No one was more excited about Wednesday’s season opener than Deandre Ayton.
“I’m just ready to explode to be honest,” he said before the game. “I don’t even know how to express it.”
The Phoenix Suns proceeded to blast Sacramento, showing the potential they possess under new head coach Monty Williams.
Less than 24 hours later, their hopes for an improved season took a major hit.
The NBA on Thursday announced Ayton has been suspended 25 games without pay for “violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program by testing positive for a diuretic.”
Ayton’s suspension begins Friday’s when the Suns take on the Denver Nuggets.
“I want to apologize to my family, the entire Suns organization, my teammates, partners, our fans and the Phoenix community,” Ayton said in a statement released by the Suns. “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 Players’ Union (NBPA) to go through the arbitration process and am hopeful for a positive resolution.”
The NBPA is planning to file for arbitration of Ayton’s suspension, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The players’ association believes Ayton’s suspension is eligible to be reduced because of an “unintentional ingestion” provision, league sources told ESPN.
The NBPA could not be immediately reached to confirm the report.
Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft out of Arizona, had 18 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in Wednesday win over the Kings, 124-95, at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
As a rookie, Ayton averaged 16.2 points with 10.3 rebounds and posted a Suns rookie record 39 double-doubles in 71 games.
Ayton looked to have a major sophomore season as Suns exercised his $10.02 million option for 2020-21 earlier this month.
Instead, the Suns will be playing without their starting center against quality teams, and facing elite big men in Joel Embiid (Sixers) Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves), Anthony Davis (Lakers), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets) and Rudy Gobert (Jazz).
How Phoenix plays without Ayton may be an even greater challenge.
“On behalf of the Phoenix Suns organization, Monty Williams and I are disappointed in the actions by Deandre Ayton that led to his testing positive for a banned diuretic and subsequent suspension by the NBA,” Suns General Manager James Jones said in a statement. “This does not uphold the standards and principles we have set for the team.
“While he is suspended we remain committed to his growth and development on and off the court,” Jones continued. “His actions are not taken lightly, and we are committed to ensuring that Deandre understands the profound impact it has had on the team, organization, and Suns community.”
The Suns could start Aron Baynes at center, but they could also go with Frank Kaminsky III.
Baynes is the more physical of the two, but Kaminsky is a bigger threat offensively.
The Suns are capable of scoring points without him and may play their share of small ball, but they’ll miss Ayton’s rebounding and presence in the paint.
He had four blocks Wednesday.
Personally, Ayton must now rebound from what is certainly the most disappointing moment in his young NBA career, but where will the Suns be 25 games from now?
We’ll start finding out Friday.
The Suns will now have to play the next 25 games without their starting center. Here’s a look at those next 25 games starting Friday against Denver.
- at Denver Nuggets
- vs. Los Angeles Clippers
- vs. Utah Jazz
- at Golden State Warriors
- at Memphis Grizzlies
- vs. Philadelphia 76ers
- vs. Miami Heat
- vs. Brooklyn Nets
- vs. Los Angels Lakers
- vs. Atlanta Hawks
- vs. Boston Celtics
- at Sacramento Kings
- vs. New Orleans Pelicans
- at Minnesota Timberwolves
- at Denver Nuggets
- vs. Washington Wizards
- vs. Dallas Mavericks
- at Charlotte Hornets
- at Orlando Magic
- at New Orleans Pelicans
- at Houston Rockets
- vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
- vs. Memphis Grizzlies
- vs. San Antonio Spurs
- vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Suns at Denver Nuggets 6 p.m. Friday, Pepsi Center — Denver beat Phoenix, 107-102 in a preseason game on Oct. 14. The Nuggets (1-0) won their season opener, 108-100, at Portland while Phoenix (1-0) beat Sacramento (0-1), 124-95. The Suns announced Thursday rookie guard Ty Jerome has a right ankle injury and will be re-evaluated over the next two to four weeks.
Have an opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at [email protected] or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.
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Suns enjoy season opening victory over Kings