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Biggest takeaways from 2021 Phoenix Suns Media Day

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
September 28, 2021

The Phoenix Suns held their annual Media Day on Monday, and as always, there was a LOT of sound bites to sift through. While there may not have been as many juicy tidbits as some of the other NBA franchises currently in turmoil, that’s a good thing; not so long ago, Suns Media Day sessions filled with drama and tension were a routine occurrence.

But for a Suns team coming off an NBA Finals run with stability in the front office and on the roster, this year’s Media Day was full of motivation, gratitude to be running it back, and yes, the right amount of pain after coming just two wins shy of a title.

Here’s a quick rundown of 10 big takeaways from 2021 Suns Media Day.

1. No one’s worried about Book

The only player not in attendance for Suns Media Day was the face of the franchise, Devin Booker, who is away from the team due to health and safety protocols. On a recent Twitch stream, Book said he had COVID-19 it for about a week already and had lost his sense of taste and smell but felt fine otherwise.

Booker declined to comment on whether he’d been vaccinated, but said he’d be back in no time. General manager James Jones and Monty Williams didn’t seem concerned about his absence for the start of training camp.

“We’re a team, a team with a lot of depth,” Jones said. “We’ll get Devin back when he comes back, but all year long, you’ve always preached being ready as a team, next man up. So training camp, it’s a good thing you have multiple weeks, multiple games in training camp where you’re just trying to build a rhythm, trying to get some consistency and conditioning, mentally and physically. Devin played a lot of basketball this summer, I’m not concerned about him being ready to play.”

“When a guy like Book misses a few days or whatever the case may be, I don’t concern myself too much with it,” Williams echoed. “I’ve talked to him a few times, and you guys know Book, he just wants to hoop. He’ll get back as soon as he can and he knows what we do.”

2. VaccinaSuns

Speaking of COVID-19 and vaccinations, every player in attendance at Suns Media Day confirmed — some way or another — that they’re fully vaccinated.

Elfrid Payton got his second dose of the vaccine on Sunday, saying that he originally wasn’t going to get vaccinated, but “how the league is handling it” changed his mind. JaVale McGee said he thought it was a “personal question,” but confirmed he’d been vaccinated. And for whatever reason, Chris Paul beat around the bush when asked about it:

In any case, all 15 players in attendance said they were vaccinated, leaving Booker as the lone unconfirmed player on the roster.

And for those wondering, yes, it is a perfectly valid question to ask players if they’ve been vaccinated, especially in a league where staff workers are mandated to do so and are putting themselves and their families at risk if players aren’t also getting the vaccine. Not only can it affect those around them, from a pure sports perspective, a COVID outbreak could derail a season or a playoff series pretty quickly. A public health issue is not a “private matter” or a “personal question,” so yes, that hot-button issue around the league on Media Day was more than warranted.

3. CP3 is fine, Super Dario will take time

Chris Paul suffered a wrist injury during the Western Conference Finals that had him looking less than his usual Point God self at times in the Finals. That wrist wound up requiring surgery in the offseason. In typical Chris Paul fashion, he downplayed the severity of how it affected him in that series, saying, “I was cool, I got through it.”

Paul did admit his shortened offseason was a little different than normal, given that he spent 6-7 weeks of it rehabbing. Fortunately, both he and James Jones confirmed he’s good to go for training camp.

“Chris is always a full go,” Jones joked.

As for Dario Saric, the news is (as expected) not as optimistic, with no timetable currently in sight.

“We just said indefinitely,” Jones said. “We’re gonna let if play out. He’s doing well right now, but all those things, until you actually get on the floor and you start moving around and you start playing, it’s just conjecture.”

Saric said he’s eight weeks out from his surgery. He went through four weeks of pre-rehab immediately after the injury before operating on his torn ACL at the beginning of August. There’s no timetable for his return this season.

“I think we didn’t set the timeline whatsoever for this season,” Saric said. “I think you just go maybe month by month, day by day, see where I am. I don’t want to go too early and predict my situation to play, because it’s my decision, but it still is a medical staff decision too, it’s a GM staff [decision]. It’s a lot of people we need to work like a team to figure out when it’s time.”

4. No updates on extensions for Ayton or Bridges yet

We’ve written about potential max contract extensions for Deandre Ayton and what kind of contract extension Mikal Bridges can expect. We’ve discussed it on multiple live shows, including a recent edition where Flex from Jersey said talks are progressing on both fronts:

For Media Day, however, the “update” on those talks from James Jones wasn’t much of an update at all.

“We’ll address that when the time comes, but for us right now, our focus is training camp and getting ready for the regular season,” he said.

5. We have a new Montyism!

The 2021-22 NBA season will finally get the normal league calendar back on track, but it comes at a cost for a team that made it all the way to the Finals like Phoenix. The Suns’ last game was just over two months ago. Now they’re gearing up for training camp, preseason and a full 82-game season.

As such, Monty emphasized the importance of a little rest and relaxation to his players.

“We put up a sign in the practice site that said, ‘Short breaks are earned,'” Williams revealed. “We’ve earned the right to have a short break, and we have to embrace that.”

That’s a healthy approach, but as much as his response started off by addressing the need to ease his players back in physically, mentally and emotionally, it also took on a double meaning:

“Yeah, we’ve had a short break, but that’s what you want,” he said. “And I hope that’s something that happens around here for a long time.”

We can now add “short breaks are earned” to the list of Montyisms.

6. CP3 played a role in Payton’s free agency decision

Elfrid Payton wasn’t the sexiest offseason pickup, but putting a player who started all of last season in a third-string role certainly isn’t a bad thing. Payton and CP3 have a longstanding relationship going back to before “EP” got drafted, and it played a role in Payton’s decision to join the Suns in free agency after a phone call from Paul.

“EP is like my family,” Paul said. “I done known Elfrid since before he came into the league, so for him, it was more so about finding the best situation for him. If that meant here, cool, if not…but I’m excited about him being on the team, ’cause he’s so competitive.”

Payton also spoke to PHNX Sports about his decision, and how he wanted to play for Monty Williams, and more:

7. Everyone’s recovering from the Finals in their own way

Losing in the NBA Finals hurts. Going up 2-0 in the Finals during a surprising, feel-good, “team of destiny” season before losing four straight for the first time all year long? That’s a unique kind of pain, and everyone on the Suns seemed to be dealing with it differently.

Chris Paul spent the offseason rehabbing his wrist and spending time with his family. Cam Payne enjoyed his first-ever free agency but couldn’t bring himself to watch any basketball outside of supporting Book in the Olympics. Mikal Bridges took a few weeks off before getting back in the gym with a weightlifting regimen. Jae Crowder said he’s been talking to a psychiatrist about building his mental stamina.

“It should burn,” Jones said. “It’ll probably burn forever. But last season is done. You just take the experience, hopefully you learn a little bit about it.”

The pain is still fresh, but it’s already time to bandage up those wounds and hope they’ve scarred over before the next battle begins.

“I don’t know if it’s something you ever truly process,” Frank Kaminsky said. “I’ve had a lot of big-stage losses in my career going back to college. It’s something that sticks with you. But luckily for us, we get to another chance this year to get back after it. That’s always something to look forward to. It’s always hard when you’re looking backwards, but trying to look forward makes things a lot easier.”

Coming off such an unexpected Finals run, some concern within the fanbase has fixated on the possibility of a “hangover.” Will a young team get complacent after tasting all that excitement and success? Monty doesn’t see it that way.

“Just talking to them throughout the summer, I think they’re just hungry to get better,” he said. “I don’t believe we have those kinds of guys that would rest on what they’ve done. They should obviously feel good about it, but I don’t think anybody’s drunk off of that at all. If I had to guess — which I don’t like doing, but if I had to guess — I think they’re hurt more than anything. And that’s gonna drive them to get better in their personal games and as a team to hopefully get back there someday.”

8. DA mentions sacrifice

The Suns have been very cognizant and gracious about mentioning how much Deandre Ayton has sacrificed for the good of the team. He’s maximized his role by focusing on defense, rim-running, cleaning up around the basket, setting strong screens, rolling hard and crashing the offensive glass. It’s often come at the cost of the number of touches you’d typically see from a No. 1 overall draft pick.

Monday represented an ever-so-slight shift, as it was one of the first times Ayton himself mentioned the sacrifices he’s made for the greater good.

“Throughout the playoffs and Finals, eventually I started to realize I was starting to turn a lot of heads from a lot of doubters, and I think it was funny because I sacrificed a lot,” he said. “And I don’t think the world’s really seen my game and the type of window I have to where I already know what the requirement is, it’s just me adding on.”

Ayton mentioned being more of an offensive threat as one of his goals now that he’s laid down the foundation for his game. It’s probably not surprising to hear this kind of talk from DA, especially with a max contract extension looming. He needs to add more post moves to his arsenal to become a reliable source of offense, but he’s also not wrong about how he’s been able to maximize his role on a contender. Still, this is something to keep an eye on as the agent talk creeps out into the open, especially after Michael Porter Jr. got the five-year designated max extension that could be worth up to $207 million.

9. McGee’s positive influence

Speaking of Ayton, the Suns were collectively pretty high on what JaVale McGee’s presence would offer him and the rest of the roster in general.

“I think JaVale gives us a great interior presence,” James Jones said. “He also gives us a fearlessness from the interior, a guy that can put pressure on the rim, a guy that will attack and block shots, and he’s big. You can never have too much size in this league.”

That was especially prevalent in the Finals, when the Saric-less Suns were getting beat up on the interior. Ayton sounded almost relieved to have another seven-footer backing him up.

“Having another guy the same size as me finally is a dream come true,” he said. “I’ll get some help down low and I can get a little breather on the bench while my guy is taking care of business.”

Ayton looked pretty darn polished in his first postseason at the ripe age of 22, but McGee can still help him learn some tricks of the trade as a three-time champion and 13-year NBA veteran.

“I’m extremely excited to step into that mentor role and really just try to help him get his mind right to be the best player he can be,” McGee said. “He’s already a great player for as young as he is, and I just think he has a couple of steps he could take and be great.”

10. Suns aren’t skipping steps

Finally, good news for Suns fans: Monty and his team seem fully cognizant that coming two wins shy of the Finals means squat now. A new season is about to begin, and Phoenix won’t be taking anyone by surprise. The reigning Western Conference champs have a target on their backs, but if Suns Media Day was any indication, they’re aiming to keep their same underdog mentality and day-by-day approach.

“It doesn’t change: Same thing that got us to the Finals last year will be the thing that we focus on this year, which is being prepared to compete every night,” Jones said. “I think our guys know what it takes from a physical and mental standpoint, the amount of focus it takes to navigate an entire season plus the playoffs. I thought it was a good experience for us, and so I’m excited to see us continue to play, because I know deep down inside, all of our guys are disappointed with the result, but they were happy with the process.”

Williams isn’t even letting himself think about the Finals any time soon.

“I’m sure your natural inclination is to do everything you can to get back where you just left, but that’s, in my mind, something that you can’t do,” he said. “We just wanna, one, do what we’ve always done, take it step by step, have our focus on having a good camp, playing well, getting back to the playoffs. That’s been something that’s been a solid foundational focus for us since we’ve been here.”

The time for processing the Finals loss and dwelling on the past is over. Now it’s time to lock back in and start building back up to something special again.

“I think our expectation is to come in and start the process over again,” Chris Paul said. “We’ve gotta work, day one. It’s not like you’re coming into the season and they’ll be like, ‘All right, the playoffs is set. We’re gonna start where we were last year.” No, there’s a lot of things that we can get better at and that we gotta get better at, and that’s the whole fun part of the season. Getting as far as we did was cool and well, but when we all saw each other, we were basically reminiscing on the process or the moments that got us there.”

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