Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal aren’t going anywhere.
The Phoenix Suns just traded Chris Paul and Landry Shamet in a deal to get Beal from Washington.
They shipped off much of their draft future in the blockbuster deal for Durant just before the Feb. 9 trade deadline and for Beal in a big deal that just became official Saturday.
So the only marketable asset the Suns have that can bring them quality players is Deandre Ayton. That’s why his name keeps coming up in any trade talk involving the Suns.
The latest coming out of Philadelphia.
Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Saturday that the Suns are looking to acquire 76ers forward Tobias Harris and want the Sixers to get a third team involved to complete the deal, but Philadelphia isn’t willing to participate.
Ayton would be key in this because he would go to the third team since Philadelphia already has a center – 2022-23 NBA MVP Joel Embiid. Pompey reported that the Sixers have no interest in Ayton.
Sources told The Republic that the Suns are not interested in Harris, but Ayton has been linked to teams and part of recent trade talks — and that likely won’t stop anytime soon. Ayton has had veto power on trades, but that ends next month.
Sources informed The Republic weeks before the Beal trade that the Suns would not move Ayton unless they got something bigger in return. They have since acquired Beal in a trade without having to move the big man, who is averaging a double-double of 16.7 points and 10.4 rebounds over his five NBA seasons.
Pompey also wrote that the Suns want it done before free agency starts on June 30 because of “possible other (tax) apron ramifications.”
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said last week on Ryen Russillo’s podcast that the trade market for Ayton was “thin” and that the Suns “need to prepare” for Ayton to be on the team entering the 2023-24 season, but things could change move quickly in this league when it comes to making trades.
Harris is in the final year of his five-year, $180 million contract, due $39.2 million this year. He will be an unrestricted free agent after this 2023-24 season.
Ayton is due $32.4 million entering the second year of his four-year, $133 million max deal. He turns 25 next month, while Harris turns 31 in July.
Booker, Durant and Beal account for more than $129 million for 2023-24. It’s already up against the salary cap, which is $136 million.
The luxury tax for this upcoming season is $165 million, a figure The Republic reported Tuesday. Booker, Durant, Beal and Ayton would account for more than $161 million.
Essentially add seven million dollars to that if they had Harris instead of Ayton, as that number would put them above the luxury tax. Teams that go over $17.5 million over the luxury tax or the other tax apron can’t use the taxpayers’ mid-level exemptions, can’t sign buyout players and take more money back in trades.
So Phoenix faces a possibility of having to fill out their remaining roster with veteran minimums, like the Miami Heat did when they had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but they got Jordan Goodwin and Isaiah Todd in the Beal deal and selected the Dayton forward . Toumani Camara in the second round of Thursday’s draft.
The idea of Phoenix trading Ayton to acquire two or three players makes sense, but Ayton would likely be the centerpiece of a deal with two or more teams.
Phoenix can go to the negotiating table and say they have a 6-10 big with athleticism, can jump, rebound and still have room to grow and can ask for more than just role players to ride along with Booker, Durant and Beal.
The Suns would like to have a starter who can contribute immediately and a sixth man in return, but there are several layers to that.
There is interest in Ayton right now. So say Phoenix makes a move now with him this summer.
They will need to find a big man who could be Jock Landale, a restricted free agent who averaged 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 69 regular season games in his first season with the Suns and started 6’s elimination loss to Denver, which Ayton missed due to a rib contusion.
If they trade Ayton, the Suns will never know how he might have played under new head coach Frank Vogel. Being a defensive-minded coach, the thinking is that Vogel could bring more out of Ayton on that end of the floor.
“I think he can be one of the best centers in the league,” Vogel said during his introductory news conference this month. “I think he’s shown it at times throughout this career. I know he showed it in the playoffs when (the Lakers lost to the Suns with Vogel as head coach in the first round of the 2021 playoffs in six games).
“He can be a big deterrent. There are still areas where he can grow offensively, but I’m committed to really connecting with him and restoring him to being an All-Star.”
Ayton and former Suns coach Monty Williams did not have the best relationship. Their heated verbal exchange during Game 7 against Dallas in the 2022 West semifinals will always be a lasting image.
With Williams now coaching in Detroit, Ayton could get a fresh start with Vogel, and the Suns could have a center better equipped to match up with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets, who are favorites to repeat and going nowhere soon.
There’s also the idea of Ayton going elsewhere and playing up to his full potential, but Phoenix would be fine with that if they get players in return who help them win a championship this season.
Either way, the Suns are taking a chance.
If they keep Ayton and he has a career year, people will say, “Look, they made the right move by holding on to the big man.” But if he remains inconsistent and the Suns fall short of a championship, the Suns will receive heavy criticism for not moving him when they had a chance to do so during a championship window.
And they could find it even more difficult to move Ayton next summer if he doesn’t improve this season under Vogel, who, like Williams, is respected in the NBA.
Ayton is Phoenix’s most polarizing player.
His supporters love him and blame everyone except Ayton when he plays poorly. His critics have called Ayton “soft” and won’t shed a tear if Phoenix moves on without him.
What the Suns end up doing with Ayton will have consequences. The question is how and if that will help or hurt Phoenix’s chances of winning a championship this season.
Like everything else, it’s wait and see.
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