Phoenix Suns centre Deandre Ayton (22) tries to drive past Denver Nuggets forward Torrey Craig during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Monday, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
By DAVID BRANDT AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns plans for a quick rebuild have hit an unexpected snag.
Bahamian centre Deandre Ayton was suspended 25 games without pay by the NBA on Thursday night for violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program by testing positive for a diuretic.
The first overall pick last year out of Arizona, Ayton averaged 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds as a rookie and was hoping to have a big jump in production in his second season.
He had 18 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks Wednesday night in the Suns' season-opening home victory over Sacramento. Ayton was especially proud of the blocks.
"When you watch film and you're the biggest dude on the court and you're not protecting the rim? You've got a problem," Ayton said Wednesday. "So, I'm emphasising that in my game now."
But the good vibes from that victory have quickly evaporated.
Ayton was upbeat after Wednesday's win, giving no indication that he was about to miss nearly a third of the season. Phoenix had a 19-63 record last season but hoped for a fast turnaround with a roster that was built around Ayton and high-scoring guard Devin Booker.
The team hired Monty Williams as coach, signed free-agent point guard Ricky Rubio and re-signed talented forward Kelly Oubre Jr. The Suns also added rookies Cameron Johnson and Ty Jerome and depth in the frontcourt with veterans Aron Baynes, Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky III.
Now they'll be without Ayton until mid-December unless the suspension is reduced through the arbitration process.
The Suns didn't immediately respond when asked for comment on Ayton's suspension.
"I want to apologise to my family, the entire Suns organisation, my teammates, partners, our fans and the Phoenix community," Ayton said in a statement that was released to ESPN. "This was an unintentional mistake and unfortunately I put something in my body that I was completely unaware of.
"I do understand the unfortunate impact that this has on so many others, and for that I am deeply sorry. I'm extremely disappointed that I've let my team down. I will continue to work with the NBPA to go through arbitration and am hopeful of a positive resolution."
Ayton won't be eligible to return until a road game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 17. Phoenix plays at Denver on Friday night.