Deandre Ayton clearly hated his time in NBA's health and safety protocols.
"I felt like an innocent man who went to jail," Ayton said after Sunday's practice as the Suns (30-9) play their next game Tuesday at Toronto (20-17) to begin a five-game road trip.
"I was just at home just healthy as can be just sitting here watching the game and play 2K, and shaking my head. I was really healthy. Didn't have any symptoms at all."
So what kept Ayton in protocols for five games?
"I was testing every day," Ayton said. "Testing every day, coming back twice a day. Levels were just down, levels wasn't where it was supposed to be and I think that's why I was really in protocols. Levels were low."
"It brought back bad memories man."
Deandre Ayton making reference to 25-game suspension his 2nd NBA season when talking about missing 5 games in health/safety protocols.
Also sat Thursday vs. Clippers to recondition.#Suns starting big 12 points, 8 boards in return vs. Heat https://t.co/UfjXvUjGQJ pic.twitter.com/k6E4fLzzpk
— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) January 9, 2022
Being away from his teammates made the time away even worse and reminded him of when he served a 25-game suspension in the 2019-20 season for testing positive for a diuretic.
"Honestly, it brought back bad memories of when I was suspended," Ayton said. "I couldn't be a part of the team or couldn't just join the team. It brought me some bad memories. Just sitting at home not being with the team. I felt left out, but my teammates made sure in the group chats and stuff, they were checking up on me. They made me feel good. I was supporting them on as well."
Jae Crowder, JaVale McGee and Ayton made their return to game action in Saturday's 23-point loss to Miami after coming out of protocols following Phoenix's three-game road trip.
Ayton, Crowder and McGee didn't play in Thursday's win over the Clippers as they looked to work their way back into game shape. Like Ayton, Crowder missed five games in protocols while McGee was out three games in protocols.
All three looked as if they hadn't played in a while against the Heat.
Ayton finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, Crowder shot 1-of-6 in scoring just three points while McGee only played six minutes in going scoreless and only grabbing one rebound.
"I didn't see anything that was terrible or even close to that," Suns coach Monty Williams said. "I just think it takes a minute to get your rhythm back and that's what I was referring to earlier. Just try to put guys in a good place from a rhythm standpoint so that they can be at their best. I don't think I did a really good job of that last night. It felt off all night long with the rotations."
The Suns will now travel to Toronto where there is concern of testing positive for COVID-19 and having to spend time in Canada.
The Raptors are currently not having fans in Scotiabank Arena.
Statement from MLSE and the Toronto Raptors following the provincial announcement today. pic.twitter.com/GIuaJt4izD
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) December 31, 2021
Golden State's approach to its game in Toronto was sending five players back home with two being Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, but it was the end of a five-game road trip.
The Warriors lost, 119-100.
Phoenix is opening its road trip against the Raptors as Williams said everyone who played against Miami will travel to Toronto.
Landry Shamet has missed Phoenix's last three games in protocols.
"I think our medical people have been preparing for this trip for a while," Williams said. "There's certain things we've had to do as far as uploading our vaccine cards and proof of residency, all kinds of stuff you have to do when you go to Canada. Our people have been on it for a minute, but I think our guys are prepared. Obviously, there's some things that you can't control. We understand that. We're not of the mindset of not taking anybody on the trip."
What the Suns can control is their play.
— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) January 9, 2022
They're looking to give a better effort Tuesday after falling behind as many as 27 points to the short-handed Heat, who were without Jimmy Butler (ankle) and Bam Adebayo (thumb).
"They came out way too comfortable, and that’s not a team that you want to give some confidence and let them see a couple easy ones go in," said Suns All-Star Devin Booker after scoring a team-high 26 Saturday. "It was too loose, they got to do whatever they want, it was like they were running script out there."
Booker didn't use having Ayton, Crowder and McGee back for their first game in a week as an excuse for how the game unfolded.
"Nah, we’ve played together long enough to know what it takes and know what we have to do," Booker said. "I mean, you have to talk to them personally if it’s a conditioning thing or just your first game back. You don’t kind of lose the touch and the feel of what’s going on, but they’re going to be better next game, we’re all going to be better next game. We all have to lock in. It was a collective team loss.”
Ayton played 32 minutes, only took five shots, but said he felt fine for the most part.
"My feet were burning a little bit, but other than that, I felt like I was moving fine," Ayton said. "Everyone said I was moving pretty good. Just trying my best to stay in the weight room and hurry up and get back in shape."
Ayton and the Suns now turn their attention to Toronto, winners of six straight.
"Taking care of that defensive end," Ayton said after Miami shot 22-of-44 from 3 Saturday. "Us getting our legs under us. It shouldn't be a back step for us. Once we're out there on the court, no matter who is on the court, we've still got to play our type of basketball."
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 'Felt like an innocent man who went to jail': Suns' big Deandre Ayton details time in protocols