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Deandre Ayton is embracing a fresh start with the Trail Blazers

AP Sports Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Center Deandre Ayton made a promise to Portland Trail Blazers fans as the team embarks on a season of uncertainty.

“I bring dominance,” he said. “My name is DominAyton.”

Ayton came to the Trail Blazers in the three-team trade that sent Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks. He was all smiles as he was introduced this week, mugging for cameras and looking forward to a fresh start after five years with the Phoenix Suns.

“New beginning,” Ayton said. “I get to show the world, show you guys who I am as a player on and off the court. Helping the young guys on this team win. Teaching them how to win.”

Ayton will help fill the role that Jusuf Nurkic — who was sent to the Suns as part of the blockbuster trade — had last season. The Blazers also got Robert Williams III in a trade with the Boston Celtics, and as a result Portland has a pair of 25-year-old big men who have been on teams that have played in the NBA Finals.

“We are going to put a lot of pressure on the paint on the offensive end, and defensively we will protect the rim,” coach Chauncey Billups said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Ayton, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, averaged 18 points and 10.0 rebounds in 67 games with the Suns last season but it appeared his time in Phoenix was drawing to a close. He signed a four-year deal with Indiana last year before the Suns matched it, and rumors persisted this summer that he would be traded.

Billups emphasized the Blazers aren’t going to ask Ayton to run the show, like Joel Embiid in Philadelphia or Nikola Jokic in Denver. The Trail Blazers in the post-Lillard era will be more of a group effort.

“We’re not bringing in Deandre for him to be Embiid, where we’re gonna throw him the ball 30 times a game and say, ‘Alright, go be MVP.′ That’s not gonna be his role. However, he probably will have a more expanded role than he had at Phoenix,” Billups said. “But again, like we’ve got a lot of young guys that are gonna be trying to figure it out. Y’all know how I feel about connectivity and being connected and those things take a lot of time.”

For his career, Ayton has averaged 16.7 points, 10.4 rebounds and one block per game. He was key to the Suns’ run to the NBA Finals in 2021. The next season, the Suns finished with the league’s best record.

Last season, Phoenix was eliminated by Denver in the second round of the playoffs. Ayton didn’t play in Game 6 of the series because of a rib injury.

Blazers general manager Joe Cronin maintains that Ayton hasn’t yet reached his potential.

“Especially with big men, it takes a lot to get to where their peak is. I think Deandre is at least a couple of years from that,” Cronin said.

For his part, Ayton said he wants to change the narrative.

“I’m in an organization that wants me, and wants me to succeed. So there’s a lot more passion when you feel that mentally, you’ve seen it physically as well,” he said. “So there will be a lot more grit and a lot more domination this year.”



Article Topic Follows: AP - Oregon-Northwest

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