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Change your narrative: Stop trading Deandre Ayton for players that make no sense in Phoenix

Rumors surround the former first overall pick. Again.

Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

We’re on the verge of another Phoenix Suns season, and despite Deandre Ayton’s desire to shift the narrative, we’re still talking about the same old tale. What’s that story? Trading Deandre Ayton.

Last year following his extension there was a countdown until he was trade eligible, the year before when no extension occurred he was on the block. This season, despite Frank Vogel talking the sixth-year center up and stating he is, “off to a great start with him from a relationship standpoint in terms of understanding that if we want him to defend and rebound at an All-Star level, then we’re going to have to involve him a little more in the offense,” Ayton’s name is once again in trade rumors.

Let me catch you up to speed.

On Thursday, rumors began about the Suns potentially being a Katy Perry-esque dark horse candidate to assist the mechanisms of a Dame-Lillard-to-the-Miami-Heat transaction. Lillard, who has stated that he no longer wants to play in Portland and wants to play in Miami, has yet to be dealt. Why? Because there is nothing that Miami can offer that the Portland Trail Blazers’ brass is willing to accept for their seven-time All-Star. While Lillard holds some cards, Portland ultimately holds the leverage.

Both John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports and PHNX Suns’ insider Flex from Jersey mentioned that Phoenix could potentially be involved in a deal, noting that Deandre Ayton would be the player moved to assist in the process.

Here we go again.

As Dave King noted in his most recent article, there aren’t very many members of the Suns who are eligible to be traded. Devin Booker and Kevin Durant are off-limits, Bradley Beal has a no-trade clause, and the majority of the roster is built with veteran minimum players who cannot be traded until at least December 15.

So Ayton becomes the rumor mill guy. He is the man Portland is reported to be interested in. With that thought process behind it, potential transactions are proposed, and the flames are fanned.

In order to make the transaction work, knowing Ayton is owed $32.5 million next season, you’d have to stack some contracts to do so. There aren’t many viable contracts to stack from both Portland or Miami, therefore it has been suggested that a fourth team would get involved. Sounds like me on the ‘ole trade machine when I’m bored.

The one name that comes up that adds a big chunk of salary matching, as well as a positional replacement, is a player entering his 10th season in the league, Portland center Jusuf Nurkic. That is the topic of debate right now: Ayton for Nurkic – knowing other assets would have to come along – is it the right move?


I’ve looked at it from multiple angles, trying to see all sides of the Ayton/Nurkic debate. Even if you throw in other players (Caleb Martin from Miami and Shaedon Sharpe from Portland have been suggested) it’s still a “no” from me. Hard no.

It is this writer’s opinion that this shouldn’t even be a topic of discussion. Ayton should be a member of this team next season, and whether the rumors are true or being drummed up by a desperate Heat team in an effort to move the needle and excite Portland, they need to stop. It doesn’t make basketball sense in the short or long term and, at least in my opinion, and if the narrative is gonna change, it must start right here.

Shall we look at it from all angles? Sure! (I feel my blood warming, this could be fun…)

If you look at first glance at the advanced metrics side of the equation, the edge goes to Nurkic.

Nurkic possesses more substantial interior defense metrics as his rim deterrence (80%tile vs. 70%tile), rim protection (90%tile vs. 77%tile), blocks per 75 possessions (80%tile vs. 74%tile), and rim shots contested (95%tile vs. 83%tile) are better than Deandre Ayton.

All percentile’d out?

He is a better interior defender and a similar rebounder to Deandre Ayton. But that’s where the argument pretty much stops.

DA is younger, more athletic, a better perimeter defender, a better shooter, a better free-throw shooter, and a much MUCH healthier option than Nurkic. Hell, I’ll throw in better looking and has a better jersey number in to. Why not? The tale of the tape shows that. Engaged or not, Ayton is a superior player.

Deandre Ayton has averaged four more minutes per game than Nurkic over the previous three seasons, so adding a guy who averages 48.3 games played and four fewer minutes per game implies you need great big man depth. I’m excited about Drew Eubanks, I’m intrigued about Chimezie Metu and Bol Bol, but until I see it, I’d rather have 65 games and 32 minutes per night of Deandre Ayton.

And you know me. I’m quick to point out when the motor is sputtering, the engagement is poor, the competitiveness is low, and the basketball IQ is Forrest Gump-ish. I’m a DA realist. I want the best and I when he falls short. Go ahead. Put it in the comments. “Ayton’s engagement at 65 games equates to 45 games played”. (Blood is now boiling…)

On this team in this situation, I am betting on the stability at the center position with a guy slated to enter his prime over a big man who can’t guard the perimeter, lumbers up and down the court, and is coming off of numerous lower body injuries. Blazers fans would go bananas to have Ayton over Nurkic. Just ask ‘em!

And of course the Heat would love is because they would roster Lillard. And the Suns would have...Nurkic? Respectfully, GTFO.

It’s a fine line that the Suns are walking right now.

James Jones and Mat Ishbia are all in with this team when it comes to the cap sheet. A trade of Ayton could release some of the pressure for future years, but why do it now? For Nurkic?! Is it because Deandre is at his current highest value? I think not. I think you give this guy a chance to do what he said he would do – to change the narrative – and let the chips fall where they may. He has had a summer to step away, be “the guy” on his national team, and grow as a player and a human. I want to see that player.

If he doesn’t flourish in the Frank Vogel system, then you look for opportunities to trade him for multiple assets, not an old injured distressed one. You may say that if he doesn’t thrive in the system his value will be lower. That’s the gamble you have to take, isn’t it? That’s what James Jones did with Cameron Johnson. He didn’t sign him to a long-term rookie extension, putting him in a prove it situation rather than being chained to someone who could break through. But he did break through, was a potential trade chip, and the gamble paid off, resulting in Kevin Durant. That’s what you have to do.

If I was to put my prediction out there, I would say that nothing happens and all of this back-and-forth is for nothing. But it isn’t for nothing.

As he noted this off-season, Ayton hears everything that is going on.

He is aware. He’s active on social media. He sees that potentially the Suns are once again talking about trading him. If his new coaching staff is trying to develop confidence in this player, this isn’t the way to go about it.

How much validity is it to the sources? Are the Suns really fielding phone calls about Deandre Ayton or are they just answering the phone because it could be their mom calling them to wish them a happy birthday? “Hello? Mother dear? Oh, Joe Cronin…”.

Media Day is less than 10 days away. Ayton will once again field questions about his potential involvement in a transaction. That’s the narrative that needs to change. He’ll change it with his play this season, but we have to give him a chance to do so.

(Blood pressure returned to normal...ish.)

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