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Suns Weekly (Oct 16): Preseason rolls on as Ayton gets an awakening vs former team

Your weekly roundup of Phoenix Suns news, rumors, notes and videos from the prior week plus a preview of the week to come.

NBA: Preseason-Phoenix Suns at Portland Trail Blazers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Last week, Deandre Ayton had a chance to talk about facing his only former professional team. Five years had gone by, including three straight trips to the playoffs and an NBA Finals berth. The Valley-Oop will be remembered for decades. The Phoenix Suns were truly the only team Ayton had ever known. He’d established himself in the NBA well enough to earn a mini-max $150 contract extension, enough to support generations to come in his family.

But it was an uneasy marriage. Ayton wanted a more prominent role, to be seen as one of the pillars of the team on both ends of the court and to get that maxi-max (another $40+ million) contract his draft status and talent base historically received. He didn’t want to be squeezed on his second contract.

But the team wanted more consistent dedication to his craft and to his energy levels. They wanted him to live closer to his self-imposed nickname on a nightly basis. Still, they valued him as a core piece of a championship contender with hopes that dedication would sooner than later.

But that upswing never happened and the team finally pulled the trigger on a trade. He was sent to the Portland Trail Blazers for a stopgap starting center in Jusuf Nurkic at half the salary, a backup in shooter Grayson Allen, and a couple young guys who may or may not be future pieces to keep.

Ayton dropped quickly from No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 Draft to salary dump just a few years later, despite starting for one of the best teams in the league while posting 18 points and 10 rebounds a game.

Now he has a fresh start with the Portland Trail Blazers. He’s the highest paid Blazer on the team and the best combination of athleticism, youth (25) and proven ‘this gets you to the playoffs’ pedigree.

They need Deandre Ayton more than the Suns ever did. Maybe that will help him get to the next level now. He was the best player on Team Bahamas in FIBA Qualifying this summer and, along with Eric Gordon and Buddy Hield, they won the biggest games in the country’s history. Along the way, he called them “the best teammates he’d ever had.”

Then he was so excited to go to Portland he said “It’s like being drafted all over again!”

He’s trying to move on with a fresh start out of the Phoenix spotlight. But he can’t quite shake the Suns quite yet.

First, they played each other last Thursday in Portland, in front of his home crowd. Before the game, he wouldn’t broach the Suns stint. “I’ve got nothing to say about Phoenix.” The game itself was not a banner Ayton game. Maybe he was shellshocked by purple and orange so soon again. Or by seeing the two guys he unfollowed on Instagram after the trade (Booker and Durant). Whatever it was, we only saw a tentative Ayton who looked like wished the game would just be over. Lines:

  • Jusuf Nurkic: 21 mins, 17 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 1 turnover
  • Deandre Ayton: 23 mins, 7 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 2 turnovers

Big shout to new Suns center Nurk for his best preseason game yet (of 3). He was in the same situation as Ayton, just without the incredible extra pressure of having been a former No. 1 pick. Nurkic had spent 6 years in Portland, but hadn’t been able to stay healthy more than half the season for 4 of them. When he returned on Thursday, you could see he wanted to put on a show for his long time fans and did not disappoint. The Suns were up by 21 when Nurkic and the other starters took a second-half seat.

Round one: Nurkic

Round Two: TONIGHT!

Tonight, Ayton gets the Nurkic chace. He will suit up in his Blazers uni in Phoenix for his base of fans in the Footprint Center. Game Time: 7:00PM. I’m sure a ton of emotion will be coursing through him the whole day.

Go to the game, or check it out on free digital TV (Arizona’s Family).

Notable Quotes

“I Don’t Want to Talk About Phoenix” — Deandre Ayton, before last week’s preseason game in Portland against his former Suns

“I’m sure a third through the season, we’ll figure out what our true identity really is. But I think we’re putting together some good days of basketball, good days of teaching and we’ll see where that takes us.” — Kevin Durant, after Sunday’s open practice.

“it’s still incredible” — Durant on practicing in front of fans, like they did in Sunday’s open practice. The arena was nearly packed on a Sunday afternoon to watch the guys shoot around a bit.

Suns Around the Web

The Suns had open practice at the Foot yesterday. Incredible how many fans packed that arena. Near capacity!

Watch the open practice right now.

Big big note on here — this open practice was streamed internationally!!! Remember the years after years of ‘only if you’re within 50 miles of the arena’ preseason broadcast limits??!?!?

Good Bright Side reads you probably missed

Each week I’ll highlight some Bright Side articles that didn’t get as many eyeballs as they should have. It’s worth your time to give these unique takes a look before they’re lost in the ether forever.

Cap Sheet

The Suns have 17 players under standard contract (not including two-ways), but will need to cut down to 15 standards before the regular season tips on off October 24.

Contracts in black ink are guaranteed, meaning the Suns have to pay those salaries whether or not the player is on the team, and would only be offset by the salary that player would get by signing with another team.

The easy cuts, then, which would save the Suns the most salary (though they’d still be over the second apron by a bit), is to cut the non-guaranteeds of Jordan Goodwin and Ish Wainright. Their fortunes took a turn downward when both missed time in training camp and preseason with injuries (hamstring, calf, respectively). Another possible casualty is the unknown severity of Damion Lee’s meniscus injury. If he’s set to miss significant time, the Suns might release him to keep one of the non-guaranteeds.

The 2023-24 totals below assume cutting off Goodwin and Ish to get down to 15, leaving the Suns still 2.4 million over the second tax line. Releasing Lee — who just underwent a meniscus surgery that might end his season, but the Suns are not giving a timeline — instead would double that overage.

Of course, the Suns can also adjust their roster and cost implications if, during preseason, they identify somewhere to trade to a deep bench player into someone’s cap space. That’s if someone just doesn’t look like would have a role this year.

Why does this ‘second tax apron’ matter? Because being over that mark limits what the Suns can do with signings and trades to continue to improve the team.

During this coming season, if the Suns are over the second apron, they:

  • cannot sign any high-salary buyout guys (who had more than $12.4 million or so)
  • cannot acquire > 10% more salary than they send out in any trades

That means no more Terrence Ross signings after the trade deadline, and no more Durant and Beal trades the way they were done in bringing back significantly more salary.

And if the Suns are still over the second apron after April 2024, they

  • cannot pay more than league minimum for free agents from another team
  • cannot trade the “seven years out” first round pick (2031)
  • cannot acquire any players in sign-and-trade
  • cannot send out cash in any trades
  • cannot take back ANY more salary than they send out, not even a dollar
  • can only do one-for-one trades for salary-matching purposes (no salary aggregation of multiple players)

If they remain over the second apron twice in the following four years (i.e. three of five), starting NEXT season:

  • those future frozen draft picks are moved to the END of the first round (they can later be unfrozen if the team gets below the second apron 3 out of 4 years)

In short, trades get tough for the teams over the second apron, including the Suns, Celtics, Nuggets and Clippers (This list only leaves out the Warriors and Bucks because Klay Thompson and Jrue Holiday are merely Bird Rights free agents until they re-sign).

Important Future Dates

  • 2 Remaining Preseason Games (both at home): Mon vs Blazers and Thursday @ Lakers
  • Oct. 24: REGULAR SEASON OPENER! Start of 2023-24 regular season; Suns @ Warriors on NBA’s Opening Night on TNT to help open the 2023-24 NBA season.
  • Nov. 3: NBA In-Season Tournament begins
  • Dec. 7: NBA In-Season Tournament Semifinals
  • Dec. 9: NBA In-Season Tournament Finals for inaugural NBA Cup
  • Feb 8: Trade Deadline
  • Feb. 16-18: NBA All-Star Weekend 2024
  • April 14: 2023-24 regular season ends

This week’s poll

Deandre Ayton has his first return home tonight in Phoenix, in a preseason game as the starting center on the Portland Trail Blazers.


Predict DA’s stat line in tonight’s preseason game against his former team

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    DA posts like 8/8 in half a game, nothing special
    (125 votes)
  • 29%
    DA sits out with minor injury/rest
    (58 votes)
  • 5%
    DA posts a monster game, making us wish we hadn’t given up on him so quickly
    (11 votes)
194 votes total Vote Now

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