Deandre Ayton could occupy a pretty extensive volume in a library of Phoenix Suns history, despite the fact that the Bahamian big man is not yet 25 years-old. He was the Suns’ first ever #1 overall pick, and the subject of intense debate over whether he was the “right” choice in a 2018 NBA Draft that also included Luka Doncic as well as Jaren Jackson, Jr. and Trae Young.
Five years later, Ayton has no All-Star selections to his name. The Suns had a memorable run to the NBA Finals in 2021 in which Ayton won acclaim even from many of his doubters, but have since suffered disappointing semis exits in back-to-back seasons. The Suns retained him as a restricted free agent after he signed a max offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers a year ago, but that year has seen more friction with the organization and with the now-fired coach Monty Williams.
It’s anyone’s guess whether Ayton will be traded.
Williams’ firing, insiders say, could tend to indicate that the Suns intend to keep Ayton around and those some folks seem to think that new Suns head coach frank Vogel will be a good fit with the talented but seemingly underachieving center.
"It starts with the big guy." - Frank Vogel on Deandre Ayton and the defensive end— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) June 6, 2023
Others contend, not without merit, that Ayton is the obvious trade chip that the capped-out Suns can use to rework their roster around Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.
I know half of you will rage at this, and I understand it...but staying in Phoenix is probably the best move for both sides.
From Ayton’s perspective, being in Phoenix gives him the ability to play the role of defensive anchor and solid #3 scoring option on a team that should contend. This is objectively a damn good situation for a 6th year man with few individual accolades to speak of to find himself in.
Ayton can say what he wants, and sometimes does, but the fact of the matter is he does not have the mentality of a topline scoring option for a team serious about going all the way. He will display this ability in spurts, but then frequently disappear for a long time. At a certain point, we have to stop blaming this on “his teammates didn’t get him involved” and just acknowledge that Ayton doesn’t really get HIMSELF involved, because he’s inconsistently motivated to do so.
From the Suns’ perspective, they just aren’t that likely to “win” any trade involving Ayton at this point. History has shown that teams are usually better off in a trade if they are the ones acquiring the single best player, and Ayton is likely to be that player in any trade to which he is a party at this point. Ayton’s multi-year max contract limits the teams with which a deal can realistically be struck, and though he’s a good player he’s not a coveted enough asset that other teams are likely to be willing to simply swap him straight-up for an all-star level player.
The most likely return on Ayton would be some combination of decent role players and relatively unappealing draft picks. I hesitate to say for certainty what he might return, of course, because the only way to know for sure what a player’s value is for a deal to happen. The Indiana Pacers have apparently liked Ayton for some time, and so it’s possible they (or some other team similarly high on Ayton) might be willing to “overpay” for him.
There’s a good argument to be made that Booker, Durant, and the best possible cast of role players is the way to go. If they could actually be healthy, that’s still a very formidable team.
But I think it’s probable that the best move for both sides is to give this group one last shot. And I don’t feel great about saying that, but it is what it is.