In an NBA offseason that has had its fair share of trade rumors involving Phoenix Suns big man Deandre Ayton, it looked like we were about to come out the other side. One last suggestion from ourselves and Julius Randle meant to be the bow on top of a trade machine filled summer.
But just when we thought we were going to get to talk about this actual Suns team and the games that are now on the horizon, we were hit with one, final, Ayton-filled trade. That is because known Suns insider John Gambadoro, has come out and said Ayton could be moved for Jusuf Nurkic, as part of a larger deal to get Damian Lillard to the Miami Heat.
No matter what ultimately happens with Lillard, the Trail Blazers and even the Suns though — can we not just let Ayton actually play with this group?
We’ve already discussed in some detail why a deal involving Ayton for Nurkic is a horrible one for the Suns. Nurkic might be the “tougher” of the two, but he’s also older and more injury-prone, and has hardly been a success with the Trail Blazers in his time there.
Prior to that, he was moved by the Denver Nuggets so that Nikola Jokic could blossom into a two-time league MVP. The reality of Ayton in this situation, and any around the league, is that he is likely not worth as much as Suns fan think. In saying that though, he’s worth a good deal more than just Nurkic as well.
But with the regular season now weeks away, and with a new head coach in Frank Vogel who has an excellent track record with big men, can we not just leave Ayton alone and see what he can be with this group? On paper he is one of the better big man options in the league to have next to Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal.
The game isn’t played on paper, but let us just see what Ayton actually looks like on the court as the defensive anchor for a team that is trying to win it all. Did we just forget he’s already done exactly this on a team that went all the way to the NBA Finals?
When was the last time Nurkic had such a role or gone that deep into the postseason? He hasn’t, and he struggles to stay on the court, which is exactly why this is not the kind of panic move to make if you’re the Suns. Do you not think Nurkic is going to be available three months from now for Ayton?
On top of that, why would the Suns want to help facilitate a Lillard trade, if all they’re getting is Nurkic in return? If say OG Anunoby of the Toronto Raptors was on the table, then that is a different discussion. But Ayton averaged a round 18 and 10 last season in 67 games, and the Heat just made the finals.
How shaky does a center rotation of Nurkic, Drew Eubanks, Chimezie Metu and Bol Bol sound to you? Now how much better is it when you put Ayton in there instead of Nurkic? This would be creating a problem that doesn’t even need to exist, at a time when Ayton should be about to enter his prime.
For all the talk of him not looking engaged sometimes – and being outplayed by Jock Landale last season – Ayton at his best is a nimble and diligent rim runner who hits about 75 percent of his free-throws and every so often will pop up with a made 3-pointer.
Nurkic on the other hand is a plodding big, perhaps more suited to the FIBA style of play, who averaged 17.6 points four years ago, shoots 3-pointers with a small bit more regularity than Ayton, and who is a career 67 percent shooter from deep. Hardly an upgrade when you want to win a championship is it?
So with these constant rumors involving Ayton, why don’t we just see what he looks like next to Durant and Beal? He’s barely played with Durant to this point, and it could be that he finds steamrolling a lot of opponents and being relied upon on the defensive end as the kind of role that reinvigorates him.
Let’s stop the talk, at least until Christmas, and actually give this group a chance to go and win a championship. We all know Ayton will be the first player to go if this experiment doesn’t work. Ayton likely already knows that himself. But before training camp, and without having really worked with Vogel?
What a huge mistake that would be – so can we please just let the guy play basketball and show us on the court if he fits with this group. Instead of talking about all of the other places and teams he could go to, and what types of awful returns the franchise would get in return. Talking about Nurkic as a like-for-like replacement in September is an insult to a former first overall pick.