Less than 24 hours after crashing out of the NBA playoffs, questions are beginning to rumble over whether the Phoenix Suns can bounce back as star big man Deandre Ayton finds his name embroiled in rumours.
The Suns, who led the league in regular-season wins, set a franchise-record 64 games to take the top-seed in the NBA’s Western Conference before bowing out at the hands of the Mavericks in game seven of the conference semi-finals.
Coming into this season having coughed up a 2-0 lead in the NBA finals last year, it was a failure to rebound with a season full of promise.
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Not only was Monday’s 123-90 defeat on home court a bad look, but the final score didn’t indicate how lopsided the game actually was. The Mavericks led by 46 points at one juncture and the game was never even remotely competitive.
The burning question for the Suns’ management is Ayton’s future. The star center is now a restricted free agent.
Ayton’s future is complicated after his demands for a big-money contract extension last off-season were knocked back by the Suns. He is eligible for a five-year max extension worth just over $240 million.
“Deandre Ayton did not feel valued by this Phoenix organization. They were not able to come to an agreement on his rookie extension and he saw many of the top players getting extensions and he wanted a max deal, he would not move off that,” said ESPN’s NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski in the aftermath of Phoenix’s defeat.
And if Tuesday’s loss to the Mavericks is anything to go by, it appears the Suns are at odds with the man they drafted with the No.1 pick in 2018.
Ayton, who averaged just over 30 minutes per game in the playoffs, played 17 minutes in the loss, with Suns coach Monty Williams benching the center in the second half.
Williams was asked about the limited Ayton’s limited minutes and said it was “internal”.
American rapper Lil Wayne, who was sitting courtside at the game, told Fox Sports in the US “Monty got so upset with Ayton that he said, ‘you freaking quit on us'” during the game.
Most of the Suns’ nucleus is under contract for next season, including Paul, Booker, Mikal Bridges, Johnson and Jae Crowder.
Ayton had a slow start to his career — including a 25-game suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug program in 2019 — but rebounded to be a key cog in the team’s run to the NBA Finals last season.
Speaking on the drama, former NBA three-point specialist JJ Redick said it was clear the reason Ayton wasn’t offered a max contract was due to issues off the court.
“There’s a reason they didn’t max… has nothing to do with playoff performance. He was good in the playoffs last year. The reason they didn’t max him was because there’s questions about his attitude and character,” Redick said .
Redick suggests the Suns would be better off this off-season trading Ayton for a wing player to help stretch the floor and pair with the Suns’ two NBA All-Stars Paul and Booker.
“He’s the one guy on your roster that you could facilitate a sign-and-trade with and potentially bring back a third player, a wing player, that can get you buckets, that can guard,” Redick said.
“They just don’t have that third option right now.”
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