Phoenix went to the NBA Finals two seasons ago and had the most wins in the NBA last season, yet dark clouds seem to be blocking out the Suns heading into this NBA season.
• Ayton ended up signing a four-year, $132.9 max contract and will be back with the Suns to start this season, but the road to get there was rocky. The Suns would not offer Ayton a max five-year contract extension, his name kept coming up in Kevin Durant trade rumors, so Ayton went out and got a four-year max offer from the Pacers - which the Suns instantly matched. Phoenix saved $40 million and a guaranteed year, but the process left Ayton a little bitter.
Ayton blames outgoing owner Robert Sarver - a notorious penny pincher as an owner (among other, much worse things) - Marc Spears and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN discussed on NBA Today (hat tip Real GM).
Shelburne hit the nail on the head - the NBA is a business, but it's a business of relationships. Not only did the Suns sour theirs with Ayton, but you can also be sure every other agent around the league noticed how that was handled. It doesn't help when recruiting players. The eventual new owner, whoever it ends up being, has a lot of work to change the franchise's perception.
• Jae Crowder remains away from the Suns during training camp awaiting a trade (which reportedly will not be to Dallas). Crowder started 109 games for the Suns during the past two seasons and was a key part of their run to the NBA Finals, so how did things deteriorate so quickly? Marc Stein lays it out in his latest Substack newsletter.
While Miami gets mentioned as a suitor a lot, it's next to impossible to put together a trade that works for both sides right now (at the trade deadline, maybe, but Crowder isn't going to be with the Suns that long). Cleveland is currently the hot name in league circles when talking Crowder trades, and Stein also mentions the Milwaukee Bucks, who have been looking for a P.J. Tucker-like replacement for P.J Tucker. But, do any of these teams want to extend Crowder at age 32?
Johnson brings better shooting to the table - 42.5% last season on 3-pointers - and is more athletic at this point, but Crowder brings better defense, toughness, and veteran savvy that can be trusted in the playoffs. The Suns may miss that when it matters, but Johnson will get the chance to prove us all wrong.
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Suns update: Ayton blames Sarver for contract, Crowder conflict, Johnson to start originally appeared on NBCSports.com