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Deandre Ayton is a good player, but it was time to let go

Farewell to the controversial big man.

2023 NBA Playoffs -Denver Nuggets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The Deandre Ayton era has ended in Phoenix.

But that’s not exactly right, is it? Because there never was a Deandre Ayton era for the Phoenix Suns. There was a series of seasons in which Deandre Ayton was a Phoenix Sun. It’s safe to say he’ll be remembered more for his potential than for his accomplishments on the court in his five seasons in the Valley.

The numbers he leaves behind are a nice legacy, if you’re into that kind of thing. 16.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game over 303 contests. To average the points/rebounds double-double over that many games with the team is no joke, as Ayton could rightly be mentioned alongside Charles Barkley and Shawn Marion in terms of consistency and longevity in those areas. He is, in fact, the Suns’ #8 all-time leading rebounder: fewer than 100 behind Sir Charles.

And was time to let go. I know many won’t agree. And it’s hard to stomach the franchise’s only #1 overall pick in history sauntering off to Portland in exchange for no superstars. But it was time for the Suns to move on.

Not because Ayton wasn’t a good player. He is. But because he isn’t a great player, despite his apparent belief in his own greatness.

With the Suns’ acquisition of Bradley Beal over the Summer, Ayton was set to slot even further into the backseat as the Suns’ fourth scoring option. At that point, there becomes a legitimate argument that the inconsistent effort and occasional public temper tantrums are no longer justifiable for what Ayton brings to the team.

Ayton isn’t an amazing fit as a fourth option defender and rebounder. He’s a good rebounder, but nothing particularly special. He’s a good, versatile defender, but his personality doesn’t fit the physical “scrappy” prototype apparently envisioned by new Suns Head Coach Frank Vogel. He can stay on the floor against small ball lineups, and that matters in today’s game, but he’s not an elite rim protector and he doesn’t have a relentless defensive mindset.

Ayton was obviously dissatisfied in Phoenix. He and the front office have been at an uneasy truce ever since the Suns declined to max Ayton themselves, instead electing to match the lesser max offer of the Indianapolis Pacers two years ago.

I never thought Ayton was grossly overpaid...he was moderately overpaid at worse. But clearing his expensive contract for Jusuf Nurkic (who makes roughly half as much) gives the Suns a boost of flexibility that they never could have with Ayton’s max deal on their books.

Nurkic is not as dynamic as Ayton. He can’t step up and be your star if you need him to. At least not for more than a very brief stretch. Ayton has that ability.

But how often has he used it?

It really all comes back to that, in the end. Deandre Ayton is a good player who is dissatisfied with what his career has yielded him so far. No all-NBA teams, no all-star nods, a backseat to Devin Booker in the press. A constant and unending unfavorable comparison to Luka Doncic, his draft classmate who has accumulated such honors and made himself one of the most marketable stars in the NBA today.

It’s within Ayton’s power to flip the narrative, but he has spent his career to this point choosing to view himself as more of a victim of circumstance than as a master of his own destiny.

Until that changes, he will remain where he is, on that tier of players you’d like to have but can live without.

It’s time for the Suns to live without him.

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