The Suns are bad again, and Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton aren't happy about it

DeAndre Ayton and Devin Booker are frustrated by their Phoenix Suns’ 2-8 start. (Getty Images)
DeAndre Ayton and Devin Booker are frustrated by their Phoenix Suns’ 2-8 start. (Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns believed this was the season they would emerge from a three-year run of 20-something wins and high lottery picks. They drafted (supposed) franchise center DeAndre Ayton No. 1 overall. They plucked Trevor Ariza from the Houston Rockets and signed Jamal Crawford for veteran leadership. They hired coach Igor Kokoskov to instill a winning culture in a young locker room.

Let’s just say they’re still trying to figure it out.

After an ugly 22-point loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday, several young Suns spoke as if this past weekend’s two-point home victory against the Memphis Grizzlies — just the second win in nine games to start the season for Phoenix — was somehow supposed to launch them into playoff contention.

Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton are frustrated

Here’s 22-year-old max-contracted Devin Booker, via the Arizona Republic’s Duane Rankin:

“It sucks man. We thought last game would be our step forward. We definitely took a step back tonight. We didn’t protect home court. Came in here. Got blown out in front of our fans. It’s embarrassing.”

And here’s Ayton, via Rankin again:

“I’m tired of talk saying it’s early. Saying it’s too early, we’re a young team. I’m tired of that talk. Did in college. People were saying we were too young and da-da-da-da-da. Destroyed all of them. I think I can do it again in the NBA as well.”

Booker’s solution:

“Holding each other accountable and being OK with that. All good teams have that trust and that chemistry where you’re able to get on each other and know it’s for a better purpose. I don’t think we have that right now. We’re not comfortable with each other, we don’t step on each other’s toes, we don’t push each other, and I think that’s what we need to do.”

Ayton concurred:

“Know who to yell at, know who not to tell at. Know who to encourage. There’s certain guys on the team, you curse them out, you’re basically cursing with them. That’s what amps them up. Cuss me out. Like, why you not on me? Some guys, you have to say, ‘Come on man, let’s go, let’s go.’”

Ayton also suggested he “should’ve had 40” against the Nets (he scored 15 points) and that, when they play the Boston Celtics on Thursday night, “I’m going to try to go all out. I might get fouled out, too.”

Which, OK, sure. It is nice to be young and confident. Nobody wants players to believe they’re jockeying for lottery odds this early in the season. It is encouraging to see young players recognize the value of holding each other accountable and learning how to communicate with one another.

It’s also pretty clear that teams don’t solve chemistry problems in postgame interviews.

There is more wrong with the Suns than just chemistry

Kokoskov listed three more apparent issues after Tuesday’s loss: “focus,” “body language” and “effort.” “Stepping on each other’s toes” through the media won’t solve those issues. Teams don’t climb from the bottom of the draft to the top of the mountain overnight. That requires incremental improvement. If their growth doesn’t bear playoff fruit this season, their improvement should carry over to next season, when this group of lottery picks will eventually compete, so long as they remain committed.

The Suns’ defense was a comedy of errors against the Nets:

Three Suns stood out most in the “embarrassing” showing against the Nets: Isaiah Canaan, who should not be a starting point guard in the NBA; Ayton, who offered little to no second effort, failed to get back on defense in a timely fashion and looked absolutely lost at times; and Ariza, whose own lack of effort looked like it belonged to a man who is already questioning whether it was a wise idea to sign a one-year, $15 million deal to leave a contender for what appears to be a slow-developing roster.

The Suns have been trying to solve the Canaan issue, both before and after firing general manager Ryan McDonough in favor of interim GM James Jones, as the team has reportedly pursued supposedly “unhappy” backup Boston Celtics point guard Terry Rozier, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

That would certainly help. So too might dealing Ariza, especially if he continues playing like he would rather be somewhere else (speaking of lackluster body language). Phoenix has somehow been 12.5 points per 100 possessions better with Ariza on the bench than they have been with him on the floor. Ariza becomes trade-eligible on Dec. 15, at which point the Suns will have likely lost all hope for the playoffs. (Phoenix would have to find a third team to deal Ariza’s salary in a trade that landed Rozier.)

Ayton and Booker aren’t a dynamic duo … yet

Ayton is the bigger question. The Nets picked and rolled him and Canaan into oblivion, and it was hard to tell who was worse, which is quite the damnation. Opponents are shooting better than 70 percent around the rim on more than seven shots in that area per game against Ayton — the worst mark among regular centers by more than five full percentage points. The problem isn’t whether he “should’ve had 40,” it’s that he has miles to go on the defensive end before becoming the next Shaq.

“The only thing you can possibly do is just try to win,” Ayton added after Tuesday’s loss. “That’s just our mentality. Win. Win. Win. I was speaking to Book, I’m like we need to take over. Let’s start taking over. Let’s really do it. We’re not in training camp anymore. Let’s really show the world what we can do.”

The defense may come for Ayton, but he has to walk before he can run to cover that ground. If not, there’s a real chance the Suns will look back on the 2018 draft with some regret, and missing on a No. 1 overall pick is the sort of move that can set a franchise back. Ayton’s right: It’s still too early for that talk. It’s still too early for a lot of this talk. Few players, if any, can just decide to take over the NBA.

Booker and Ayton probably see young tandems like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid enjoying team success and figure, “Why not us?” As they should. They should also be self-aware enough to know that they’re not at that level yet. Instead, Booker sounds as if he is deflecting blame onto his teammates, and Ayton makes it seem like they are capable of turning this around on their own. I hope I’m wrong.

We know Booker already considers himself a Kobe disciple, and maybe that’s why the two young Phoenix stars fancy themselves winners in the NBA already, since Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were contenders practically from the get-go. It took those guys a handful of seasons and a few titles together before they started complaining about chemistry. That Booker and Ayton ever thought it was going to come naturally 10 games into the season speaks to just how far these Suns have to go.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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