With trade rumors once again heating up around the NBA, Deandre Ayton is the only trade candidate for the Suns that makes sense.
A Damian Lillard trade looks to be happening soon at this point and could create a ripple effect of moves around the league. One rumor is that Ayton could be involved in the trade or separately dealt for Blazers’ center Jusuf Nurkić.
As for the Suns, whether or not they make a move will show how truly content they are with their team. But, fans have to keep in mind that Ayton is essentially the only player the Suns can trade.
The Suns’ free agency strategy
Phoenix used a unique strategy to attract free agents to the Valley this offseason. The Suns signed six players to two-year veteran minimum deals. Why does this matter? ESPN analyst Brian Windhorst pointed it out earlier this offseason.
“They won battles for some of these guys that had two or three offers by being like, ‘Hey listen we’ll give a player option,’” Windhorst said. “If you have a player option on a minimum contract, it means you can’t be traded without your permission. Functionally, Eric Gordon (and the others) has a no-trade clause. So, if the Suns come to him mid-season and say, ‘Hey we want to trade you to the Charlotte Hornets for so and so,’ he could be like, ‘Nope.’”
— TheOldMan&TheThree (@OldManAndThree) July 9, 2023
By making these moves, the Suns and owner Mat Ishbia showed that they liked the team they had. The Suns only players that aren’t on veteran minimum deals are Ayton, Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. Beal has a no-trade clause on his contract, and the Suns are building around Booker and Durant.
With all this being said, multiple reports say that the Suns haven’t been actively shopping Ayton after they could not find a deal that would be an upgrade over him earlier this offseason. They still are listening to offers, however.
Fans have gone back-and-forth over whether they want to trade Ayton since the 2021-22 season. Now, it seems like the majority feel that new coach Vogel can get Ayton back on the right track and want the Suns to keep the former No. 1 overall pick heading into the year.
Here are some arguments for and against trading Ayton.
An argument for trading Ayton
Ayton, Booker, Beal and Durant will combine to make around $162 million this season. These four players alone nearly push the Suns over the tax level (just over $165 million). All in all, the Suns are spending over $189 million with the 17 players they have on their roster, which brings them over the second-apron of luxury tax ($182.8 million).
Below are the restrictions for teams operating over the second apron, which goes into effect in the 2024-25 season not this year.
ESPN also reported those second-apron teams — $17.5M above the tax level – will not have use of the taxpayer mid-level exception. There’s been an average of three teams in that range in recent years.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 1, 2023
With these restrictions next season, that’s where things will get problematic for the Suns with Ayton’s contract.
Booker’s yearly salary will increase by over $16 million in 2024-25. The others will increase by at least $2 million. The four players alone will combine to make over $187 million next season.
The Suns struck gold with players on veteran minimum contracts this year. However, things will seemingly have to play out perfectly (an NBA championship) if they want to continue to operate like this.
Trading Ayton would provide a lot more future flexibility for the Suns.
Other than these rules, Ayton’s play has arguably not even been close to up to par with his contract. If he remains on the roster, he could be on a tight leash because of all of these factors.
If they wanted to, the Suns could get two quality players that make up the sum of Ayton’s contract. This would be the likely scenario in the case of Nurkić. The Blazers’ center is set to make only $16.785 million in the 2023-24 season compared to Ayton’s $32.459 million.
Ishbia has proven that he will spend however much money is needed to be successful. But, he could run into some problems with this down the line.
Do the Suns want to run the risk of keeping Ayton and trust that he will get better?
Argument for keeping Ayton
When the Suns brought Vogel this offseason, fans quickly realized how well Vogel has developed big men throughout his career. He worked specifically well with Roy Hibbert and Anthony Davis.
Vogel has been confident in Ayton since he took the job.
There is no harm in keeping Ayton this year with the roster already filled out, and the Suns not having any major needs. As pointed out above, the Suns will not have that many restrictions operating over the second-apron of luxury tax this season.
Deandre Ayton’s 2022-23 regular season stats: 18.0 PPG | 10.0 RPG | 1.7 APG | 0.8 BPG | 0.6 SPG | 1.8 TOV on 58.9/29.2/76 splits in 30.4 MPG in 67 games/starts
The University of Arizona product could be an essential piece alongside the Big 3 of Durant, Booker and Beal. Ayton has to show that he is willing to buy in and play his role to help this team win.
Ayton has the build to be an elite defender and rebounder, and he is only 25 years old. With that being said, most fans think he can develop significantly in these areas under Vogel to help the Suns win.
It will be interesting to see if anything does end up happening with Ayton with training camp beginning on Oct. 3 or if the Suns are happy with their current team.