We are in the midst of an intense NBA finals series, but news about other teams and players are popping off. Among those involve the Phoenix Suns as they are likely in for a couple of changes heading into the 2023-24 season.
Here’s how the past month went: First, they fired well-respected head coach Monty Williams after a good, four-year run (finals appearance in 2021, best regular season record in 2022). Then, they hired one-time NBA champion coach Frank Vogel as his replacement. Not long after that, they informed star point guard Chris Paul that he will be waived, likely once free agency begins. Now, it’s on to DeAndre Ayton potentially getting shipped elsewhere in the near future.
Don’t forget that the blockbuster Kevin Durant trade was only last February, and that saw them unload multiple first-round draft picks and two key pieces in Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson.
Nevertheless, Williams and Ayton have had tension over the last couple of seasons, and it felt like one of those classic coach-player beefs that end with one of the two being let go. With the former already out of the picture, though, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. It will be strange if Phoenix will axe both since the issue is only between them – firing Williams already felt unnecessary as he did well all things considered, far from Ayton’s consistently inconsistent play.
Further, Ayton just signed a four-year, $133 million extension in September 2022, and that was after months of speculation about a sign-and-trade. The deal was actually them matching the Indiana Pacers’ offer sheet.
Not a bust, not a stud
As the first overall pick of the 2018 draft, Ayton was seen as a potential cornerstone of the Suns franchise. He’s a big man who can control the paint with his size and solid physique, and his NCAA tape featured him flexing his presence across the opposition, a man amongst boys playing college ball. Fast forward to now, five years later, and people are still waiting for that big leap.
While ‘bust’ is not an accurate description, as seen in his serviceable career numbers of 16.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 1.0 block on 59.7% shooting, he has not also lived up to the expectations for a No. 1 pick. It didn’t help that plenty of guys from his class has raised their games, and that he’s not exactly on par with them anymore, namely Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jarren Jackson Jr., and Trae Young.
Adding to the sour taste is the up-and-down effort all throughout the 2022-23 season, from regular season to postseason. He had his fifth-straight double-double campaign with 18.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, but many argue that his up-and-down effort was a catalyst as to why the Suns only finished with a 45-37 record, and not a 50-plus win team. It continued in the playoffs as he did very little (if any) to help the team on offense, as well as contain Denver Nuggets star center Nikola Jokic, which then ended the Suns’ season and Monty Williams’s career in Phoenix.
Here’s a quick sample:
Potential landing spots
The Indiana Pacers could still be in the mix. As mentioned, they have long been rumoured to like the 25-year-old, and it got really close last year. Having coached there from 2007-2016 (assistant and HC), it may also help that new head coach Frank Vogel has a relationship with the Pacers franchise. Then, there’s other contenders, like the Chicago Bulls, who may move on from Nikola Vucevic, or the Dallas Mavericks, who are not reportedly pleased with Christian Wood.
We should know immediately once free agency hits. It’s bound to be filled with fireworks again, and Ayton’s likely move will be part of it.