Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton is a polarizing player, to say the least, but he does have a fan in new coach Frank Vogel. Vogel has compared him favorably to a former center that he coached in Indiana, Roy Hibbert. At his best, Hibbert was a terrific defensive player who finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting in 2014.
He also anchored two Eastern Conference Finals teams, helping the Indiana Pacers reach an elite level on defense. Considering Hibbert was a two-time NBA all-star, that means that Vogel feels that Ayton has all-star potential too. In fact, he has even said as much.
Phoenix’s questionable Ayton strategy is worth the risk.
If Vogel feels that Ayton has all-star potential, then why does his name keep coming up in trade talks? Well, that is mainly due to his lackluster showing during the playoffs, with Ayton again being derided for his lack of effort. That’s not something fans, teammates, and coaches like to see, and it was a big reason why he and then-coach Monty Williams didn’t get along.
Williams is obviously gone now, and the Suns are left with the decision of whether to keep Ayton, who is on a max contract, and hope Vogel can work his magic. Or, they could try to trade him for two or three potential rotation players, helping a top-heavy team fill out its roster.
There may be a third option, however: keep Ayton through the summer, start the regular season with him, and see how he performs with a new coach and new teammates. They can then reevaluate him in the lead-up to the trade deadline.
That route might not sit well with Suns fans who have given up on the former number-one overall pick, but it might actually be the best approach. If they trade him this summer, it might be for a fraction of what his potential is. And while he has yet to reach his full potential, he probably stands a far better chance under Vogel than he did under Williams.
The Suns will likely have no problem scoring next season, but they could have big problems stopping opponents. Ayton isn’t an elite defender, but if Vogel is right about him then he could extract a lot of value from him on that end of the floor.
That would dramatically raise the Suns’ ceiling, turning them from a big three into a big four. Even if he doesn’t fully live up to those expectations, he may still show enough to prove to teams that he is worth taking a chance on, which could increase the return for Phoenix.
Considering that Ayton is the team’s last remaining tradeable asset, they can’t afford to sell low on him, or they’d risk potentially limiting their ceiling. As a result, they should let Vogel do what he was hired to do and coach in hopes of maximizing the Suns’ biggest wildcard.