Most Phoenix Suns players reportedly blame head coach Monty Williams for the apparent deterioration of his relationship with center Deandre Ayton.
Ayton infamously was benched for a large chunk of the Suns’ final playoff game last season, and the team nearly didn’t bring him back in free agency.
A former No. 1 overall pick, Ayton signed an offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers this past offseason, but the Suns ultimately stepped in to match the offer and keep him in Phoenix.
“Head coach Monty Williams and young center DeAndre Ayton are clearly not on the same page and a league source says the majority of the locker room believes Williams is to blame for the relationship souring,” Fox Sports’ Ric Bucher wrote. “Several executives also believe GM James Jones made a mistake by allowing Williams to tell [Jae] Crowder before the season he would not be a starter, and send him home when he became upset about the demotion. No one questioned Williams’ coaching acumen, but when it comes to those two particular players, the belief is he mishandled them.”
Williams, who was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year last season, has been huge in helping turn the Suns into contenders in recent years. However, it appears that his handlings of the Ayton and Crowder situations have not been received well.
The 2022-23 season has been a tough one for the Suns, as Devin Booker’s groin injury has really limited the team’s ceiling. Phoenix did pick up a big upset win over the Boston Celtics on Friday night to move to 28-26 on the season.
With the Suns currently in the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, Williams and company will have a chance to make a run at a better playoff spot once Booker returns.
Ayton is under contract with the Suns for a few more seasons, but he could become a trade candidate if the franchise views his relationship with Williams as unsalvageable.
This season, Ayton has played well for the Suns. He’s averaging 17.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 57.3 percent from the field. The big man is on pace to average a double-double for a fifth consecutive season.
As for Crowder, he has yet to play in a game this season and remains away from the team. The Suns have until the Feb. 9 trade deadline to move Crowder, or they could attempt to orchestrate a buyout with him.
With Chris Paul aging, the Suns’ window to win a title could be closing fast. The team certainly hopes that Booker’s return will give it a boost in a crowded Western Conference.
Williams is one of the best coaches in the NBA for what he gets out of his teams, but the Suns certainly need him to be on the same page with a star like Ayton if they truly want to make a run at an NBA title in the 2022-23 season.