Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton insisted his motor is not something to worry about.
The way he sees it, his engine is running all the time.
“Motor? Really?” Ayton said after a recent practice. “We’re going to talk about motor, man? Nope! I run on Tesla battery.”
Ayton clearly needed a charge during the Suns’ 2023 playoff run. He did not get one, and the team suffered as a result.
Phoenix’s center, who was a necessary piece to their 2021 NBA Finals run, did not perform well. He averaged fewer than 10 rebounds per game this postseason. He also averaged 13.4 points, which was below his season average of 18.0 points.
At the Suns’ exit interviews Friday, Ayton denied his performance was questionable.
“I let the peanut gallery keep going and then I shut ‘em up with my performance,” Ayton said.
Ayton was still bothered by that “peanut gallery.” He commented on an Instagram post from ESPN with the clapping hands emoji after a video showed him unwilling to box out Nuggets center Nikola Jokic for a defensive rebound.
“I just clapped my hands,” Ayton said. He then told a reporter, “I don’t know what you want me to do right there.”
Ayton is perceived to be a player the Suns could move this offseason. He signed a four-year, $132,929,128 offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers that Phoenix matched. The Suns weren’t going to let Ayton walk, but they were not interested in giving him that money.
Phoenix needs to build a team around stars Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. It is unlikely Ayton will be a part of that, according to recent speculation.
Report: “(Deandre) Ayton would be excited about a fresh start with another franchise, sources told ESPN. The Suns are expected to aggressively explore the trade market for him this summer, league sources said.”
(via @espn_macmahon, https://t.co/gfDd0ZycrH) pic.twitter.com/XHD5H9UL2E
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) May 12, 2023
Ayton insisted in exit interviews he loves Phoenix. He prepped at Phoenix Hillcrest Prep and later played at the University of Arizona. The Suns selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, keeping him home.
But it might be best for both sides if Ayton finds a new one.
Phoenix has been aggressive in the days since its season ended. Friday, it fired a front office executive and two scouts, according to TNT’s Chris Haynes. Saturday, it parted with coach Monty Williams, who was criticized for the team’s back-to-back blowout losses in elimination games to end their season.
The Suns have an aggressive owner, Mat Ishbia, who has proven he wants to win. Phoenix traded four unprotected first-round picks, a pick swap and beloved forwards Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson to get Kevin Durant. Unlike when Ayton entered the NBA, the Suns are building away from him, not around him.
Phoenix had success in its four seasons with Ayton. It reached the 2021 NBA Finals and had a franchise-best 64 wins in the 2021-22 season. Ayton, who is perceived to have a personality against the style fans want him to have, matured with instruction from Williams and Suns starting point guard Chris Paul.
Ayton’s season was not smooth for him, too. He finished his season with a rib injury he said that caused pain even when he spoke to reporters at Friday’s exit interviews.
The Suns, who were without him in Game 6 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Denver Nuggets Thursday, did not have an anchor to guard Jokic. The Nuggets quickly showed with 22 points in the paint in their first 27 first-quarter points they were dominant over the Suns.
Ayton did not get a chance to help the Suns save their season.
“I don’t listen to the outside noise, man,” Ayton said. “I’m here, didn’t finish out the season the way we wanted to, but there’s always next year.”
But will be here?
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