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3 reasons Phoenix Suns should keep Deandre Ayton – and 3 reasons they shouldn't

Deandre Ayton has been the most polarizing player for the Phoenix Suns in his five seasons with them.

Those who love him really, really love him and believe the Suns aren’t utilizing him enough.

Those who don’t believe Ayton lacks the dog and motor to ever become a great player.

For every person who thinks Phoenix should trade him this summer, there’s another who believes the team needs to keep the big man and feature him more.

November 25, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz; USA; Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) scores against Pistons wing Isaiah Livers (12) during a game at the Footprint Center.
November 25, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz; USA; Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) scores against Pistons wing Isaiah Livers (12) during a game at the Footprint Center.

Ayton has had veto power over a trade for a year when the Suns matched Indiana’s offer sheet last July for four years, $133 million.

With Phoenix's season being over, the team can now make trades.

Should the Suns deal the first overall pick in the 2018 draft who has averaged a double-double in each of his five NBA seasons, but has had bad moments throughout his career to date or not?

Let’s start with three reasons why the Suns should keep Ayton.

Nov 4, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams talks to center Deandre Ayton (22) as they take on the Portland Trail Blazers at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Rondone-Arizona Republic
Nov 4, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams talks to center Deandre Ayton (22) as they take on the Portland Trail Blazers at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Rondone-Arizona Republic

Monty Williams is gone

Their relationship wasn’t the worst, but it could’ve been better.

The heated exchange during Game 7 of the 2022 Western Conference semifinals versus Dallas and Ayton opening training camp this season saying he and Williams hadn’t spoken since that game screams disharmony.

Old school folks say Ayton needed a kick in the butt from Williams while others contend the head coach should’ve worked that out.

Regardless, Phoenix fired Williams after losing Game 6 of this year’s West semifinals to No. 1-seeded Denver. Williams has since agreed to a six-year deal to coach Detroit for $78.5 million, making him the highest-paid coach ever in NBA history.

The Suns have hired Frank Vogel as their new head coach. It’ll be a fresh start for Ayton to get on the same page with him and start to develop a connection that can lead to positive results.

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton shoots during pregame warmups before Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals at Ball Arena in Denver on May 1, 2023.
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton shoots during pregame warmups before Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals at Ball Arena in Denver on May 1, 2023.

More to his game

Ayton is not the back-to-the-basket guy people think he should be when they look at his size and athleticism. He doesn’t want to tear the rim off every time with a dunk.

Williams called for him to play with force, but Ayton has a significant portion of finesse in his game.

However, Ayton can score with his back to the basket, nail the jumper from as far as 18 feet out, runs the floor well and when he plays with energy, eat on the offensive glass.

What he hasn’t shown is the ability to face up, put the ball on the floor to attack or a baseline drop step to counter his jump hook.

Ayton hasn’t made great leaps in progression, but the Suns, with a new coach, must believe they can get more out of him.

Apr 17, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) sets a screen on New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado (15) to free up guard Devin Booker (1) during game one of the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs at Footprint Center.
Apr 17, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) sets a screen on New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado (15) to free up guard Devin Booker (1) during game one of the first round of the 2022 NBA playoffs at Footprint Center.

Willing screener

Ayton could be a better off ball defender. He’ll stand his ground on the ball, but Ayton doesn’t provide consistent rim presence.

The one thing he does do is set screens. Over and over and over.

For a guy who could average 24 points and 12 boards in an offense featuring him, Ayton takes pride in not only setting screens, but setting the right ones for Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul.

He’ll hold the screen longer for Paul than Booker and is effective at off-ball screens for Durant.

It’s another way Ayton impacts the game. Booker, Durant and Paul appreciate it, too. It’s hard to find a player of Ayton’s talent who is not only willing to set screens, but who enjoys doing it.

Now, here are three reasons why the Suns should trade Ayton.

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton kisses his son Deandre Ayton Jr. during the pregame warm up game three of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Center.
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton kisses his son Deandre Ayton Jr. during the pregame warm up game three of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Center.

Value in return

There are teams who look at Ayton and go, man, we could do this, that and the third with him.

Opposing coaches don’t complete their pregame breakdown of the Suns without mentioning Ayton and what he brings to the table.

If you’re looking to trade Ayton, that’s a good thing because the Suns could get draft picks in return, as they traded four first rounders to Brooklyn in the Durant deal, and a player or two who could help them.

A knockdown shooter. An active big. Defensive wing. Scorer.

Guys who complement Booker and Durant.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) against Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) in the first half during game three of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Footprint Center in Phoenix on May 5, 2023.
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) against Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) in the first half during game three of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Footprint Center in Phoenix on May 5, 2023.

Inconsistent

Ayton has had some great moments in Phoenix.

Valley-Oop in 2021 West finals. Three career 20-20 games.

He became the fourth player in NBA history to post back-to-back games of 30-plus points shooting 75%-plus from the field and 15-plus rebounds this season.

Then there’s the other side of that coin.

Ayton scored five points in that Game 7 against Dallas last year.

May 15, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) and center Deandre Ayton (22) on the bench in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks during game seven of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at Footprint Center.
May 15, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) and center Deandre Ayton (22) on the bench in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks during game seven of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at Footprint Center.

This year, he scored a career playoff-low four points in Game 3 versus Denver and watched the final 4:57 from the bench.

He averaged just 10.8 points and 8.2 rebounds against the Nuggets in being painfully outplayed by Jokic.

This is just two years removed from more than holding his own when Phoenix swept Denver.

Jokic is a two-time NBA MVP, a better player than Ayton, but that’s regression for a guy the Suns are paying max money.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker talks with Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) during the first half of Game 4 of an NBA Western Conference semifinal game against the Denver Nuggets, May 7, 2023, in Phoenix.
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker talks with Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) during the first half of Game 4 of an NBA Western Conference semifinal game against the Denver Nuggets, May 7, 2023, in Phoenix.

Time for both parties to move on

Ayton will never be the featured guy with Booker and Durant. As much as Booker has improved as a playmaker, he and Ayton still haven’t developed the type of two-man game you’d think they would.

They don’t have to be Jamal Murray and Jokic, but Booker looks to score more off an Ayton screen than find him. Not sure if it’s a lack of trust from Booker because Ayton’s hands aren’t always reliable, but their chemistry isn’t where it should be after five years.

Unless that’s going to change, which it probably won’t with Durant in the mix, the Suns could easily go with a big man who screens, dives, defends and rebounds.

Ayton will continue to be frustrated being the third or fourth option, which spills over into his overall play, and lack of effort. The Suns can do without that.

In turn, Ayton needs a fresh start with a new team.

He’ll have to do more, be expected to consistently play at a high level, but the time has come to find out just how good Ayton is – and that’s not happening in Phoenix.

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Should Phoenix Suns keep or trade Deandre Ayton?