The Phoenix Suns will have their media day Monday at Footprint Center.
The team is expected to have maybe its best team in franchise history on the floor with superstars Kevin Durant and Devin Booker and three-time All-Star Bradley Beal, who has averaged 22.1 points for his career.
Ahead of that, there have been rumors the Suns could look into a trade involving starting center Deandre Ayton. Ayton has been the most polarizing player on the Suns roster and has been criticized by fans for his lack of energy.
Nurkic finished his 10th NBA season this past year. He is 29 years old and in 2022-23 averaged 13.3 points on 51.9 percent shooting (36.1 percent from 3-point range), 9.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
ClutchPoints lists three reasons why the Suns should/shouldn't trade for Nurkic.
Shouldn't: Leg injury
Nurkic was a solid defensive player and still can be an above-average player on that end. But in 2019-20, the big man suffered a gruesome broken leg and has not been the same since. He has not even played more than 56 games since that year.
Before the injury, his defensive rating was below 108.1 in each of his seven seasons. Since, his numbers have been 109.2, 11.8 and 114.3, respectively.
Nurkic is a willing rim protector who has averaged above one block per game in seven of his 10 seasons. He also is a solid deterrent around the rim but is much less capable on the perimeter, where Ayton is much more mobile.
Overall, he is not as talented or better than Ayton at this point in his career, even though the Suns' center's energy has been criticized.
“He's one of the best two-way centers in the game,” Vogel said of Ayton. “I think obviously, he's going to be a defensive anchor for us. I've long-utilized his skill set in my defensive scheme to build a dominant defense. And I think he can dothat, and I think there's a lot we can untap offensively with him as well. So he's a pivotal part of what we're going to accomplish this year.”
The Suns only have two players on their roster left from their 2021 NBA Finals run: Booker and Ayton. Ayton was drafted No. 1 overall by the Suns in 2018 and was a piece of their core they built around into two of their most successful seasons in franchise history.
Suns general manager James Jones has stressed the importance of continuity. The only reason Phoenix traded core forwards Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson was to land Durant, who is one of the best players in NBA history.
Ayton has a wealth of experience next to Booker, who is set to take off as one of the league's best players. He also got time next to Durant, even though it was limited to just 19 games.
If the Suns traded for Nurkic, they would have to establish connection next to their stars. Nurkic's injury issues also could affect them.
Shouldn't: Ishbia effect
New Suns majority owner Mat Ishbia has been aggressive in the team's pursuit of winning. He traded for Durant the same day he was introduced as owner and made the move for Beal, even though the team had to depart from starting point guard Chris Paul.
Ishbia went after who he felt was the team's best chance to win a championship with, Vogel, and paid top dollar to keep associate head coach Kevin Young on staff. He also helped Vogel secure David Fizdale, a two-time champion as an assistant coach with the Miami Heat.
Ishbia is all about winning, and it is clear Ayton is a much more capable player than Nurkic. If Nurkic is the only piece the Suns would get in this trade, he will likely not pull the trigger unless there is some sort of repair Phoenix can't make with Ayton.
There have been rumors about Damian Lillard — who would be the main piece of any trade — heading to the Toronto Raptors in which the Suns would land wing OG Anunoby. It would make since for Phoenix to pull the trigger on that deal to receive a capable defensive wing who has averaged more than 15 points per game and shot above 36 percent from 3-point range in each of the last three seasons. In 2022-23, he averaged a career-best 1.9 steals per game.
Ayton is under a max contract and has shown he can be one of the best centers in the NBA. He has incredible talent and showed it off during the Suns' 2021 NBA playoff run in which he set numerous records for his field-goal percentage.
However, Ayton has not been consistent since. In the most recent playoff run, he had to answer a question about his motor after he was seen standing under the basket while Jokic fought for a rebound in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
Ayton has to be somewhat frustrated he has been mentioned in trade talks for the last 2 1/2 years. Phoenix also was reluctant to offer him a max contract and only signed one to match a deal from the Indiana Pacers so they did not lose him for nothing.
Nurkic is used to playing next to Lillard and could be more likely to buy into his role. The Suns need Ayton, Nurkic or whoever they start at center to be a willing rebounder and defender. Ayton is certainly capable offensively but will not have as many chances next to the Suns' three stars. He has shown in the past he is more engaged when he gets touches and they will be harder to get this season.
Ayton is owed $32,459,438 this season and close to $100 million in the next three years. Nurkic is in his second year of a four-year, $70,000,000 contract and is owed $16,875,000 this season.
The Suns are above the second apron, and if they can secure Nurkic and another rotation player for the price of Ayton, that could be something Ishbia would consider.
Ayton is clearly a better player than Nurkic. He is younger, has more potential and is just 25 years old.
Ayton has been a key piece to the Suns' championship contention in the last three years. Vogel believes in him and said he would get him more offensive touches.
“I'm off to a great start with him from a relationship standpoint in terms of understanding that if we want him to defend and rebound at an All-Star level, then we're going to have to involve him a little more in the offense,” Vogel said in an appearance with Sirius XM NBA Radio.
“You got to give those big guys the ball sometimes. When they get it, then they'll run through the wall for you on the other end.”
Suns fans hope to see Ayton run through a wall and play physically. If the team trades for Nurkic, he will have to do the same.