Deandre Ayton says his relationship with Suns coach Monty Williams is “calm” in the first interview since their verbal exchange in Phoenix’s final game of the 2021-22 season.
Ayton didn’t reveal in an ESPN story what was said between him and Williams in the second half of a 33-points loss in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals to the Dallas Mavericks back in May.
“Game 7 was an anomaly,” Ayton said in an ESPN’s Andscape story written by Marc J. Spears in his first interview since Game 7 as he wasn’t made available by the Suns after Game 7. “We let that get away from us as a team. That is all in the past. We’re going to look forward. We are going to move on.”
Williams took Ayton out of the game with 8:24 left in the third quarter and the top-seeded Suns down, 70-32.
Ayton only played 17 minutes in scoring a career playoff-low five points.
After the game, Williams was asked why Ayton only played 17 minutes.
“It’s internal,” Williams said after Game 7.
Two months later, Williams described the Game 7 loss as a “bad day,” but there aren’t any comments in the story from him either on what was said between him and Ayton in their verbal spat.
“I didn’t feel like I had to say anything. I was just doing my job,” Williams said in the story. “We had a bad day, but we had an unbelievable season. Unfortunately, in sports and even in society, we focus on the one bad thing. It hurts like crazy, and it still hurts. It was embarrassing to play that way, but as the dust settles and I look at the season from a holistic perspective, I look at all the good stuff that happened.”
Last week, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on the network’s NBA Today show that there was some “mending” that needed to be done between the Suns and Ayton.
“Monty Williams has a very strong relationship overall with Deandre Ayton, but it gets tested in this process,” Wojnarowski said. “…I think once Deandre Ayton gets back to Phoenix, gets back to work, certainly he understands that this is a team that again this year has a chance to compete for a championship and they’ll figure this out. He’ll fit back in and they’ll go back to work.”
The ESPN story’s main focus centered around Ayton signing a four-year, $133-million max extension to stay in Phoenix.
For subscribers: Somers: Can Suns, Deandre Ayton repair frayed relationship?
The Pacers’ offer sheet to him was the largest for a restricted free agent in franchise history.
The Suns matched it last week.
“This is a blessing,” Ayton said in the ESPN article as the 6-11 big turns 24 Saturday. “This contract not only has generational impact for my family, but also with the way we are able to work in the Phoenix community and home in the Bahamas.”
By matching the offer sheet, Phoenix can’t trade Ayton to the Pacers. Ayton has vetoed power over any trade to the remaining 28 teams for a year.
The Suns can trade Ayton starting Jan. 15, but he must approve the trade.
“I’ve come to understand that this is a business,” Ayton continued in the story. “So, I was more anxious to know the end of the result so I could focus, move on and just get back to work. I just treated everything like a business. Just keep being professional, approach everything with professionalism and not looking too deep into it.”
Up and down:Here’s a look at some of Deandre Ayton’s best and worst moments as a Phoenix Sun
Suns General Manager James Jones said in the story they planned to re-sign Ayton all along as ESPN reported there a video conference between the two July 1, the day after Kevin Durant requested a trade from Brooklyn on the first day of free agency.
“We wanted Deandre here,” Jones said in the ESPN story. “He’s vital to what we do, at the core of everything that we do. And throughout this whole process it was, it ranks true. We wanted to keep him here, and the moment we can come to an agreement, we would. So, waiting 24 hours, 48 hours, that wasn’t something we needed to do because going into it, we knew this is where he wanted to be and where we wanted him to be.
Durant reportedly put Phoenix and Miami atop his trade wish list, but the Suns matched Indiana’s offer sheet for Ayton within minutes.
“I’m one to just be direct,” Jones continued in the story. “And if you’re convinced, if you know what you want to do, you do it. But if there’s any doubt from anyone that we wanted him, I think that the matching did that. It was urgent for us. It was important. It was critical for us. So, we just wanted to make sure that we handled our business quickly.”
Read more: Phoenix Suns receive B-plus grade so far in free agency
However, ESPN reported the Suns challenged Ayton’s agents, Bill Duffy and Nima Namakain, to find a team willing to give Ayton max dollars.
“(The Suns) didn’t value Deandre Ayton at a max contract, max money,” Wojnarowski said last week. “They had doubts that anyone else in the league who could create cap space and would also value him at a max. They challenged his agents, Bill Duffy and Nima Namakian, to go out and get an offer sheet.”
Duffy and Namakian found a team in Indiana – and Phoenix immediately matched the max offer sheet.
“The shift in free agency brought a lot of uncertainty through the whole process,” Ayton said in the story. “I got to give a lot of respect to the Pacers organization. They were aggressive from the start and showing a lot of love. And we agreed to a max offer sheet. The Suns matched. Now, I’m back in Phoenix as a Sun.”
Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.
Local media journalism. Start your online subscription.