When Charles Barkley came to town in 1992, the Phoenix Suns already had talent, they just couldn’t get over the top. Barkley made them great. The same thing happened with Steve Nash in 2004. It will happen again with Deandre Ayton in 2018.
The selection of Deandre Ayton first overall in the 2018 NBA Draft gave the Phoenix Suns a ready-made star, one who would have been the first pick of the draft regardless of what franchise was selecting there. He comes to a young team that already has talent, but needed a push to get them over the hump and finally competing for the playoffs once again.
In 1992, the Suns added Charles Barkley to a roster that boasted stars Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle, with a number of fan-favorites and grizzles vets such as Cedric Ceballos, Danny Ainge, and Richard Dumas. From top to bottom, that team was a veteran one who needed the stardom of a player like Barkley to make them legitimate contenders.
In 2004, when Steve Nash re-signed with Phoenix, that roster already boasted All-Star Shawn Marion and young stars Amar’e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson, a talented roster that also included Leandro Barbosa and Quentin Richardson. Unlike Barkley, Nash was not a superstar prior to re-joining the Suns, but not only would he became one almost immediately, he unexpectedly elevated the entire franchise, making several of those players household names in Arizona, with Stoudemire and Marion elevating to household names the league-round.
With the addition of Deandre Ayton in 2018, he comes to a situation much like his two star-studded predecessors, and will have a similar impact as both Barkley and Nash.
Devin Booker is the undeniable heart of the roster already (much like KJ was before Barkley and STAT and Matrix were before Nash), an accomplished scoring phenom who is already giving Kobe Bryant a run for his basket-making money.
Josh Jackson proved that he too can be a high-scoring acrobat, who now, with the addition of Ayton, can focus a little less on his own points, and a little more on his defense, his greatest skill that the Suns will want to develop moving forward.
Mikal Bridges was also added to the roster having been selected nine picks behind Ayton, and comes to Phoenix a 3-and-D savant. While Bridges too has never played an NBA game, he arrives as one of the “older” players on the roster, already 22-years-old, having played 116 games in college, including two National Championships in three seasons.
Ayton will anchor the core of a roster now stocked with young talent already, a group of players who have yet to find themselves in the league – and still need time – but that needed the addition of a household NBA name to help them finally start taking larger steps towards their playoff goals and championship aspirations.
They needed a player who is an immediate mismatch for nearly everyone who attempts to defend him.
This is not to put too much weight or expectation on the young man as he has yet to play a single Summer League game let alone a regular season one. This is also not to apply a direct talent-based comparison to Barkley or Nash as no one in their right mind believes that Ayton is without a doubt walking into a hall of fame career without ever seeing him play against talent better than those who he faced in the PAC-12.
To demand that Ayton makes the Suns a championship contender this coming season like Barkley or Nash did is entirely unfair to he and the organization as a whole.
That said, his talent is undeniable and team expectations now can be that of a championship contending team beginning at some point in the next five seasons (or maybe less).
He is the exact piece that the Phoenix Suns needed to take that first step.
When Barkley arrived, fans mobbed his car in the middle of the sweltering Phoenix heat, hardly allowing driver Cotton Fitzsimmons from getting safely to the newly built arena.
Steve Nash arrived back in the Valley surround by fanfare as the returning prodigal Sun, then turned the fanbase on it’s head by guaranteeing the playoffs in his introductory press conference – something that for many seemed entirely out of reach for a team who had won only 29 games the year before.
Deandre Ayton was not mobbed by fans upon his Arizona arrival. He did not guarantee the playoffs in his introductory press conference. He is not an NBA veteran with years of experience at the pro level, the kind of player capable of leading a locker room based on war wounds alone from the moment he steps foot inside.
But he is the biggest star to arrive since Nash in 2004, and is certainly capable of being the kind of franchise transformational player that both Nash and Barkley were in their Phoenix primes.
Deandre Ayton will make the Phoenix Suns Great (Again).