The return of Deandre Ayton to Suns brings the growth needed on both sides

We all had our own expectations as to whether or not Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton would return after becoming a restricted free agent last October.

You can bet he, the organization’s key decision makers, their staff and players had their own too. I’m sure they were just as different as ours.

Well he’s back. Phoenix matched a four-year, $133 million offer sheet that Ayton signed with the Indiana Pacers. For all the talk about a center not getting the maximum in today’s NBA, Ayton did, and he deserves credit for it. He pushed for that max during renewal talks, and while that’s by default for less money than the contract the Suns could have offered, he’s standing for reasons the Suns have and should have reached the 2021 NBA Finals , at the top of the list have been compensated as such.

But it wasn’t him. And the saga that unfolds begs the question of not only how badly Ayton wanted to be back, but how badly the Suns wanted him back.

Maybe that was all a bit of an exaggeration. I doubt it.

Ayton spoke ahead of the season about wanting to expand his offensive role more, as he should, in a way that suggested he was allowed to do more of what he wanted as opposed to what the Suns wanted him to do . That didn’t happen.

The Suns provided the same answers all year as they wanted to see more consistency in Ayton’s high-end performances when his potential was really shining. That didn’t happen, as shown by an outstanding first round against New Orleans and a second-round dud against Dallas.

The story was that Ayton had to prove to the Suns that he deserved this desired role. However, now Phoenix Ayton has to prove that they believe in him by giving him the role he wants.

It caused it itself by initially not paying him and portraying a lack of confidence in his abilities. The way the Suns’ last game of the season ended, “this is internal” and whatnot, didn’t help either.

You know who knows this way better than you or me? head coach Monty Williams. He will be there. He will do whatever he has to do to make his relationship with Ayton the best it can be. It starts and ends there, as we’ve seen from the endless benefits of Williams’ close rapport across the squad.

Otherwise, January 15 will linger over the year of suns. This is the date when Ayton can be traded (with his approval). It has been featured extensively since its return, and with good reason given all the speculation surrounding its future.

That’s only going to continue unless there’s some sort of breakthrough, one the Suns were trying to find two seasons ago.

Early in the 2020-21 season, Phoenix, and particularly their point guard Chris Paul, attempted to put Ayton in a bigger offensive role. Paul enforced it in a way that I stated a couple of times that he was willing to negatively impact the Suns’ ability to win early regular-season games in the present so it would be better going forward.

It was clunky, never got much easier, and the Suns got out. Ayton primarily became a screen-setter, diver, rebounder, defender, and runner of the floor. Those responsibilities didn’t expand last year, and for the good of the team, it worked in the regular season.

But then moments like the second round would roll around when it was in the Suns’ best interest to prioritize Ayton against a small Mavericks team. When the Suns actually tried what wasn’t enough, the same clunkiness surfaced and we all know the rest.

How about two weeks earlier, however, when Ayton thrived after Devin Booker was injured and more was asked of him offensively?

Again, it’s a one-way street. Ayton needs to be more consistent. The Suns need to involve him more consistently, even if it’s a rocky road that’ll take the regular season to figure out.

That’s what makes Ayton so polarizing. There are some nights he’s playing where his engagement has waned and it’s on him. There are nights when he’s locked up and the Suns don’t capitalize on it, and that’s on them. The refusal of many to believe it can be both, as opposed to one or the other, has fueled quite a bit of discourse around him over the past four years.

But it is both! Both sides need to get better. And the funny thing is that the Suns, who are running back a similar version of last year’s roster, are raising concerns that if both sides handle it better, Phoenix’s chances of winning a championship will increase significantly.

Yes very. Not just a little. Ayton could be that good, and the Suns’ offense lacked some added momentum from a source other than Booker and Paul. We’ve talked for weeks about the Suns adding another ball handler and threatening the rebound, something the Suns have yet to address, but their best fix to the problem has always been right in front of them.

Penguin Air

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: