Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton turned the internet upside down Monday morning, leaving most to question whether or not Ayton is happy being in Phoenix.
The Phoenix Suns media day was nothing short of storylines. Marc J. Spears of ESPN believed that Suns media day was the saddest media day he’s attended in 32 years of covering the NBA. Spears says Ayton told him that there’s a cloud over the franchise, thanks to the Robery Sarver situation.
This so-called “cloud” wasn’t the only thing cloudy in Phoenix. The franchise declined to extend Deandre Ayton’s rookie deal prior to the 2021-22 season, forcing Ayton to play out the final year of his contract.
Ayton is a former #1 overall pick who averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds on 63% shooting during the 2021-22 season. According to NBA.com, he recorded both his 3,000th career point and his 2,000th career rebound this past season, becoming the second-fastest player to reach these milestones in a Suns uniform behind only Charles Barkley. These milestones came without financial security.
On July 14, the restricted free agent accepted a four-year, $133 million offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers. The Suns were quick to match.
“We were clear since day one that we wanted Deandre Ayton,” Suns general manager James Jones said. “We were very proactive matching and making sure that he stayed here in Phoenix.”
Monty Williams, Chris Paul, and Devin Booker all stepped up to the podium after Jones. Then came Deandre Ayton.
His first question came from Arizona Republic Phoenix Suns Insider Duane Rankin: What was your initial reaction once the Suns matched the Pacers offer?
“I was happy, it was all done, I guess,” said Ayton.
Ayton’s presser continued with monotone responses and short answers, leaving the media to wonder whether or not DA is all in. However, he was seen with teammates laughing and joking during the photo shoot section of media day. With this being said, Ayton has the full support of his teammates, shown by their answers to questions about him.
Chris Paul had mentioned a few years back about wanting to get Ayton paid. Now that Ayton is paid, Paul is “happy for him.”
“Anytime guys get an opportunity to set up possible generational wealth for their family doing something like playing a game or sport I’m always excited about,” Paul said. “Of course we want to win, you know everybody always wants to win, but you also want more guys to succeed and be able to take care of their families.”
The pressures that come with playing in a contract year can distract one from focusing on the task at hand. Devin Booker now believes that because Ayton received the max, “he can just go out there and play and not have to think about it.”
All things considered, did media day see a more focused Ayton or is this just a sign of his immaturity? Teammates of Ayton feel as if he is more determined than ever.
Cameron Payne has noticed a drastic difference in Ayton from the year prior.
“I saw him in the gym all summer. I can tell that he’s focused, more than last year,” Payne said.
Along with Payne, forward Torrey Craig has noticed a difference in Ayton’s focus level. Craig mentions the pressures that come with being the number one overall pick and how difficult it can be to fill those shoes. He feels that Ayton is more than ready to fill those shoes.
“I talk to DA a lot. His IQ is improving. The game is slowing down for him,” Craig said.
People suggesting that Ayton is upset or not happy being in Phoenix because of the way he handled the press conference might be reaching. Perhaps the 2022 NBA Playoffs and past offseason helped Ayton grow up? Or maybe even the birth of his son?
“It all started from him being a father. I am seeing him work more than I used to,” said Mikal Bridges.
Monty Williams is aware of DA’s potential, acknowledging that his coaching will heavily influence how good he can be.
“I think there’s some wrinkles in what we do that will allow for some of his talents to show a little more,” Williams noted. “I think that one of the things that I did not do a good job of last year is allow for other guys to grow in their abilities to initiate offense, which gets a lot of pressure off Chris.”
Deandre Ayton is ready to take that next step, indicating that he is trying to be “the most dominant person right now.” He certainly has the capability and size to do so.
“He is a 2K create a player,” Cameron Johnson said. “7-foot, strong, can do everything.”
Time will only tell if Ayton has turned the page, but his media day presser was certainly one to remember.