Deandre Ayton’s latest message about changing narratives felt heavier

Jul 19, 2023, 4:38 PM

Deandre Ayton...

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of a NBA game at Footprint Center on February 14, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

A rude awakening? Self-pity?

What, exactly, prompted Deandre Ayton to bare his soul to Eyewitness News Bahamas after donating $10,000 to a youth program in his native country?

“I can hear the whole world hating me, in a way, where I think I’m the guy a lot of people point at. I see it and feel it,” Ayton said. “Mainly, what I’ve been working at the five or six days a week since we lost (in the playoffs) 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.”

Words matter, until they are repeatedly abused and betrayed. Ayton has a long history of speaking in exaggerated terms that wildly exceed his actions.

These words sound and feel a little different. Heavier.

In Phoenix, Ayton is now a stranger on his own team. At the apex of last year’s postseason, he lost the trust of Devin Booker, and probably Kevin Durant. In Ayton, they see a player who won’t pursue a championship like they do, who won’t fight like they do. All his other friends are gone.

It might be a strange road back for the big fella, especially when a trade once felt so necessary and inevitable.

Maybe Ayton noticed that he generated very little trade interest over the offseason. Or maybe he read the reviews of his playoff performance against Denver star Nikola Jokic. Or how his game regressed after signing a $133 million contract, confirming many suspicions.

It’s tempting to believe in dizzying promise one more time. We have seen glimpses of how great Ayton can be when he competes with maximum effort. We have been told that big men take longer to develop. We know that former coach Monty Williams essentially gave up on Ayton, and that new head coach Frank Vogel is taking a softer, sensible approach.

Vogel might be able to reach Ayton in ways that Williams never did. Or maybe he’ll be the next coach to throw up his hands in frustration.

Alas, I keep going back to the red flag inside his poignant comments to a Bahamian media outlet. Did you notice it?

“My goal this whole summer is to change the narrative, just unlock whatever it is …”

Unlock whatever it is?

That is bothersome because you can’t fix the problem you can’t find. Even if it’s staring right back at you in the mirror.

But I’ll admit this:

If Ayton has finally found clarity and self-awareness, the Suns might win 70 games next season.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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