Friday, September 29, 2023
By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
MINISTER of Youth, Sports and Culture Mario Bowleg was “shocked” when he learned about the trade but indicated that there could be more to the reason why the Phoenix Suns sent their former Bahamian first round draft pick Deandre Ayton to the Portland Trail Blazers.
In a huge National Basketball Association blockbuster three-three deal on Wednesday, the Suns traded Ayton to Portland.
Damian Lillard was traded by Portland to play alongside Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee, a deal that ends his 11-year run with the Trail Blazers and a three-month saga surrounding his wish to be moved elsewhere in hopes of winning an NBA title.
The seven-time All-Star — a player so elite that he was selected to the NBA’s 75th anniversary team — goes from the Trail Blazers to the Bucks in a three-team deal that sends Jrue Holiday from the Bucks to Portland, Ayton from Phoenix to Portland and Jusuf Nurkic from the Blazers to the Suns.
“I am still trying to understand the trade by the Suns, but I understand that in order to give up Damian Lillard, they had to get something in return that could be some sort of franchise,” Bowleg said.
“When I look at it, Deandre would have been the only person in the trade who could help them rebuild their franchise. He’s a centrepiece that could help build the franchise.”
Bowleg said he could not understand why the Suns traded their 7-feet and 250-pounds center because he felt he could have fitted right into the scheme of things as Pheonix made another push for an NBA title. But with the trade, Bowleg said there could be more behind the deal and in due time it could be revealed. During the 2022-23 season, Ayton averaged 18.0 points (58.9% FG, 29.2% 3-PT, 76.0% FT), 10.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.8 blocks in 30.4 minutes per game in 67 games (all starts).
Originally selected with the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft, Ayton holds career averages of 16.7 points (59.7% FG, 26.3% 3-PT, 25.5% FT), 10.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.0 blocks in 30.6 minutes per game in 303 games (296 starts) in his five seasons with Phoenix.
Ayton helped the Suns reach the NBA Finals and a regular season record 64 wins the following year. But after that, he was saddled with some off the court decisions that may have worked against him.
He and former coach Monty Williams reportedly didn’t have a good working relationship and after he was made a restricted free agent last summer, the Suns were forced to match an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers to retain him.
The Suns eventually fired Williams and brought in Frank Vogel as their new coach, who quickly indicated that “I think he can be one of the best centers in the league.”
It turned out that Ayton just won’t get to prove it in Pheonix.
Ayton, 25, is one of three Bahamian born players who played in the NBA last season. The other two are Grand Bahamian Buddy Hield with the Indiana Pacers and Kai Jones with the Charlotte Hornets.
Bowleg, the immediate past president of the Bahamas Basketball Association and former coach of the men’s national basketball team, has had the opportunity to watch them all perform.
But like everybody else, he’s concerned sbout the future of Jones, has been dealing with some personal issues that has not been disclosed. The 22-year-old Jones, who was drafted with the 129th pick in the first of the NBA draft in 2021, has not been himself during the off-season.
“I haven’t had a chance to speak to Kai, but I spoke to his father, on a daily basis on his progress,” Bowleg said. “He is receiving some sort of help. I know when the Charlotte and representatives of the Players Association met, they could not force him into some rehabilitation center to receive some help.
“But what I was advised was that he was to go and receive the necessary help so that he could get himself back to the Kai Jones that we once knew. Not wanting to go into the details of his present situation, but he’s in my prayers and I pray for him and his family when he gets back to normal, and we can see the dedicated and committed young man become the NBA superstar that he is capable of being.”
To Ayton and the 30-year-old sharp shooting Hield, who continues to be the subject of trade talks once again, Bowleg encouraged them both to continue to “remain focus” and do what “you do best” as the Bahamas support them in their future endeavors.
“While Buddy maybe up for trade right now, wherever he lands himself, sometimes it’s not until later in life that you find the right fit,” stressed Bowleg, of Hield who was selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft by the New Orleans Pelicans but was traded to the Sacramento Kings in 2017 and the Pacers in 2022.
“But today, they are doing something that they love to do, they are being paid to do it and they have a desire to win a championship and when that opportunity come, they can embrace it.”
Hopefully Bowleg said he’s looking forward to the day when Ayton and Hield and even Jones, could experience what fellow Bahamians Mychal ‘Sweet Bells’ Thompson (1987-1988) and Rick Fox (2000-2002), both with the Los Angeles Lakers, along with Thompson’s son, American-born Klay Thompson with the Golden State Warriors (2015, 2017, 2018 and 2022), felt and NBA champions.