Deandre Ayton trade chatter already hits as Suns’ offseason begins

May 12, 2023, 8:26 AM | Updated: 9:02 am

Deandre Ayton, Suns, trade rumors, Nuggets, Game 6...

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns looks on after the second quarter in game six of the Western Conference Semifinal Playoffs against the Denver Nuggets at Footprint Center on May 11, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It didn’t take the Phoenix Suns losing Game 6 to the Denver Nuggets in embarrassing fashion Thursday night before the smoke started rising regarding the possibility of center Deandre Ayton being on the trade block for the second summer in a row.

Hours before the Suns’ 125-100 Western Conference semifinals defeat at Footprint Center, Arizona Sports’John Gambadoro painted the still-problematic picture of a fractured relationship between head coach Monty Williams and Ayton.

“Monty Williams soured on Deandre in the Milwaukee series,” Gambadoro said of the 2021 NBA Finals.

Maybe we knew Williams’ frustrations considering Ayton began 2022-23 by telling reporters at media day his coach hadn’t spoken to him since benching him in Game 7 of Phoenix’s last playoff exit. The Suns matched Ayton’s max contract offer sheet signed with the Indiana Pacers in the free agency that followed, and it was more glaring Williams did not reach out after the team brought its starting center back.

Williams later said the pair didn’t need to air anything out, and at some point, Ayton moved on. They went about their season.

Now, it seems the rumor-mill is back on full-bore.

ESPN reporter Tim MacMahon’s review of Phoenix’s up-and-down season that ended Thursday included these tidbits:

Sources told ESPN that Ayton’s teammates have shared their coach’s frustration with what they perceive to be inconsistent effort and aggression from the 7-footer.

Ayton would be excited about a fresh start with another franchise, sources told ESPN. The Suns are expected to aggressively explore the trade market for him this summer, league sources said.

Ayton played 67 regular season games, averaging 18.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 0.8 blocks on 58.8% shooting.

In the playoffs, he averaged 13.4 points and 9.7 boards on 55% shooting.

He ended the year as a bench viewer with a rib contusion in the Game 6 embarrassment Thursday, as Nuggets center Nikola Jokic closed the series averaging 34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 10.3 assists on 59.4% shooting.

Between MacMahon’s and Gambadoro’s insight, it goes beyond financial reasons for the Suns to discuss trading Ayton. Offensively, his brief runs of success in the playoffs were directly tied to the pick-and-roll game with Chris Paul, whose own future in Phoenix remains unclear.

Ayton is set to make $32.5 million next season, with two more years on his contract after that.

As rocky as his season went, he is the most valuable asset the Suns could trade, though opposing teams surely are aware of his inconsistency that has been a part of his game dating back to a single season in college with the Arizona Wildcats.

Even if Williams has his frustrations about Ayton, it’s clear the head coach is quite aware of what losing Ayton would take from this Phoenix roster. It means a bit after Ayton averaged 31.9 minutes during the playoffs, quite a few for a player whose coach reportedly has frustrations about him.

“I thought the shot-missing messed with us a little bit,” Williams said of how the Nuggets pulled away from the Suns early Thursday. “Not having D.A. as a roller tonight, you could see the difference in the pick-and-roll coverage.

“They were stealing out to shooters a bit more tonight and they actually were in the passing lanes more.”

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