The fact Deandre Ayton and former Suns coach Monty Williams were not exactly BFFs was no secret (and with that the Suns considered trading the former No. 1 pick). However, the conventional wisdom had been things would change under new Phoenix headman Frank Vogel, a defense-first coach who likes a big camped along the back line protecting the rim.
Or not. The Suns are getting calls about Ayton and they are listening, reports long-time Suns beat reporter Gerald Bourguet of PHNX.
One source told PHNX Sports that the Dallas Mavericks made an underwhelming offer for Ayton over the summer…
Sources in Portland confirmed that Ayton’s name has come up multiple times over the last few weeks, and PHNX Sports reported last year that the Blazers had interest in the Suns big man. DA only turned 25 years old over the summer, and Portland believes he’d be sellable to the fanbase as a young, former first overall pick with room to grow in the right change of scenery.
Suns insider John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM in Phoenix has more detail, including that the Suns and Portland could swap big men if (when?) Lillard is traded.
Vogel needs a defensive minded Center to build his defense around and Nurkic does fit that mold. This would be contingent on a Lillard trade and I expect do expect that to happen very very soon.
— John Gambadoro (@Gambo987) September 21, 2023
Nurkic is a slightly better and more consistent traditional defensive center, while on offense he is a much better and more willing 3-point shooter (36.1% last season on 2.3 attempts a game). That’s not to say Nurkic is a better all-around player than Ayton, he is not and he is more injury-prone, but Nurkic could be as good or better a fit on a stacked Suns’ roster where the center will get very few touches. Also, maybe more importantly, Nurkic is less expensive: Ayton is owed $102 million over the remaining three years of his contract, while Nurkic is owed $54.4 million over the same three years. That money may matter with the Suns going headlong into the luxury tax under new owner Mat Ishbia.
There are a lot of caveats here. One is that this only happens if a Lillard trade to Miami happens, and while that feels more likely it is not a certainty. Second, making the deal work is a challenge because Ayton and Nurkic can’t be traded straight up for each other — the salaries don’t match — so the Trail Blazers have to throw in more to get a trade like this done, and that is where things can bog down.
It’s still something to watch. And another season of “will the Suns trade Ayton” seems to be in our future.