The Phoenix Suns, with the season paused since Jan. 11, are in position to consider a blockbuster trade involving mercurial center Deandre Ayton
The Phoenix Suns’ whole “Deandre Ayton is the problem” narrative needs a reset.
Is he talented? Yes. Was he the overwhelming No. 1 option in the 2018 draft? Yes. Is Luka Doncic looking like the better choice now? Yes.
It’s uncertain exactly what Ayton would bring in return, but his upside is a moving target and, absent dramatic improvement over the next month or so, Ayton may just be what he is today: a capable scorer and a sometimes-reluctant rim protector whose motor, motivation and maturity remain topics of heated debate among the playoff-starved Suns fans.
To more closely break down the options regarding the 22-year-old center, here are three paths the Suns could travel as the basketball ops people mull the big man’s future.
The clear over-reaction for the Phoenix Suns now is to move Deandre Ayton while there remains some decent potential return on investment
As Ayton stumbles, fumbles and generally falls short of lofty expectations, there is an urgency to find out what he’s worth.
Some sports-talk hosts and industry analysts, including a recent Bleacher Report piece, suggest the Suns would be best-served to follow this road. Is that the preferred option?
Arizona Sports’ Dan Bickley made his point clear.
"It’s time to trade for Karl-Anthony Towns, embracing all the risk he represents. That includes a painful, premature dissolution of our marriage with Deandre Ayton, the polarizing conundrum who churns out exquisite statistical lines while having minimal impact on most NBA games."
In that Bleacher Report story, Dan Favale included Ayton among his 10 best trade chips in the NBA (prior to the James Harden deal).
If Suns decision-makers, who, not insignificantly, were not part of the Ayton draft, believe that Ayton’s ceiling is rapidly approaching — or already reached — then it’s time to scramble.
Potential trade partners are still processing their teams’ early returns, trying to determine whether a major trade makes sense. The Suns are trying to improve the “third star” position behind Booker and Chris Paul, though Mikal Bridges continues to make huge strides toward that level.
Fans are certainly engaged in the possibilities, going so far as to sample the opinions of other Suns followers.
Big swing 1: Go after Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, who looks like he’s finally figuring out how to dominate. This would cost much more than just Ayton; perhaps the team’s No. 1 pick and future draft considerations along with Cam Johnson. Not gonna include Bridges, though.
And Embiid already has joined Booker on an early All-Star list.
Big swing 2: Try to pry away Bradley Beal, whose rare scoring ability would serve as a nice complement for Devin Booker.
Upgrade/re-imagining: Pursue Siakam or similar useful power forwards such as former University of Arizona star Lauri Markkanen.
Ayton’s quickness and ability to switch on the perimeter are rare attributes among most NBA big men, and his interior defense has shown some improvement.
It’s not going to be easy to pull the trigger.
The Phoenix Suns will have several options in seeking a trade for Deandre Ayton, but there are hints that the momentum is moving toward: Keep him!
Ayton has shown some signs of improvement through the team’s first 11 games — but is it enough to satisfy general manager James Jones and company?
In the two games prior to the Suns’ so-far 3-game COVID-19 postponements, Ayton failed to reach double figures in scoring. It was the first time in his NBA career that’s happened in consecutive games.
But he pulled down 20 rebounds in those two games, so the overall report card remains a solid “incomplete.”
Ayton remains a reliable double-double machine. He offers a high “floor” for performance, and ranks above Siakam, Towns and teammate Devin Booker in Basketball Reference’s Win Share metric.
His scoring, 12.5 points per game, is down from last season’s 18.2 but he’s committing fewer turnovers while improving his field-goal percentage.
The “Keep him” fans are basically saying “Wait and see” instead of: “He’s our guy!”
If the Suns can maintain their current position among playoff contenders, it could make sense to wait and ride it out this season. Even if Ayton is about the same player in April as he is now, the Suns’ options for improving will not dry up.
The Suns rank 20th in NBA team payroll, and Chris Paul’s $40 million+ will be off the books after next season. With Booker locked up for the next three seasons, the Suns can take on some salary via free agency and/or offseason trades.
One thing is certain: Until Ayton is traded, the debate figures to continue.