PHOENIX SUNS

Suns C Deandre Ayton: ‘I can hear the whole world hating me’

Jul 19, 2023, 2:02 PM

Deandre Ayton...

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns attempts a shot over Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets during Game Four of the NBA Western Conference Semifinals at Footprint Center on May 07, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Nuggets 129-124. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Deandre Ayton represents the Phoenix Suns’ x-factor, the supplementary player who can swing their title chances in 2023-24 behind a trio of perimeter stars.

He’s already been that to a large degree, playing his best ball in the 2021 NBA Finals run before signing a max deal and falling short of playing up to that contract.

The first overall pick in 2018 also navigated an icy relationship with his former head coach, Monty Williams, and for the last year-plus has heard his name battered around in trade rumors — real ones and pleas from the fanbase to make ones.

But only Devin Booker and Ayton remain from that 2020-21 squad that went to the last game of the NBA season, be it because he’s valued or because, from the outside, he’s not.

“I can hear the whole world hating me, in a way, where I think I’m the guy a lot of people point at,” Ayton told Eyewitness News Bahamas. “I see it and feel it. Mainly, what I’ve been working at the five or six days a week since we lost is just motivating myself to change the narrative of what people think about me. ‘Cause no matter how you put it, I feel like I have no fans out here.

“I can feel it because the whole world is saying it. My goal this whole summer is to change the narrative, just unlock whatever it is and just completely just focus on me and change the whole thing.”

Ayton sat down with the publication after donating $10,000 to a youth program from his home.

Regardless of Ayton’s production on the court, he has been the scapegoat for Phoenix’s failures in the two years since the run to the Finals, a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

He averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game on 59% shooting last season, though his defensive consistency waxed and waned as it has for much of his career.

Ayton, though, wasn’t alone in being a victim of eventual 2023 Finals MVP Nikola Jokic’s historic run to a title with the Denver Nuggets.

A reset with Frank Vogel in the head coach’s seat figures to give Ayton a chance to start fresh moving forward.

He will be the backline defender tasked with putting out fires and covering for any cracks in Vogel’s scheme that asks for perimeter pressure — and thus leading to more recovery efforts.

It seems Ayton is very aware of the noise around his 2022-23 performance. That noise certainly won’t reduce when the season begins, with Phoenix among the top title-chasers.

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