ESPN’s Marks: Suns’ big question in coaching search is about Deandre Ayton
May 16, 2023, 4:47 PM
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
It’s clear that casual fans and front-office experts see the Phoenix Suns’ summer as a complicated one. Former NBA front office executive Bobby Marks knows the path laid out for a top-heavy roster begins with considering whether or not to offload Chris Paul’s partially guaranteed $30.8 million contract while perhaps re-signing him to a much smaller deal.
The Suns, led by general manager and president of basketball operations James Jones and owner Mat Ishbia, must then turn the attention to how they’ll fill out a roster with Devin Booker and Kevin Durant atop the food chain.
The first big determination is tied to finding a replacement to head coach Monty Williams.
“I think when James and Mat start interviewing head coaches … I think what you’re going to ask with Booker and Kevin on the roster (is) ‘how would you use Deandre Ayton?'” ESPN’s Marks told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta. “I think that’s going to be the big question here: Who you hire as your next head coach, how he could use Deandre?
“Or you say, you know what, I think we should try to split up that contract, this is how we’ll do it. … I think a lot of it is to-be-determined.”
Marks gave the example using two of the hot names on the market, Mike Budenholzer and Nick Nurse (Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro has suggested those names aren’t currently under heavy consideration).
If Budenholzer is asked what to do with Ayton, he could sell the Suns’ leadership on helping the center develop into a floor-spacer a la Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez. Ayton has long wanted to extend his perimeter game and in college at Arizona played power forward.
If Nurse were asked, in Marks’ theoretical example, the former Raptors head coach might sell the team more on going with a wing-heavy group and seeking a trade for two or more players.
Those, of course, are just examples and guesses. Marks believes the Suns must look seriously at moving on from Paul and Ayton, for different reasons.
“I don’t think you can go in bringing back the same group and then say, you know, we’re going to go out and sign six players to the veteran’s minimum. Because what happens is Durant, Booker, Chris Paul all played, what, less than 60 games here? And then you’re relying on minimum guys. It’s kind of an uneven roster here,” the former Nets executive said.
Marks said Paul could potentially be talked into returning if the Suns waive him and eat the $15 million partial guarantee on his contract for next season.
“I think it’s a matter of him — he’s made so much money in his career, it’s almost like where (Russell) Westbrook is at this stage. Do you feel like Phoenix is the best spot for you to win a championship?” Marks said.
It’s hard to imagine how the Suns can easily build depth in any case, especially without moving on from one or both of Paul or Ayton.
“Who’s your options, say, if you’re going to waive Chris Paul and stretch his contract over the next five years and (it) gives you the flexibility to go out and get your non-tax mid-level which is at $12.2 (million) and your bi-annual at $4.5 (million),” Marks asked.
“Can you get three or four players in that group? It’s going to be hard. Who’s going to be your point guard going forward?
As for the Booker-Durant duo, Marks believes health is the only concern there. He didn’t see any red flags about Durant’s immediate future after the forward in the playoffs averaged 29 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists on 48% shooting and 33% from deep.
“I thought he got to his spots really good,” Marks said. “I think he just missed shots. When he came back from an injury … I thought he just looked tired. He looked like he wore down a lot.
“I don’t think Durant is on the decline here. I think the goal is he’s got to stay healthy. That’s the big thing for me. He’s still a skilled basketball player, he’s still a top-five basketball player.”