Deandre Ayton's 17 Minutes in Game 7 an 'Internal' Decision, Suns' Wiliams Says

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVMay 16, 2022

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) looks away after being fouled during the first half of Game 7 of an NBA basketball Western Conference playoff semifinal against theDallas Mavericks, Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
AP Photo/Matt York

The problems might only be beginning for the Phoenix Suns in the wake of their 123-90 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals.

Deandre Ayton only logged 17 minutes, finishing with five points, four rebounds and two assists. Asked about Ayton's usage, head coach Monty Williams described it as an "internal" decision.

Reporters couldn't ask the center for his thoughts because he declined to do any media.

Adding to the intrigue, Suns star Devin Booker didn't exactly give a ringing endorsement of Ayton, who's due to hit restricted free agency this summer:

Gerald Bourguet @GeraldBourguet

"His contract situation is between him and the front office. I care about him as a brother. Just making sure his mental is right...whatever happens, happens. Kind of hard to look so far in the future." - Devin Booker on Deandre Ayton's contract situation

In isolation, Booker's comment could be chalked up as a player struggling to find the right words so soon after a demoralizing loss.

But the questions about Ayton's long-term future with the Suns have been hovering since the rookie extension deadline passed without him and the team hammering out a long-term deal.

Others from the 2018 draft class, most notably Luka Doncic and Trae Young—have already inked max deals. However, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported last October that negotiations between Phoenix and Ayton's representatives "have been slowed by ownership's current assertion that Ayton doesn't deserve to be included in that group of players."

Giving a center max money doesn't tend to be a sound investment in today's NBA. During the Suns' run to the 2021 NBA Finals, Ayton at least seemed to show he could be a key figure on a championship contender. He averaged 15.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 22 games.

Now, the likelihood of the 2018 No. 1 overall pick leaving Phoenix may have grown. The front office presumably won't feel any more comfortable about putting a max contract on the table, and if the Suns don't, somebody else might.

Sam Quinn @SamQuinnCBS

The five major cap space teams this offseason are the Magic, Pacers, Pistons, Spurs and Blazers. I'm guessing one of those teams throws the 25% max offer sheet at Ayton if he and Phoenix don't agree to something first.

Sam Vecenie @Sam_Vecenie

You better believe the Deandre Ayton sweepstakes begin with that game, too. Up to Phoenix, ultimately, if they want to pay him. But he’s a 23-year-old center that averaged 17/10 while playing good defense and largely having playoff success up until this series. He’s getting $$$.

It's difficult not to draw some parallels between this and the fallout from the Philadelphia 76ers' exit at this same stage last year.

Even though Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid both threw Ben Simmons under the bus to varying degrees, surely all of the important parties would cool off during the offseason and get back on the right page. Instead, Simmons' relationship with the organization never recovered.

Perhaps Ayton stays in Phoenix, and all is resolved by opening night next fall. In the event he's playing elsewhere when the 2022-23 season tips off, the signs of a potential fissure between him and the Suns will have been there for some time.