Suns notebook: Ayton nears return; backup PG rotating; Melo back
PHOENIX — The 25-game suspension of Deandre Ayton is a great example of how fast the NBA season moves.
While it’s been a tenuous stretch for the Phoenix Suns without their franchise center, the run without Ayton ends once the buzzer sounds on Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers, and it didn’t feel too long ago when the news initially broke.
You can certainly sense a high level of excitement for the big fella to be back.
“Very exciting,” shooting guard Devin Booker said with a smile on Sunday. “I think he’s antsy, the whole team is ready. It’s an exciting time.”
“Every day he talks about how many games left, how excited he is, how he’s got all this pent-up energy and everything that he needs to just let out,” big man Frank Kaminsky said Monday. “I know he’s ready. This has been a frustrating process for him, especially for so long having to just see everyone.
“And he’s healthy, and he’s ready and he knows how much effort and energy he put into improving this season, just having to sit and watch us all on every road trip.
“Not being able to be around the team in the locker room during games — he’s got a lot of frustration and energy pent up that I know he’s ready to let go.”
Ayton’s teammates have had to tell the media how Ayton is doing since the 21-year-old has not talked to the media since the suspension. In fact, since the reporting done by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on the night the news broke, there has essentially been radio silence on anything surrounding Ayton.
That’ll make it quite the event on Tuesday before his return against the Los Angeles Clippers when it is expected that Ayton will speak.
There will be an undeniable cloud hanging over the Suns that day of a borderline “circus.” What’s more, the Suns are playing against one of the best teams in the NBA on the second game of a back-to-back on the road, making Monday’s matchup against a 10-16 Portland team that much more important to lock up at home.
“It’s just not the focus right now,” head coach Monty Williams said of Ayton. “We’re totally focused on Portland tonight. When we get Deandre back, we’ll plan accordingly. Obviously, we’re happy that it’s going to be sooner rather than later, but tonight our focus is going to be on Portland.”
STILL LOOKING FOR A BACKUP PG
Through injuries and quality of play, Williams is still searching for his go-to backup point guard almost a third of the way through the season.
Jevon Carter saw time there this season, as did Elie Okobo and Tyler Johnson before the return of rookie Ty Jerome from injury, which saw him immediately thrust into the role.
After Jerome hit the rookie wall hard soon after, Williams went back to Okobo against the San Antonio Spurs.
“It’s still a work in progress trying to find out who’s going to take over that backup role and own it, and we just haven’t been there yet,” Williams said.
Williams half-joked that he wished it weren’t a different guy all the time and that he could find the right player for the role.
Carmelo Anthony is back in the league after signing mid-season with the Trail Blazers.
While the 10-time All-Star has his defensive shortcomings at this stage of his career, he can obviously still provide a boost offensively.
“It speaks to his mental stamina to be able to fight the doubts,” Williams said of Anthony. “I’m just happy to see him back in the league.”
Anthony is averaging 16.3 points per game and is shooting 39.6% from three-point range. To the surprise of those aforementioned doubters, Anthony’s net rating is 2.5, supporting that he’s been a positive player for Portland.
While Phoenix’s gameplan, like any team facing the Trail Blazers, revolves around stopping Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Anthony provides a bruising shot creator that can get by the likes of Dario Saric and bump off smaller wings like Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Cam Johnson.
It’s a testament to the ability of the 35-year-old and how he kept his body in peak condition waiting for his opportunity that he still creates matchup problems all these years beyond his prime.
NO BOOKER UPDATE
Williams had no further update on Booker’s status at shootaround.
“We’ll find out later. He’s still a bit sore,” he said.
Booker missed his first game of the season on Saturday and was listed as questionable on Sunday due to a right forearm contusion.