The Phoenix Suns' vibes are not good after they exited last year's playoffs in ugly fashion.
Center Deandre Ayton said he has not spoken to head coach Monty Williams after a rift between the two emerged last year.
Forward Jae Crowder is not at training camp, instead awaiting a trade, and owner Robert Sarver is putting the team up for sale.
One year after sporting the NBA's best record, there are real questions about the Phoenix Suns' future.
The Suns went 64-18 last year but crumbled in the playoffs, blowing a 2-0 series lead to the Dallas Mavericks in the second round. They were smashed by 33 points in a Game 7 in Phoenix.
During that ugly Game 7 blowout, center Deandre Ayton played just 17 minutes and was benched in the second half. Ayton reportedly grumbled about his role during an exchange with head coach Monty Williams, and Williams after the game described it as an "internal" matter.
Months later, the two sides — and the rest of the team, for that matter — don't seem over it.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Ayton said he still hasn't spoken to Williams since that Game 7.
"I haven't spoken to him at all, ever since the game," Ayton told reporters. "I can show him better than I can tell him. It's life. Nobody cares about the uncomfortable nature of it; it's how you perform and what you bring to the table. What's said is already said."
Ayton was a restricted free agent this off-season and lingered on the market for two weeks, longer than any other marquee free agent. He eventually signed a four-year, $132 million offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers, but it was matched by the Suns within minutes.
Asked on Monday how he felt about returning to Phoenix, Ayton tersely said: "I was happy it was all done, I guess."
—Esfandiar Baraheni (@JustEsBaraheni) September 26, 2022
The vibes aren't any better elsewhere on the team.
Chris Paul was asked this week if he learned anything from the Suns' Game 7 loss and said, "Honestly, not really." Paul said he was undecided on whether he'd review the game and said he focused on his family in the off-season.
Starting forward Jae Crowder is not with the team at training camp, as the Suns look to trade the unhappy 3-and-D wing.
Hovering over all of this is the sale of the team, part of the fallout from a damning investigation into owner Robert Sarver's workplace conduct.
In the aftermath of investigation — which found Sarver used the "N-word" at least five times and made sex-related comments to employees — Paul criticized the NBA's one-year suspension and $10 million fine of Sarver as too light.
However, others have defended Sarver.
Star guard Devin Booker said the behavior detailed in the investigation didn't sound like the Sarver he knew.
"That is not the Robert Sarver I know," Devin Booker said. "That is not the Robert Sarver that welcomed me to Phoenix with open arms. But at the same time, I'm not insensitive to everyone involved in this situation. I understand everyone's experience with other people is going to be different. But it's tough to read because [that's] not the person I know."
Suns GM James Jones had made a similar comment when Sarver's behavior was first reported by ESPN's Baxter Holmes last November.
At media day, Jones had to explain those comments.
"When I made my statements last year, I stand by that's my experience," Jones said. "And I didn't — and I still to this day — I can't speak for others and their experience. But now that we know, like I said, those things aren't acceptable. They're not cool. "
Jones said it was for the better that Sarver sells the team, and he commended Paul for speaking up.
Though it's fair to wonder if any of these subplots will affect the Suns on the court — beyond Crowder's absence — the Western Conference is poised to make things more difficult.
The Warriors are the reigning champs, healthier and deeper than last season. The Nuggets are expected to be in contention as they welcome back Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. The Wolves are deeper and more talented. The upstart Grizzlies are coming off a 56-win season and a year older. The Clippers are deeper and more talented than ever while welcoming back Kawhi Leonard.
If the Suns are looking for revenge for an ugly end to their season, they seem to be lacking in passion.
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