36 unbothered: Deandre Ayton traded to Blazers for package
Sep 27, 2023, 7:53 PM
Devin Booker left the Phoenix Suns’ second elimination game blowout loss in the conference semifinals without saying a word. At least to the media.
He went into the offseason without addressing what happened, both after the game and at exit interviews the next day, only posting a vague social media post “36 unbothered” afterward, two days following the firing of head coach Monty Williams. What was first speculated by fans as a reference to his and Kevin Durant’s added-up jersey numbers was later corrected by Booker: He was just cruising through 36 holes of golf.
Regardless, he unknowingly created a nickname for the Suns’ superstar duo in the process.
To keep us occupied until the Oct. 24 season opener against the Golden State Warriors, which is 26 days away from Thursday, Empire of the Suns podcast co-hosts Kellan Olson and Kevin Zimmerman will be joined by Arizona Sports contributor Erik Ruby to dish on 36 key storylines for Phoenix’s 2023-24 season.
Day 36: Devin Booker enters his prime
Day 35: The Suns have put in the work this summer
Day 34: Suns do have some continuity with returning bench players
Day 33: Kevin Durant gets integrated
Day 32: Bradley Beal proving something
Day 31: How the Big 3 develop chemistry
Day 30: Mat Ishbia’s first full season as owner
Day 29: How does Suns’ place of play change without Chris Paul
Day 28: Suns can maximize Yuta Watanabe in proper role
Day 27: Deandre Ayton is no longer a Sun
Erik Ruby: There is absolutely no doubt about it, the Phoenix Suns are not messing around this season.
Say what you want about if the team got any better after their second blockbuster of Mat Ishbia’s first offseason (I believe they did), but from a philosophy perspective, the franchise is sending a message. If they think they can improve their roster at all, they are not afraid to pounce on that opportunity. You can argue Ayton is better than Jusuf Nurkic overall, but it is an argument. If you mix in the added depth Frank Vogel will now have at his disposal, it is very clear to me this is an upgrade.
Let us also not forget all the baggage that comes with Ayton.
Fans freaked out — for good or bad reasons — about every single thing he did on the court for a reason. There were two years of trade rumors, and it’s a wonder if the former No. 1 overall pick even wanted to spend his career in Phoenix. In order to be the the final team standing at the end of the season, the Suns cannot take any risks on souring this team, locker room or on-court production.
Phoenix is locked and loaded, and knowing how it have operated in the past few months, I would not be shocked if they try to make some other move this season. Just another thing to look forward to.
Kevin Zimmerman: It felt more and more that Ayton’s time on the Suns remained untenable, beyond the play on the court last year. He admitted he felt against the world — and fair or not, spending a whole year-plus in the trade cycle can’t be good on the mentals of any player.
There were trade rumblings around the draft that didn’t lead anywhere, and a seeming acceptance from Phoenix that it had to at least try to rebuild his value by working with him to buy into a new coaching staff. Now he’s off to Portland, where he’ll have the opportunity to do more offensively than he ever has while the Blazers learn what made Ayton so polarizing during the time he spent with the Suns.
The results of the trade fell somewhere in between the gulp of accepting he would be swapped for Jusuf Nurkic, as Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro reported, and landing a starting center plus a modern Swiss Army Knife of a power forward. Toronto’s O.G. Anunoby wasn’t walking through that door, but O.G. Lite in Nassir Little, a viable backup guard in Grayson Allen and young Keon Johnson reportedly will.
Johnson, for example, could be dealt for more draft capital. Considering Allen and Little, we must see this in the big picture.
The Suns entered this offseason needing to flip Chris Paul and Ayton into four or more players. We wondered how they’d fill out anything on this roster around the top players, but Phoenix has answered that challenge and more (Bradley Beal is one of those players!). There is depth, a variety of different types of contracts to work with and at least a little bit of a draft storage bin to turn to if needed.
And maybe most of all, the Suns eliminated a wildly random factor from the equation they hope adds up to a championship.
Kellan Olson: If the Suns can get replacement-level contributions at center, and I’m confident that will be the case, the trade should be a win, largely because of the other pieces in the deal.
While I will repeat again how well Phoenix did this offseason in reassembling its depth, there is still a fair share of doubt in terms of who emerges out of a group of nearly a dozen. The Suns now add two more options, and a pair that I think shoots quickly up the power rankings in terms of guessing who is in the playoff rotation.
The biggest benefit is Allen and Little are two guys who can defend primary ball-handlers of the smaller variety. Allen sure can shoot but his defense is underrated. Little’s got all the physical tools to be elite in the role, and perhaps his first winning environment is the key to untapping it all. Either guy is a solid pick to be the fifth starter given the wealth of highly talented guards to worry about in the West.
If the more optimistic people on his defense out of Milwaukee are right, and he’s legitimately good on the ball, Allen is my pick at the moment to be the fifth starter. Being able to have a marquee shooter starting with the Big 3 would be a tremendous boost, a thought that was previously more difficult to take in given the defensive shortcomings for Eric Gordon, Yuta Watanabe and Damion Lee, more so in the fact they can’t guard “The Guy” on the opposition.
Perhaps more importantly, the two have trade value. And can be packaged for someone who is even more certifiable for that role. Having that option in February is helpful if it doesn’t quite work out.