Did anyone think that this crazy NBA offseason would end without an encore? After teasing a Damian Lillard trade for months, it seems that the NBA script writers are finally ready to cash in on the hype.
Phoenix Suns insider John Gambadoro got the rumor mill churning again on Thursday by saying he expects Lillard to be traded within 24 hours. More noteworthy from a Suns’ perspective, is that he believes the Suns would entertain a Deandre Ayton for Jusuf Nurkić swap either tied to, or separate from a Lillard deal.
Seeing Ayton’s name in trade rumors isn’t as startling as it once was. He’s entered that sphere of players whose names are brought up in trade hypotheticals whenever any piece of news drops. This is far from the worst proposal we’ve seen Ayton be included in.
With that being said, trading Ayton for Nurkić would still be an abject disaster for the Suns.
As a 29-year-old, injury-prone center, Nurkić’s best days are behind him. While still a good player, he doesn’t offer anywhere near the consistent play and upside Ayton provides. Ayton just turned 25, and is already in a different stratosphere as an offensive player.
The only way a swap like this makes sense is if the Suns’ brass believes Ayton’s offensive role will be severely diminished next to their “Big 3” of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal, and that they also think Nurkić is the better defender. However, that is not the case.
In each of the last three years, Ayton has held opponents to a lower field goal percentage than Nurkić has. He’s also far more switchable on the perimeter due to his athleticism. They’re closer as rebounders, with Nurkić being better on a per-minute basis, but it’s an incredibly small difference compared to the gaps between them in other areas.
Maybe an even bigger issue than Nurkić’s ability as a player, is his inability to stay on the floor. His last three seasons have been riddled by injuries, as he’s played in just 145 regular season games during that time. Comparatively, Ayton played in 194 games in that span, which doesn’t even include the deep playoff runs he’s been a part of.
The Suns already have well-documented injury concerns with Durant, Beal, and Devin Booker. Acquiring Nurkić and putting your team at even more risk of injury is the last thing the Suns should do.
Furthermore, Nurkić doesn’t even play starters minutes anymore, averaging just 26.6 minutes per game during the last three years. This would lock him into effectively a 50/50 time share with Drew Eubanks. Given the strength of the Western Conference frontcourts, having a backup play almost 50 percent of the time in the playoffs is not a recipe for success.
On the contract side of things, the Suns wouldn’t be getting much salary relief in a trade. Ayton does make significantly more money than Nurkić, but the Suns would have to receive an additional player to make the salaries work. They are still destined to be a second apron team.
As for that second player, it would certainly bring a trade closer to fair value for the Suns, but probably not enough to make it worthwhile. The Suns did a wonderful job of shoring up their depth this offseason.
Acquiring a player like Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson, or Shaedon Sharpe wouldn’t be the bench improvement it once would’ve been, if it’s even an improvement at that. It’s certainly not enough to justify going from Ayton to Nurkić in the starting unit.
The Suns had arguably the best offseason in the league this year. The trade for Beal was a home run, as were the aforementioned depth signings. It’s ok to sit on those wins and head into a training camp with one of the best rosters in the league. Trading Ayton for Nurkić would end the offseason on a definite sour note and make the Suns a worse team.