Phoenix Suns are in a sad state. Owner Robert Sarver isn't the only reason why

Duane Rankin
Arizona Republic

The Phoenix Suns aren’t a dysfunctional NBA franchise, but they sure look like one right now.

Between the backlash from the Robert Sarver investigation findings and the majority owner's subsequent decision to sell the team, to Jae Crowder wanting out, to Deandre Ayton saying he hasn’t talked to head coach Monty Williams since the team's Game 7 meltdown against Dallas, the Suns are in a sad state right now.

Williams is right in the middle of it, filled with multiple emotions starting with anger and frustration, continued with annoyance and irritation, but is ultimately firm in his faith and belief in his team.

“It’s kind of like that doctor,” said Williams, the 2021-22 NBA Coach of the Year, who received a contract extension this summer.

“The guy came in and said he was hurting everywhere. Touch his head, he’s screaming. Touch his arm, he’s screaming. Touches his knee, he’s screaming, and the doc says, ‘Well, go ahead, I’ll see you in two weeks.’ The guy freaks out and is like, what do you mean? He’s like, you’ve got a dislocated finger. That’s typically how we look at stuff. The human condition, you always make the dislocated finger the thing.”

Suns head coach Monty Williams speaks during a press conference on media day at Events on Jackson in Phoenix on Sept. 26, 2022.

The Suns have won more games in the regular season than anyone else over the past two years.

They return most of the core from last season's team that won a franchise-best 64 games, starting with their All-Star backcourt of Devin Booker and Chris Paul.

Mikal Bridges is one of the game’s top defenders, Ayton might be primed for that All-Star breakout year and the Suns still have quality depth.

They remain a championship contender amid all the drama.

So, Williams isn’t fleeing.

If anything, he’s further entrenched in believing in what the Suns have going into perhaps their most anticipated season in franchise history.

Sep 27, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams talks to guard Devin Booker during practice at the Verizon 5G Performance Center.

“The body is healthy,” Williams continued. “Everybody wants to blow up the DA thing. It’s like, DA didn’t lose to Dallas. We did. None of us coached well or played well that day, but the body is healthy. Our fan base should be excited about that. With all the distractions and all the stuff that we’ve been through, I’ll take where we are every day and we’re in a good place and we’re going to be in a better place.”

Right now, the Suns are in an unsettled place, and that’s putting it kindly.

The 10-month NBA investigation found Sarver to have used the N-word multiple times, made inappropriate comments towards women in the workplace and engaged in demeaning and harsh treatment of employees in the Suns organization.

“I was disappointed,” Ayton said on Monday’s media day. “That was very unacceptable. My thoughts are with the people who were affected by it.”

Timeline:Suns year of Robert Sarver, records, Game 7 heartbreak, off-court drama

Suns vice chairman Sam Garvin, a minority owner, has been appointed the team's interim governor and will represent the Suns on the NBA Board of Governors, made up of team owners or their representatives, along with Commissioner Adam Silver. 

Garvin has already spoken to the team, but the Suns appear to be a long way from finding a potential buyer, which the NBA must approve.

Apr 19, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver against the New Orleans Pelicans during game two of the first round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at Footprint Center.

Considering the findings in the Sarver investigation headed by the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, in which 320 individuals were interviewed, the NBA likely will do an even deeper background check.

“I think when you look at the findings and this process that we've been through, you realize we just did not live up to a standard of excellence," Suns General Manager James Jones said Monday. "Those behaviors, not just in sport, but just in society in general, those are behaviors that are unacceptable and we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard and we have to protect those who can't protect themselves."

Crowder wants out, Suns working on it

Then there’s Crowder.

The veteran forward played a key role in the Suns reaching the 2021 finals and having the NBA’s best record last season in his first two years, but it doesn’t appear as if he’ll play out the third and final year of his deal in Phoenix.

The Suns and Crowder “mutually agreed" he won’t attend training camp.

MORE: Jae Crowder won't attend training camp, team seeking trade

Apr 19, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.;  Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) celebrates with Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) after a three-point basket against the New Orleans Pelicans during Game 2 of the Western Conference playoffs.

“It sucks," Suns wing Mikal Bridges said Monday. "I love 9-9. I remember telling him all the time he's one of my favorite vets ever. It's the business and how things go.  I knew, especially from the (2021) finals, when I look around, I know everybody, we're not going to be here forever. Just how it is. Kind of sad. I miss my guy, though."

Sources informed The Republic the Suns looked to trade Crowder to Utah for Bojan Bogdanovic before training camp started Tuesday, but the talks broke down when they looked to also acquire Jarred Vanderbilt, who the Jazz acquired from Minnesota in the blockbuster Rudy Gobert deal.

MORE: Saric, Bogdanovic talked about possibly becoming teammates

Now Williams is hoping the Crowder situation is resolved before opening night, when Phoenix opens the regular season Oct. 19 against Dallas at Footprint Center.

“We've done a decent job of acclimating guys into the program and that's a credit to the coaches, but also the players that help guys along once we get new people in here," Williams said Wednesday. "I'm not so much worried about the timeline. Ideally, you'd like to get someone in here before opening night, but I like the group we have."

Is Suns big man happy?

Finally, Ayton didn’t hesitate in answering a question on the first day of camp Tuesday about whether he and Williams have moved on from Game 7, when those two had a verbal exchange on the bench early in the second half with Phoenix trailing by 38 points.

Q: How have you and Monty been able to move on?

DA: “I haven't spoken to Monty.”

Q: You haven't spoken to him?

DA: “I haven't spoken to him at all. Ever since the game.”

Q: Not even.

DA: “No.”

Q: You hoping that changes soon?

DA: “I'm here.”

Williams didn’t put Ayton back in that Game 7 as he finished with a playoff career-low five points.

When asked after the game why his starting center only played 17 minutes, Williams said, “it’s internal.”

The next day, Williams said he and Ayton didn’t speak after the game.

According to Ayton, the two still haven’t spoken since Game 7 as of Tuesday.

That's a five-month span in which the Suns matched an offer sheet of four years, $133 million from Indiana for Ayton to stay in Phoenix.

MORE: Suns match Pacers offer to keep Deandre Ayton in Phoenix

Williams addressed the situation after Ayton spoke, saying Tuesday he hadn’t talked to “a bunch” of the players.

He doesn’t think this will be a distraction.

“I'll talk to everybody as I always do during camp,” he said. “It won't be an issue at all."

Booker agreed.

“Guys look good to me,” Booker said Wednesday.

Do the Suns “look good,” or dysfunctional?

Thoughts?

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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