EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Subdued Deandre Ayton is ‘happy’ offseason got done, Suns matched

Sep 26, 2022, 4:56 PM | Updated: Sep 27, 2022, 11:57 am

PHOENIX — To start, I’ve been around Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton hundreds of times when he speaks with the media. It is dangerous to read too much into how someone’s tone or body language is for a press conference. Ayton especially is often energetic but has his days when his mood is rather subdued.

With all that in mind, we can’t not read into how Ayton came off at Monday’s media day. It’s totally subjective and up to you on how you want to react to it but it was not a day for him to lack energy and appear either serious or angry, depending on how you want to interpret his availability.

Ayton is coming out of an offseason filled with speculation over his future and happiness in Phoenix. And on top of that, the cloud hanging over Monday of the Robert Sarver report, a shocking exit from the postseason and Jae Crowder’s absence dominated the day.

It was also Ayton’s first time speaking since getting a four-year, $133 million contract from the franchise. So, again, it would have been a good day to share that infectious energy we’ve all come to enjoy when Ayton provides it.

He chose not to provide it.

Ayton, a very thoughtful guy, was short and succinct with his answers. He hardly expanded on the roughly dozen questions he received.

As is his right, but at the same time, the reason why it was important is becasue of the amount of overreactions flooding in regarding his lack of inflection.

Let’s say in a hypothetical situation that Crowder’s situation stays private and he spoke on Monday. I feel really good about the chances of Crowder being the way he always is and not giving anyone anything to read into regarding his future with the organization.

Regardless, this is one of those “it is what it is” situations and only starts to be something worth jotting down as a concern beyond a 24-hour news cycle unless this tone remains without a sizable uptick in his performance on the court.

And the tone was one that can certainly be interpreted in a different way, that Ayton is locked in and going to play angry all year.

“I’ve been working on everything,” he said Monday. “I’m just trying to be the most dominant person right now. And I feel like I can do that.”

And, hey, if this is the new Ayton and he’s just going to come off this way and uses that to find a new level to his game, then more power to him and it’s nothing. Head coach Monty Williams cited people haven’t been able to see how much work Ayton has put in this summer and that Ayton has improved.

“Just relentlessness,” Ayton said of what he wants to improve on. “Just being that player I always wanted to be ever since I got drafted. I wouldn’t say there’s no pressure coming off of me. I’m older now and it’s no more taking baby steps, it’s just going out there and taking what’s yours.”

Despite what he said to ESPN after his offer sheet was matched in mid-July, a piece in which he opened up on how free agency went for him and how he understands it’s a business, Ayton didn’t even delve into any of that on Monday.

“I was under a rock just working,” he said of how the process was. “I was just leaving all that in my agent’s hands and I trusted my team.

“Weight, no. No weight, no pressure,” Ayton added of playing last year without a new contract. “Just tried to do the best that I can to do what my task is and I let the rest take place. I just trust my team and do what they have to do and put me in the situation where I am now.”

Ayton was seen in the photo shoot sections of his media day joking around and laughing with his teammates like his usual jovial self. Maybe it was less about his feelings on being in Phoenix and more about the narratives that swirled around his name this offseason by the media. Many in the room, including myself, were critical of his game this summer and often have been. It is very fair to be peeved about that.

The bottom line is that after the way the offseason unfolded, Jan. 15 — the day Ayton can be traded with his approval — is going to hover over this team and him from an outside perspective until that date comes across and beyond.

Monday did not help ease any concern on that front. But if the Ayton we saw talk does in fact indicate a change in his demeanor that is going to help him reach his potential, that’s all that matters.

“Why look back?” Ayton said when asked of his mindset looking forward. “I don’t want to take no steps back. I just want to move forward.

“Nothing’s changed,” Ayton added on the team’s goals. “We’re a lot older now to where there’s no more baby steps. We know the task at hand so there’s really not much talk.”

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