The NBA’s regular season is fast approaching, but that hasn’t stopped the Phoenix Suns from once again finding themselves in the eye of trade rumors. Unsurprisingly, it is center Deandre Ayton who is once again being linked with a move away from the franchise who drafted him.
Unlike in previous deals however, ones where the Suns would have been mad to engage, Ayton is now being talked about as the other key player who swaps teams to help facilitate a deal that would send Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers to the Miami Heat.
In this scenario there are more appealing outcomes for the Suns, and at the top of the list is a Boston Celtics big man with star potential of his own.
That would of course be Robert Williams III, a 25-year-old big man (the same age as Ayton), with an impressive 56 playoff games alone already played for the Celtics. This is paired with over 200 regular season outings in five seasons with the franchise, but there are reasons to be cautious here as well.
More on that later, but on the surface this is a deal the Suns should be extremely interested in. The finer details would have to be worked out in order to make the salaries match, but Williams III makes sense for a whole host of reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that unlike Ayton he actually appears to like defending.
He has manned the middle for the contending Celtics for a while now, and more often than not, they are a better team for it. Williams III is not as skilled as teammate Al Horford, and his career averages of 7.3 points and 6.9 rebounds are worryingly pedestrian.
But beneath those low numbers lies a player who has spent so much of his time filling in around stars like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, that he would have no problem doing the exact same for the Suns. He would be totally fine with watching Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal cook, and cleaning up on the other end of the court.
The potential for a nice two-man game with Beal certainly exists, and Williams III would also be a nice enforcer to have next to Durant as well. He certainly relishes the physical aspects of the game, and would be kind of postseason bruiser who could excel next to some of the best scorers in the game today.
Williams III would also be a welcome departure from Bol Bol and Chimezie Metu as well. He is obviously worlds better defensively than Bol, and is a more solid and dependable option than Metu with tons more playoff experience. When you consider the so-so attitude of Ayton, with that exception of the run to the 2021 Finals, Williams III would feel like a breath of fresh air.
He too has anchored a defensive unit on deep postseason runs, and ticks all of the boxes in terms of fit and playing style. Given that the Suns had been linked with Jusuf Nurkic in the past – an older brute – this is the kind of deal that should be much more appealing to the organization in trying to win a championship.
What then are the drawbacks here? Unfortunately Williams III is injury-prone and the most games he has ever managed during the regular season in half a decade is 61. With the Suns firmly in contention now, pinning their hopes on a big who has a history of being missing at critical moments is an even bigger risk than sticking with Ayton.
Head coach Frank Vogel is about the best coach there is to try and get the best out of Williams III, but he actually needs to be on the court for that to happen. His salary is a lot more manageable, but the Suns would need to find ways to add the difference in Ayton’s deal and Williams III’s to make a trade happen, so it doesn’t help as much as you’d think.
He is also on the books for three more seasons, so betting on Williams III is also believing that he can be the center who is there for the duration of Durant’s prime with the franchise. That is a huge risk for this front office to undertake at a critical juncture.
And yet… this may be as good as it gets for the Suns if they trade Ayton, and there’s still a lot to like. The fit, the style of play and making less money so he could be moved in future if needed are all there. To move on from Ayton, as the organization seem to want to do given the persistent rumors, may also be the best course of action at this point as well.