DAN BICKLEY

Can Suns’ Frank Vogel really get through to Deandre Ayton?

Jun 27, 2023, 2:52 PM | Updated: Jun 28, 2023, 7:17 am

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns reacts in the second quarter during their game against the Ch...

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns reacts in the second quarter during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center on March 01, 2023 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

A great teacher believes no child is beyond reach. Just like every successful coach is a sucker for lost causes and hidden treasure, the wayward underachievers burdened by dizzying talent.

Welcome to the intersecting worlds of Frank Vogel and Deandre Ayton.

“I think you can definitely reach all players,” Vogel said Tuesday. “Players have to be inspired and have to feel good about their roles and have to feel good about coming to work every day. If you create those types of situations for a player, the effort and motor piece come naturally.

“I’ve seen Deandre play with extreme effort. I’ve seen him play at a near All-Star level, quite frankly. I know it’s there. Obviously, he’s had some bumps in the road along the way, but we’re at a point right now with a fresh start that I feel like he’s going to have a great season for us.”

Vogel is highly skilled, affable and authentic. You desperately want to believe a new voice can trigger real transformation in Ayton. Can the right environment bring Ayton back into focus?

If an aging trainer can transform a Philadelphia brawler into a world champion, why can’t it happen here? Other than “Rocky” was a fictional character and all.

Ayton is a player in regression who couldn’t understand why the media was questioning his motor. Who couldn’t understand why Monty Williams was benching him in the playoffs. There is a serious disconnect between the player he believes himself to be and the $33 million center who can’t find any legitimate takers on the trade market.

Or he just plays dumb when necessary.

Mikal Bridges can always say he was traded for Kevin Durant. Ayton? He should be embarrassed and ashamed by the lack of interest he’s created.

There are many problems here. Ayton is entering his sixth year as an NBA professional. His game is suspiciously and maddeningly soft. The joy he gets from dunking a basketball rarely outweighs the fear of contact he might encounter along the way. His handle is terrible. And none of it makes any sense.

Ayton was sensational in the 2021 playoffs. He outplayed Denver’s Nikola Jokic in a four-game sweep, something that would sound absurd had we not seen it with our own eyes. And he carried the Suns for most of that 2022 series against the Pelicans.

The talent is there. We all know it. We’ve all seen it. But Ayton lacks the very attributes that Vogel claims to want in his basketball players. And by the end of the Western Conference semifinals, Devin Booker couldn’t hide his frustration in a group that came to an undeniable conclusion:

Ayton doesn’t want it. Not like they do. For three consecutive postseasons, Ayton has reached a point of no return and no mas. That’s why a trade is the best endgame for everyone involved.

Unless the new guy is a miracle worker. And if Vogel somehow coaxes the very best out of his enigmatic center on a nightly basis, he’ll do more than win his second championship ring. He might secure a place in the Hall of Fame.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6-10 a.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7, the app or online.

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Can Suns’ Frank Vogel really get through to Deandre Ayton?