The Phoenix Suns started their season off with a bang on Wednesday, earning a surprise victory over the Sacramento Kings thanks in large part to former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton. Now, however, the Suns might be without their star big man for quite some time.
The NBA announced Thursday that it has suspended Ayton for 25 games for violating the league's Anti-Drug policy.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the NBPA is already preparing an arbitration case to either reduce or rescind the suspension based on the unintentional ingestion provision of the CBA. According to Wojnarowski, the "NBPA is likely to fast-track arbitration process to push for a reduction as soon as possible."
Ayton released the following statement shortly after the announcement:
"I want to apologize to my family, the entire Suns organization, my teammates, partners, our fans and the Phoenix community. This was an unintentional mistake and unfortunately I put something in my body that I was completely unaware of. I do understand the unfortunate impact that this has on so many others, and for that I am deeply sorry. I'm extremely disappointed that I've let my team down. I will continue to work with the NBPA to go through arbitration and am hopeful of a positive resolution."
Ayton scored 18 points and pulled down 11 rebounds in Phoenix's season-opener. Losing him would be a devastating blow for a Suns team that has been stuck at the bottom of the league for years. While a return to the playoffs was unlikely for Phoenix, the Suns took several steps this summer to at least get back to basic competence. The front office filled the gaping hole at point guard Eric Bledsoe left behind by signing Ricky Rubio to a three-year deal. It also added young forward Dario Saric and selected North Carolina shooter Cam Johnson with the No. 11 overall pick.
Fortunately, the Suns added depth behind Ayton as well. Aron Baynes was acquired in a draft-night trade, while Frank Kaminsky was signed in free agency. Both should provide rotation-caliber play, though neither comes close to matching Ayton's upside.
That is what Phoenix loses with this suspension. Ayton was the No. 1 overall pick last season and was expected to be one of their cornerstones this season. The Suns have seen several other players from that draft class break out, including No. 3 overall pick Luka Doncic, whom many argued Phoenix should have taken at the time. This suspension will only increase the scrutiny on the Suns and the Ayton pick as a whole.
Meanwhile, the schedule is about to get significantly more difficult for Phoenix. The Denver Nuggets are up next, followed by the Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors. Things could get ugly very quickly for a Suns team that had so much promise after opening night.