Would this Phoenix Suns season have gone differently with Deandre Ayton?

The Phoenix Suns cut ties with center Deandre Ayton last summer, but they had kept him around, would this season have gone any differently?

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns
Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns / Chris Coduto/GettyImages

When we look back on the 2023-24 Phoenix Suns season, it will be one tinged with regrets. There is no doubt that this group failed to live up to expectations - and even if they do manage to avoid the play-in tournament - having to worry about that as an outcome in April is not what was supposed to happen.

There could yet be a happy ending for this roster, although what counts as a positive outcome surely has to be recalibrated. There will be no championship in The Valley this season, and instead all that fans can hope for is that the front office build a better roster around Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal next season. We've tried to give them some early help with that one.

But what if the Suns had never traded former first overall pick Deandre Ayton last summer? Would that have made a difference to how this season played out?

As much as a section of Suns fans want to believe that Ayton could have helped, the reality is that this would not have been the case for several reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that Ayton has failed to take his chance with a rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers group to put up monster numbers.

Many felt this was guaranteed to happen - because even though Ayton had long voiced his displeasure with the Suns franchise - his ability was never in doubt. A fresh start was meant to change things for the 25-year-old, and yet 15.9 points and 11 boards per night has left fans feeling like something is missing.

To have only played in 49 games so far this season is also not a good return in year one for the Trail Blazers - and had that number been the same if he'd stayed in Phoenix - it would have been a disaster. It's possible that in this made up scenario the Suns would have gotten a better backup than Drew Eubanks but if they hadn't, 25 plus starts for him would have meant curtains for their playoff hopes.

In fairness the Suns have failed to ignite this season anyway, but it is not the fault of current center Jusuf Nurkic. Which is another reason why Ayton wouldn't have made a positive difference if he'd stayed... the Suns won the trade when they got rid of him. For all of Nurkic's flaws, and there are many, he has accepted his role with this group better than just about anybody.

To have played and started in 70 games is a great return, while the 11 rebounds he has pulled down per game matches Ayton. Nurkic's scoring (11.3 points per game) might not match Ayton's, but the secret sauce is in his assist numbers. At 3.7 a night, those passes are what has allowed the Suns to hum offensively for large portions of the season.

Would Ayton have protected the rim better than Nurkic? The 2021 version that anchored the Suns to the NBA Finals certainly would have, but he hasn't been since. Instead what we have seen is everything from the incorrect mattress to ice on the street stopping the big man from being at his best out there.

On top of all of that, the Suns got both Grayson Allen and Nassir Little in the trade that sent Ayton away from the franchise in exchange for Nurkic. Little might not have a big role on this roster, but he has one of the most tradeable contracts in the league and could be used to add more players down the road.

Allen leads the entire league in 3-point shooting, and he was the Suns' third best player when Bradley Beal was out injured earlier in the season. Absolutely none of that happens if Ayton is still on the roster - and although another individual would have gotten the opportunity that Allen did - it's unlikely they would have done as well with the chance.

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Finally there seems to be some belief amongst Suns fans that former head coach Monty Williams would be a better choice than the current option that is Frank Vogel. For those who think it was right for Williams to be canned, many of them believe that Ayton could have reached his full potential under coach Vogel.

Basically there's a feeling in The Valley that one of Williams or Ayton had to go, not both, and that the one who remained could have helped save this season from becoming what it has. A massive disappointment given the talent the Suns boast. Only as we've just broken down, Ayton sticking around probably would have made things worse. Ditto for Williams. The end.