I Don’t Wanna Be Here: DeAndre Ayton, the Suns, and the Follies of Fandom

It’s a good day to be an Arizona sports fan.

DeAndre Ayton, a product of high school and college clubs in the Copper State, was selected first overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 2018 NBA Draft.

The pick didn’t come as a shock. Mock boards have had Ayton going first for a while now, even if most added the caveat that he wasn’t necessarily the best prospect in the draft. For months, the Phoenix Suns subreddit—a place of misery and bitterness, that at one point, was converted into a subreddit of the actual goddamn Sun because why the hell not—has been injecting the Ayton Kool-Aid into their veins, roasting anyone with the gall to suggest maybe taking Luka Doncic with the first pick.

I get it. It’s a nice story. The hometown kid staying put, saddling his city on his young, chiseled shoulders. Remember when Derrick Rose hoisted up his Rookie of the Year/MVP trophies in front of the city of Chicago? Or when LeBron finally won one for the Land? That’s the kind of stuff that makes us watch sports in the first place.

For the Suns fans living outside Arizona however (all eight of us), today is not a good day. On the contrary, it is but another day in our excruciating, soul-sucking, hell on earth existence. If I sound whiney and hyperbolic, take a step in my Jordan 4s.

The 2017-2018 NBA season was just about to begin, and I was cautiously optimistic. I wasn’t expecting a playoff run by any means—I’m not deluded—but seeds of hope had been planted to expect a season of moral victories and Western Conference mediocrity. Yup. The bar was that low.

Phoenix’s first game was against Portland and I was pumped for a Wild, Wild West shootout between Dame and Dev. Would Booker erupt for 40 in his first game? 50?? He ended up with 12 and the Blazers would go on to stomp on our faces 124-76 by FORTY-EIGHT POINTS. Three days later, the Suns would lose by 42 to the Clippers. Imagine 80 more games of that shit.

Sadly, that’s been the story of the Suns for the past few years. I wish we could claim we were tanking. I wish we could say that a plan was in place. But it’s been a 100% disorganized, dysfunctional clusterf*ck season after season. Take the 2014 season for example, when the Suns almost made the playoffs by accident (they were 9th with a 48-34 record; had they been in the East, they would’ve been 4th). Management would respond in the offseason by signing Isaiah Thomas and experimenting with a three-point guard lineup, then realizing midseason that “This is kinda stupid lets blow it up and trade two of the better point guards for Brandon Knight”. A phoenix can’t rise from the ashes if Robert Sarver continues to piss on said ashes.

Which brings us to today.

Let me be clear. This isn’t an indictment on Ayton. He’s a nimble, agile big man with explosive power—those two don’t come in one package very often. He’s like a nuclear-powered freight train, if that train could also drift like a Nissan Skyline. He dunks with murderous intent and swats balls like they were a personal affront. He even has the outside touch you look for in a versatile, modern, stretch big. People scoffed when that reporter said that Ayton and Booker would be like Shaq and Kobe 2.0, but for arguments’ sake check out Shaq’s averages in his first year in LSU:

Shaquille O’ Neal: 13.9 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 1.9 AST, 1.2 STL, 3.6 BLK, 57/0/56 shooting splits

DeAndre Ayton: 20.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 1.6 AST, 0.9 STL, 1.9 BLK, 64/34/73 shooting splits

The bottomline is that Ayton is an impact player who can play with the big boys right now. He’s a great prospect, and on any other draft, I’d be thrilled to have him.

Drafting him under these circumstances, however, doesn’t only feel like a misfire. It’s a Johnny Cage-esque punch in the balls for two reasons.

The most obvious one is Luka Doncic, Euroleague MVP and the best player in the draft. As the game continues to evolve, I am less and less willing to build a franchise around big men. If Deandre Ayton’s best case scenario is that he turns out to be the next Anthony Davis (which I don’t think he is), would the Suns be any better off than the Pelicans? How long did it take for Davis to carry the Pellies to the Playoffs, let alone win a series? Something tells me Ayton won’t be dunking on NBA centers like he did in college.

The other reason, and the one that really gets me, is that drafting Ayton was Robert Sarver’s way of pacifying a group of rabid, frustrated fans. It was a good basketball move (not the best, mind you), but an even better PR move. Win or lose, Ayton will be putting butts in those seats for as long as he wears a Suns jersey.

Except it’s not supposed to be that way. Fans shouldn’t hold a gun to management’s head on who to draft. And on the flipside, management shouldn’t cave to the demands of their biased, boneheaded fanbase. Winning, and winning alone, should be the only thing that matters to all parties involved.

Alas, the damage has been done. And at this point, all there is to do is hope.

Maybe Ayton has what it takes to finally swing this franchise around. Maybe he shuts blog boiz like me up and finally ushers in a big man renaissance. Maybe Luka fizzles out and every Suns fan can pretend like they knew he was a bust all along.

Or, after years of rolling my eyes ’til I could see the insides of my cerebellum, maybe fans like me should know when to stop putting up with a team’s bullshit.

Yo FIFA. What’s good?

Photo from Getty Images