Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.
1) Ayton, Williams argue on bench near end of ugly Suns loss
The Suns looked like they had found their footing again, having won three straight after a five-game losing streak, and now the Wizards rolled into town on their own 10-game losing streak and playing some ugly basketball.
The Suns seemed in control midway through the fourth quarter up 10, and then fell asleep and watched a 15-0 Wizards run change the game.
In the midst of that, center Deandre Ayton and coach Monty Williams — two men with a rocky history together that includes Ayton sitting a lot of the Suns’ Game 7 loss to the Mavericks last season — could be seen arguing on the bench.
Uh oh 👀 pic.twitter.com/ZCtkWTYgJ7
— andrew leezus (@AndrewLeezus) December 21, 2022
Moments before, Ayton apparently missed setting a screen for Mikal Bridges, and during a Deni Avdija free throw Bridges let him know about it. The best is the reaction of Bradley Beal, who sees the other team melting down and starts applauding.
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) December 21, 2022
After the game, Williams tried to play the incident down as did Ayton. Here are their quotes, via Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic.
“It was the whole team in those moments,” Williams said after the game. “It wasn’t just Deandre, it was the whole group out there not executing properly. It was a bit of frustration, but that happens. That was not an isolated one person or one player thing.”
“We weren’t really exchanging words,” Ayton said. “We’re a family. He know how to talk to his boys and his boys know how to just communicate. Obviously, the whole world see it, but it’s really all love and just getting us back to regroup and just take out the confusion.”
The Wizards will take whatever gift the Suns want to give them. Beal scored 14 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and the Wizards showed a little fight in snapping their 10-game losing streak, 113-110. Kyle Kuzma added 22 points and, with Kristaps Porzingis out sick (non-COVID), Daniel Gafford stepped up with a big game on both ends, finishing with 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting.
2) Sarver on his way out, billionaire Mat Ishbia set to buy Suns for $4 billion
Ayton and Williams’ relationship isn’t Robert Sarver’s concern anymore — the suspended owner has found a buyer for the Suns. And at a record price.
Mat Ishbia has agreed to purchase the Phoenix Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury for a reported $4 billion. Ishbia, a walk-on reserve guard for the Michigan State Spartans under Tom Izzo that won the NCAA title in 2000, has since turned his father’s mortgage company into the largest in the nation and made himself a billionaire in the process.
“I am extremely excited to be the next Governor of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury,” Ishbia said in a statement. “Both teams have an incredibly dynamic fan base and I have loved experiencing the energy of the Valley over the last few months.
“Basketball is at the core of my life, from my high school days as a player to the honor of playing for Coach Izzo and winning a national title at Michigan State University. I’ve spent the last two decades building my mortgage business, United Wholesale Mortgage, into the number one mortgage lender in America and I’m confident that we can bring that same level of success to these great organizations on and off the floor.”
That sale price blows away the former record paid for an NBA team of $3.3 billion (Joe Tsai paid that for both the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center where they play). Sarver purchased the Suns in 2004 for a then-record $401 million.
“Mat is the right leader to build on franchise legacies of winning and community support and shepherd the Suns and Mercury into the next era,” Sarver said in a statement. “As a former collegiate basketball player and national champion, Mat has exactly the right spirit, commitment and resources to pursue championships. Equally important, though, is his philanthropic outlook and commitment to using sports as a way to elevate and connect people. I know he shares my unwavering support for women’s basketball and I look forward to watching him become a unifying force across the Valley of the Sun.”
Mat is bringing in his brother Justin — also a billionaire and part-owner of UWM — as a co-owner and alternate governor for the team.
Sarver agreed to sell the team after an NBA-sponsored investigation into his running of the Suns’ franchise showed he had led a hostile work environment that included sexual harassment claims. NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Sarver $10 million (the max he could do) and suspended Sarver for a year — which was a slap on the wrist — but as pressure from sponsors and other NBA owners mounted, Sarver chose to step away.
3) Bulls respond to reports of infighting with win over shorthanded Heat
The Chicago Bulls showed a little fight — and not with each other this time.
On a day where the Bulls’ dirty laundry — and frustrations with Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan — were aired publicly, they bounced back with a big night 29-point night from Nikola Vucevic and got a 113-103 win over the Heat.
More important than the offense, the Bulls were engaged defensively and their rotations were sharp much of the night — including LaVine’s. He has not been an engaged defender much of the season, and none of the Bulls were during an ugly loss to the Timberwolves recently where Minnesota shot nearly 66% on the night on its way to 150 points.
DeRozan finished with 24, LaVine 21, and after the game everyone with the Bulls played down the reports of internal tensions. Wins help calm those waters.
Miami got 27 points and 12 rebounds from Bam Adebayo, who continues to play well. However, last season the Heat saw players like Max Strus step up (he was 1-of-9 shooting), or Gabe Vincent (out injured) and this season their bench is not the same. Victor Oladipo shot 4-of-13, and Duncan Robinson was 4-of-12.