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Bradley Beal joins Booker, KD on Suns — what does that mean for Ayton?

The former No. 1 overall pick will probably be traded for depth to help the Suns fill out a workable rotation

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

For the third time in two and half years, the Phoenix Suns are trading for an All-NBA player to join forces with homegrown star Devin Booker.

Shams Charania of The Athletic first reported the deal, a trade that would send Chris Paul and Landry Shamet, along with at least four second round picks and the Suns last remaining pick swap rights, to the Wizards for All-Star, All-NBA guard Bradley Beal.

After acquiring Kevin Durant in February, the Suns only had two pick first round swaps (2024 and 2026) and all their second round picks left in their draft pick arsenal. Swap rights are the ability of the receiving team to take swap picks in those years at their discretion, so if the Suns get bad and have a high pick the other team can take it in exchange for their own. The Suns are betting their picks will always be lower than the Wizards.

John Gambadoro says it’s only a couple of second rounders, but we have to wait to see the real details in a day or two.

To complete the deal, the Wizards had to guarantee about $10 million more dollars to Paul than his current guarantee.

They are reportedly now trying to see if a third team wants in on the action, to re-route Paul to a contender rather than the waiver wire (assuming the Wizards would waive him, that is).

This after a Wizards insider reported that the clearly rebuilding Wizards want Paul (LOL) but would work with him and the Suns to get him to a preferred destination before finalizing the deal.

By the time this is all done, the trade pieces might look a little different, but the bottom line is the same: the Suns now have Beal, Booker and Kevin Durant together for at least three years under contract.

Beal had a no-trade clause, the only active NTC in the game, so he could pick his destination and he chose the Suns. Just like Durant last year and just like Chris Paul two years before that.

“This was an extremely complicated process with so many different hurdles to get through, and Ted Leonsis and Michael Winger were unbelievable partners in making this happen,” Beal’s agent Mark Bartelstein told ESPN. “From the day that Ted drafted Brad he has been by our side along with [former general managers] Ernie Grunfeld and Tommy Sheppard. They’ve always had Brad’s back in every way and now we have experienced the exact same thing with Ted and Michael Winger. We are extremely grateful.”

Bartelstein... where do we know that name? Oh yeah, three months ago the Suns new owner Mat Ishbia hired Mark’s 33-year old son Josh to be his new CEO of the Suns franchise. Now weeks later, dad Mark gets his big client to Josh’s new team.

Beal now replaces Paul as the latter began a steep downhill slide on the back end of a stellar career. In between those luminaries, the Suns made their biggest deal in franchise history — or at least since acquiring Charles Barkley 30 years before — in acquiring Kevin Durant.

When the Suns acquired Durant in February, Paul was no longer playing at an All-Star level and failed to deliver in the playoffs, so the Suns just went ahead and flipped him for Beal.

Now Devin Booker has a pair of true All-Star teammates for the first time in his career, and we can only hope that Durant and Beal can help the Suns get as far as Paul alone carried them in 2021: the NBA Finals.

Seems like every big name player suddenly wants to play with Booker in Phoenix. The Suns went 28 years between trading for current All-Star players and now have done it three times in the last 2.5 years.

It wasn’t that long ago that Booker longed for a winning environment, and many in and out of the state were expecting Book to join the ranks of the disgruntled and request a trade. But even then, Book never wavered in his loyalty.

That was January 7, 2019. Book was in the midst of his fourth NBA season under his fourth head coach (Igor Kokoskov, Jay Triano, Earl Watson, Jeff Hornacek). His team had more losses than any other NBA franchise since the beginning of his second season.

Then in his fourth season, as a mere 22 year old, Book took media night after night to face the music and explain what happened in yet another Suns loss. That night, his starting lineup were all the same age or younger than him somehow — Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Elie Okobo and rookie Mikal Bridges.

Book made it his job to turn things around. First, he built up his games to All-Star level. Then he started quietly recruiting the best players in the game. And he did it in such a way that THEY wanted to leave their teams to join HIM, rather than him going to them.

“I’d like to build a super team,” Booker said later that year. “And I’d like the super team to come to me.”

Indeed they did.

Now 2022 All-NBA First Team guard Devin Booker has the most talented top end of his team yet. He has 2022 First Team All-NBA forward Kevin Durant and 2021 All-NBA third-team guard Bradley Beal. He also has, at least for the moment, former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton on the team as well.

But behind those four the cupboard is pretty bare.

Backup point guard is the only other player with guaranteed money in 2023-24, and yet the Suns are already over the so-called Tax Apron which precludes the Suns from acquiring a player in a sign-and-trade, spending more than the taxpayer mid-level exception ($5 million) in free agency and couple of other things.

Here’s the updated chart.

Obviously, with the team as it is, the next play is to trade Deandre Ayton. Ayton is owed $32.46 million in 2023-24 and has almost $100 million guaranteed to him over the next three years.

Since the Suns no longer need — nor can they afford — top end players beyond the obvious commitments to Booker, Beal and Durant, the overwhelming expectation is that the Suns will turn Ayton into quantity.

I’m sure they would love to keep Ayton, but the math just doesn’t work with the salary cap limitations. The Suns have to trade him for quantity in the form for 2-3 quality rotation players and hopefully a first round pick or two. That seems paltry for a former No. 1 overall pick with career averages of 16 points and 10 rebounds per game who set a new league record for most double-doubles in a playoffs at age 22 or younger.

But Ayton and the Suns have had a strained relationship for years that culminated poorly for the team in the last two playoff runs.

The Suns can now target non-playoff teams looking to upgrade their overall roster, with the aim to get back younger players with controllable years (ie. rookie scale contracts) to maximize the value of the talent on the court. In exchange, the Suns can offer a proven veteran with the ability to play both offense and defense. How about a team like the Houston Rockets, with new coach Ime Udoka, or even the San Antonio Spurs or Charlotte Hornets.

Stay tuned for more news on the Suns as they fill out the rest of their team around Booker, Beal and Durant.

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