Phoenix Suns Future Center is Already on the Team, and it’s not Ayton

Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

You could start to feel them last summer, but at this point, the rumblings about Deandre Ayton’s potential future with the Phoenix Suns are almost unignorable. The question around the entire scenario remains the same—but one with a totally different answer depending on who you ask.

So, does Deandre Ayton deserve a max contract?

Well, the Suns already faced this question last summer, and seemed to have their doubts about Ayton worthiness for a max offer. Phoenix could have dished him out more than $207 million if all bonuses and incentives were hit last year, but talks on such a deal stalled before the season began.

Ayton now enters this summer as a restricted free agent, meaning that if a team offers him a contract, the Suns can match that offer to keep him in the desert. But if the Suns do not want to fork over the money, Ayton may leave either through a sign-and-trade or completely scot free.

With that possible scenario looming in the distance, another question follows for the Phoenix front office: could their next answer at the center spot be on the roster already?

The NBA is unquestionably going small right now. The traditional big man in the league has gone away, and agile giants who can shoot from perimeter and take the ball off the bounce have taken their place.

In the modern NBA, if your big man cannot do that, he basically becomes unplayable when it matters the most. Look at the current teams in the NBA playoffs. The Miami Heat may wield the best center remaining in Bam Adebayo, and he only stretches out to six-foot-nine.

Both the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics’ biggest starters are also six-foot-nine. The Dallas Mavericks continue to “start” Dwight Powell who is six-foot-ten, but they replace him very quickly with a stretch five in most contests.

Ayton does not resemble a threat from deep, and remains limited off the dribble. So, what are the Suns looking at if they want to stay with the roster they have?

Although you may have forgotten about him, the Suns do have one of those taller, stretch bigs on the roster with playoff experience. That man is Dario Saric.

Saric carries all the tools required to operate as a stretch big in Phoenix’s offense. Between his time with the Suns and Philadelphia 76ers, his career playoff 3-point percentage is a scolding 40.0 percent. He also carries a large enough frame to bang down low with anyone else on defense.

Saric also finds himself attached to an expiring contract, so the Suns can move forward into the 2022-23 season with him and judge whether or not they want to bring him back after a “prove it” campaign.

On the other hand, the Suns will get a decent haul back in return for Ayton if they pursue a sign-and-trade. From there, re-signing JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyambo becomes a top priority to round out the position.

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But going back to Saric, inserting a stretch big man is crucial in today’s NBA, and Super Dario accomplishes that. We know what he offers, and we know that it’s something necessary for the Suns to hang with all the other teams still duking it out come next year.