The Phoenix Suns were two wins away from an NBA title in 2021, and they finished the regular season with the best record in the entire NBA last year. Things haven't gone super smoothly for the team since, though. Despite their stellar regular season, they lost to the Dallas Mavericks in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals in May. It was an extremely underwhelming end to a once-promising season.
The Suns were able to sign star guard Devin Booker , but the team ruffled the feathers of their former No. 1 overall pick center by not agreeing to a new deal with Deandre Ayton at the start of free agency. Ayton had to go out and sign an offer sheet with the Pacers in free agency, and then the Suns opened up the checkbook for him. That didn't seem to sit too well with Ayton, who has been an extremely productive player since Phoenix selected him with the top pick in the 2018 draft.
On top of that, the team is also dealing with the pending sale of the organization by Robert Sarver. Sarver was recently suspended for one year and fined $10 million by the NBA following the completion of an investigation into his inappropriate workplace conduct. He has sincehis stake in the team.
Despite the distractions, the Suns enter the 2022-23 season with some lofty expectations. Anything short of another NBA Finals appearance probably won't be considered a successful season, in the locker room at least. With that said, here's a quick glance at Phoenix's offseason, and a preview of what things will look like when the 2022-23 season tips off.
Duane Washington Jr.
Top of the key: Ay-ton of drama
Just because Ayton remained with the Suns on a new deal doesn't mean that things between the two sides are all good. Ayton was clearly bothered by the way that the Suns handled his contract, and that was evident at the team's media day. Ayton was benched in the second half of Phoenix's Game 7 loss to the Mavericks in the playoffs last season, and he revealed that he didn't speak to Suns coach Monty Williams for the entire offseason.
When asked if he was happy to be back in Phoenix, Ayton simply said: "Yeah, I'm alright." He clarified that answer with this: "When I'm in between those lines I just work. I'm not playing for myself. I have an organization across my chest and a name on my back I have to represent. I'm just here to work, man."
Perhaps this situation will blow over by the time the season starts, but at the least, it seems like Monty Williams and Ayton need to have some sort of a conversation to iron things out. Ayton is a huge part of what the team does on both ends, and they need him to be locked in. Ayton isn't the first player in league history to feel disrespected by a franchise. The best course of action for him is to just go out and handle his business on the court. If he does that, everything else will fall into place.
Next on the agenda: Crowder's absence
Ayton isn't the only player that has had issues with the organization. Veteran forward Jae Crowder missed training camp and has been away from the team as. Crowder reportedly asked for a trade after finding out that his role might be diminished in the 2022-23 season. Crowder posted the following message on Twitter regarding the situation:
ONE MUST SEEK WORK WHERE HE IS WANTED.. WHERE HE IS NEEDED.! I AM THANKFUL FOR WHAT THESE PAST 2 YRS HAVE TAUGHT ME.! NOW I MUST TAKE ON ANOTHER CHALLENGE WITH CONTINUED HARDWORK & DEDICATION.! FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO CLOSED THE DOOR ON ME…. THANK YOU! 99 BACK SOON.! 🥷🏾🤫🤐— JAE CROWDER (@CJC9BOSS) September 25, 2022
Crowder has spent the past two seasons with the Suns after signing with the team in November 2020. He helped the Suns reach the NBA Finals in 2021, and he was again an integral part of the team's rotation last season, as he started in all 67 of his appearances.
For the season, Crowder averaged 9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 28.1 minutes per game. He has one year and $10.1 million remaining on his current contract, and he will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Assuming that his days in Phoenix are numbered, it will be interesting to see how much the Suns end up missing his contributions.
One more thing: The Sarver distraction
The Robert Sarver situation has brought a whole lot of negative attention to the team, and it's fair to wonder how much of a distraction it will be for the Suns throughout the season. Granted, it will be less of a distraction now that Sarver is planning to sell the team than it would have been if he planned to return to his post next season, but it could still be a diversion nonetheless. It's hard enough for an NBA team to operate at a high level without outside distractions, so it will be up to the veterans on the roster to make sure that the external noise doesn't penetrate the locker room.
After the NBA announced a one-year suspension and $10 million fine for Sarver, Chris Paul released the following statement via Twitter:
"Like many others, I reviewed the report. I was and am horrified and disappointed by what I read. This conduct especially towards women is unacceptable and must never be repeated. I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior. My heart goes out to all of the people that were affected."
Mavericks at Suns, Oct. 19: The Suns won't have to wait too long for their opportunity to get some revenge against the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last season. The Suns open up their upcoming campaign by hosting the Mavs, and it's safe to say that the playoff loss will still be fresh in the minds of the Suns' players.
Warriors at Suns, Oct. 25: Less than a week after their season starts, the Suns will get an early test against the defending champions. If the Suns want to get back to the Finals, they'll have to get past Golden State to do that, and this game will serve as an [extremely] early measuring stick for Phoenix.
Pelicans at Suns, Oct. 28: The Suns bested the Pelicans in the first round of the playoffs last season, but the series wasn't an easy one for Phoenix. The Pelicans didn't have Zion Williamson for that series, but they should have him available for the coming campaign, and that should make them a much tougher team to topple. The Pelicans will likely be looking for some revenge after having the Suns end their season, so this will be another good early test for Phoenix.