held his hand out for a dap as Ayton walked away. Not reciprocated. Ayton sat on the end of the bench during huddle.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) May 6, 2023
It’s not what you want to see. It’s a scenario that is 100% of his own creation. It will (once again) a topic of offseason fodder.
But it’s not the offseason yet.
For those of you who have read my writing for over three years on this site, you know my feelings on Ayton. I classify myself as an ‘Ayton Realist’, someone who tries to navigate the big picture while understanding and holding him accountable for the present. I rarely apologize for his performances, or for my opinions of them. I want him to succeed, I’m pissed when he mails it in, and I cheer his DOMINAYTON performances.
Much akin can do the majority of the fanbase, I too am frustrated with what I am seeing from Deandre. I too want his success to be a factor in Suns victories rather than him watching from the bench as Jock Landale takes his minutes in vital games. I too think that he needs to be better.
I remain an Ayton Realist.
For those who believe that starting Bismack Biyombo or Jock Landale over Deandre Ayton, just stop. Sure, he has issues with his motor. But sitting Ayton at this point would not help the team win. And that’s all we’re trying to do here, right? Win games.
Ayton is feeling it, make no mistake about that. Despite his ups and downs, Ayton does give the Suns the best chance to win, even if it is embarrassing fashion. Again, it’s no time for victory laps. It’s no time for “I told you so”.
What is it time for is our support.
I know. I sound like I’ve taken the blue pill. I hear the comments already. “Support?! Are you crazy?”. “We should drive DA to the airport, supporting him only by paying for his Uber”. “He’s making $33.3M. He can support himself”.
You’re not wrong. But you’re also not right.
He needs emotional support because that is who Deandre Ayton is. He’s not want we want him to be: a physical center who uses his God-given body to destroy those in his path. In realty, he is a 24 year-old kid surrounded by some of the best talent in the NBA and (I’m assuming) feels like the little brother on the team. He lacks the alpha gene. It is who he is.
Those of you will be in attendance at the next Suns game, cheer him. Root him on. Show your support, even if you don’t mean it. A player such as Ayton needs the love. He lacks the killer instinct that Kevin Durant and Devin Booker have. He needs to feel the support. We as fans must give it to him.
When the postseason is over, and if the Suns don’t win a championship, the conversations will start about what is next. There is a time and place to hold Ayton accountable for his performances. What is next now for Phoenix is supporting Deandre Ayton, as much as it might not feel earned.
Get behind him. Cheer for him to assist in instilling the confidence he currently lacks. Help him help the Suns win. He’ll get the business on the road, we have to do our part here at home.
Take the blue pill.