EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns describe ‘terrible’ experience isolated from team for COVID-19

Jan 10, 2022, 7:01 PM | Updated: Jan 11, 2022, 8:57 am
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, left, reacts with head coach Monty Williams during the first hal...

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, left, reacts with head coach Monty Williams during the first half of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — NBA seasons in the middle of a pandemic have offered us a lot of firsts.

One of many has been when a player or coach tests positive for COVID-19 and has to spend time not only away from the team but isolated. And luckily for the Suns’ first batch of these instances, they happened in Phoenix. Guard Landry Shamet wasn’t so lucky, going into health and safety protocols on Tuesday during the last road trip.

Head coach Monty Williams along with Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder and JaVale McGee all had their spells at home in the Valley under a unique situation. Two of them were pretty sick. As we know by now with COVID-19, symptoms vary by case.

McGee said he had a cough for a day and a bit of a headache but he was mostly fine. Ayton didn’t have any symptoms at all. The two, however, kept trying to test out and also get their cycle threshold (CT) value past a certain point, an indicator of how infectious someone with the virus currently is.

You can imagine how frustrating that would be.

“I felt like an innocent man who went to jail,” Ayton said Sunday. “I was just at home as healthy as could be, just sitting down watching the game and playing 2K, shaking my head. I was really healthy. Didn’t have no symptoms at all.”

That was a fortunate break for Ayton, who had already fallen ill this season. He had recently missed two games in mid-December with the flu and said he lost 10 pounds over that week.

Crowder and Williams were not in the same boat.

Williams said he’s someone who can usually handle a tough flu but that this was a different animal.

“It wasn’t mild but it wasn’t so severe that I even had to even think about going to the hospital but it did knock me on my butt for a few days,” Williams said Tuesday. “That kind of surprised me because typically when I have a bad flu I’ve always been able to function. For about 3-4 days, I was like, ‘Holy smokes, this thing is really hitting me in the head.'”

Crowder has some good and bad days, saying his main problem was fatigue and admitted after his first workout back on Tuesday that he was still feeling it.

“Obviously, it kills your energy level,” he said Tuesday. “I think that’s the main thing I’ve taken from it.”

Williams said the same thing in his first game back coaching for Tuesday’s win over the Pelicans, that he didn’t feel fully like himself yet.

But what all of them will undoubtedly agree on is that it was great to be back with the team. And, again, we need to emphasize the isolation aspect of this because they were just happy to see people again. Crowder went a week without face-to-face human interaction.

“Last week has been extremely boring. A lot of sleep,” McGee said Friday, noting he hated just about every aspect of it. “That’s about it. Didn’t do anything.”

One of the few activities McGee had was watching the games.

When the trio was back with the team but out for Thursday’s victory over the Los Angeles Clippers due to reconditioning, Williams said it felt like the team had 50 players on the bench because of how much they were getting involved.

If you’ve been to a Suns game this year or last, you’ve seen how active sidelined players are in cheering on the team and having conversations with active guys on what they are seeing. So, for a group like this, it drove them up a wall to be watching alone at their residence.

Especially their leader.

“It’s terrible. I felt like somebody watching their kids play,” Williams said. “I was wanting (acting head coach) Kevin (Young) to just be calm and do his thing and I’m wanting all of our guys to play well. You can’t be there with them. That part was the only bad part. I’m sitting there watching as a caretaker and a fan, and at the same time, I’m just wanting our guys to do well.

“It’s hard. And then you gotta go to commercials and all that kind of stuff, man. It was driving me nuts. I was trying my best to keep it together. I had to watch by myself. Sometimes my son would come watch with me but he would show up later and leave earlier. He was probably tired of me. I’m just glad to be back.”

Williams at least knew he could talk to the guys in the same spot during the game.

“In my 10-year career, that felt weird. I’ve never really done that for an extensive period of time … It felt a little off, it felt a little weird,” Crowder said of watching his team play from home. “Then I got a phone call and text from Monty during the game and it felt even weirder … I’m glad to be out of quarantine. Obviously, that was driving me crazy, just watching the games.”

Ayton, of course, is the only guy who has had a similar experience of an extended period not around the group when he was suspended for 25 games in the 2019-20 season. He described his recent COVID-related stint away from the team as bringing up bad memories but his fellas were looking out for him.

“Not being with the team and stuff, I felt left out,” Ayton said. “My teammates made sure in the group chats and stuff, checking up on me and made me feel good and I was just supporting them as well.”

Following his return, Williams would go on to laugh for the next few days after how many people were telling him he had a “pep in his step.”

“It bothered me like you can’t imagine not to be there,” Williams said. “I’m glad they interpreted it that way but I didn’t think it was any different than the normal doofus I am pregame.”

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