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Dan Bickley

Suns need to swap out Deandre Ayton for Karl-Anthony Towns

Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves at American Airlines Center on December 04, 2019 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

We hear it all the time. Robert Sarver is a changed owner. Misunderstood. No longer meddling. Cares deeply about the community and the plight of all Suns fans.

It’s time to prove it.

It’s time to trade for Karl-Anthony Towns, embracing all the risk he represents. That includes a painful, premature dissolution of our marriage with Deandre Ayton, the polarizing conundrum who churns out exquisite statistical lines while having minimal impact on most NBA games.

After Tuesday’s deflating loss to the Kings, when Ayton kicked a chair and his team blew a 21-point advantage, it’s clear the Suns need something dramatically different. The current core of players will only take them so far, and it’s taking too long to get there. The on-court connectivity and sense of urgency that marked the first 11 games has shockingly disappeared, along with most of the local optimism.

They need a splash, a new kind of energy.

Sarver also needs to secure Devin Booker’s long-term happiness, a franchise player who didn’t speak to the media after Tuesday’s loss to the Kings. He didn’t speak to the media after Wednesday’s practice, either.

Maybe he had an appointment at Eric Bledsoe’s beauty salon. Or maybe he doesn’t want to answer probing questions about his current contentment in Phoenix or any growing sense of wanderlust. Either way, uh oh, because this is more about Booker than Ayton.

Ayton is a chill, breezy Bahamian. He’s a touch lazy and a bit soft and dresses very well. He’s physically unprepared to shine as a starting center in the NBA. He’s unmotivated to get bigger and did nothing organic to bulk up after his erratic rookie season. He acts like he’s as good as he needs to be.

The last part scares me to death.

Contrast that with Booker, who spends every offseason trimming fat from his body and his game until there’s nothing left but razor blades. He has become a high-volume scorer with great analytical efficiency, everything stat nerds claimed he wasn’t. And he’s doing everything he can to change the culture in Phoenix. By being the best that he can be.

The Suns need to better serve Booker before his disenchantment becomes irreparable.

New head coach Monty Williams is also trying hard to change the culture. His arrival was among the first tangible signs that Sarver had legitimately changed his ways. The new head coach was signed for big money, given real power and real job security. That trifecta allows Williams to coach hard, to get ornery with his most erratic performers and their ongoing mental errors, like Ayton.

Ayton must be pushed out of his comfort zone, like he was in the early stages of Tuesday’s game against the Kings. But how far can he go? He must follow the path taken by Lakers star Anthony Davis, who added 15 pounds of muscle to his wiry frame at age 22. But will Ayton ever put in that kind of work? A player that has already served a 25-game suspension for a masking agent that usually covers for performance-enhancing drugs?

The odds aren’t in Ayton’s favor. Even if his mentality changes dramatically, it will be another year before Ayton is physically ready to validate his status as a No. 1 draft pick. And I’m running out of patience.

To date, Booker has projected a very mature attitude regarding his circumstances. He knows Valley history and wants to be part of our future. He famously dragged teammates out of the locker room to watch Al McCoy’s Ring of Honor ceremony. Give him a fighting chance, and he’ll be our next Larry Fitzgerald, a Valley icon for the duration of his career.

Booker is also a cutthroat competitor. He will get where he’s going because no one can stop him. Not even the never-ending rebuilding plan in Phoenix. He will be a top five player in the NBA by the end of his career. And my greatest fear is that Williams hangs on by his fingernails in 2020, desperately trying to salvage his rookie season in Phoenix, only to lose Booker’s allegiance after another disastrous season. An offseason when Booker simply disconnects and disappears. Unmoored from the group because he has simply seen enough dark times in Phoenix.

That’s why Sarver needs to roll the dice and trade for Towns. Before it’s too late.

Not for me. Not for us. For Booker. The guy we can’t afford to lose.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier