EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Eric Gordon: Then-Suns teammate Deandre Ayton was ‘big part’ of joining Bahamas team

Nov 8, 2023, 10:18 AM

Eric Gordon drives against Deandre Ayton...

Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) shoots past Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) as forward Cameron Johnson, left, looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

(AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Phoenix Suns guard Eric Gordon had some vague understanding of the rift between his new team and center Deandre Ayton when he signed as a free agent this summer.

Ayton’s name had been bandied about in trade rumors before and after Phoenix in the summer of 2022 matched a max contract offer sheet he signed with the Indiana Pacers. The big man’s up-and-down play in two conference semifinal losses in the past two years didn’t help matters as the Suns, under new ownership, entered this offseason needing to balance a roster that had so many lucrative contracts on it.

That context had Gordon excited to join Ayton on the Bahamian national team for FIBA Pre-Qualifying play, where they advanced to give themselves a shot at Olympic action next summer.

And then, just before NBA training camp, Ayton was traded.

“I always kind of knew — I heard about the relationship between the Suns and him,” Gordon told Burns & Gambo Tuesday on Arizona Sports. “I was kind of hoping — I was anticipating he would at least start off the year (with the Suns) and all that and then right before training camp that happens.

“‘Cause he was a big reason why I played for the Bahamas, to see if I could get chemistry going with him and try to have his mind right before the season came. The NBA’s a business. Things happen.”

Ayton was traded in the Damian Lillard blockbuster that netted the Suns center Jusuf Nurkic, wing Nassir Little and guard Grayson Allen, a three-for-one swap that helped depth and divvied the cash accordingly.

Gordon said he didn’t have any intimate knowledge about the void between Ayton and the Suns heading into the year.

But he did feel something was off when he played Phoenix, most recently as last year’s first round, when Gordon’s Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Suns.

“You could just see it when you’re playing with him in the playoffs,” Gordon said. “Deandre’s a talented player … Early on in his career, when you come off pick-and-roll with him, this dude, he was just playing bully ball, he was dunking the ball, he was very active.

“You could always just see the disconnect on the floor sometimes. You could just see it on the floor but at the end of the day, he’s still a good player, he had a good career here and he’s going to continue to have a good career in Portland.”

Ayton’s fresh start with the Blazers has included hiccups, though not necessarily those of his making.

Through seven games, Ayton is averaging 10.4 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game, the last two reflecting his activity is up. But it’s a nearly eight-point dropoff from last year in about the same amount of minutes (30 per game).

It’s had a lot to do with Portland not having a Chris Paul-esque lead guard to set Ayton up. The center is relying on rookie guard Scoot Henderson and second-year pro Shaedon Sharpe, plus Malcolm Brogdon, who has started the last two games with Henderson suffering a sprained ankle.

Ayton’s shot volume at 8.9 attempts per game is well below his previous low through five seasons in Phoenix of 10 per game (2020-21).

His shooting percentage (57%) has dipped as well.

Portland ran off a three-game winning streak to reach 3-4 at this point, and the team still has massive spacing issues with an NBA-worst 29.5% accuracy from three-point range. That hasn’t helped Ayton’s cause, either. He and Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups have downplayed the lack of offensive inclusion.

“There’s a new thing we got going over here so it’s not really about me,” Ayton said, according to OregonLive.com. “It’s about how we’re going to figure this thing out and win games.

“All I’m trying to do is show them that hey, when DA rolls to the rim, you’re going to be open,” Ayton said of his teammates. “I’m going to roll hard, but make sure you knock down your shot.”

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Eric Gordon: Then-Suns teammate Deandre Ayton was ‘big part’ of joining Bahamas team