Ayton appeared to say otherwise.
The Suns traded Ayton last Wednesday for Nurkic, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson from the Blazers and received guard Grayson Allen from the Milwaukee Bucks. Nurkic is seen as a lesser player than Ayton but it was clear the Suns believe they got someone who will better complement their superstar trio of Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and Kevin Durant.
“For our team, Nurkic was a better fit for us,” Ishbia said. “And we’re trying to win a championship now, and what Nurkic can do on the court and what he’ll do off the court and fit into our organization, he’s a better fit for us.
“Nurkic might not put up the numbers that Deandre will put up, which is perfectly fine…It wasn’t my decision or one person’s decision, it was a unanimous decision that we think is the right thing for our team.”
Here is what Ayton said about the move at the Trail Blazers’ media day Monday.
“The GM for the Phoenix Suns (Jones) came and brought me upstairs and told me that I got traded here, and that was it,” Ayton said. “I thank them for handling it the way they handled it and accommodating to my wishes.”
Ayton was the most polarizing Suns player the last two years. The former No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft set playoff records in the team’s run to the NBA Finals in 2020-21 and developed a strong chemistry with former point guard Chris Paul in the pick-and-roll.
Unfortunately for Ayton, the Suns did not see him as a max contract player once he neared eligibility for the extension. Phoenix signed him to a max deal when it matched an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers in the offseason before 2022-23.
Ayton clearly has talent and averaged better numbers than Nurkic this past season. But the Suns are looking to win a championship this year and Ayton’s relationship with the team may have been fractured.
Nurkic had a very positive attitude Monday at Suns media day about his role.
“My facility will be great for this team,” Nurkic said.
“To be transparent, I feel like the fit on offense will be the easiest part. I will have to figure out the defensive part with the team, and that’s coach coming in and do his part. So I think really, I can thrive with his system and his coaching staff and organization really embraced me here the best way possible from the owner to the staff. To me, it’s a dream to be in this system with the players we have.”
Nurkic will have an important role in Vogel’s defensive scheme. Vogel has said the big man is the piece that sets up the rest of the group.
“He’s one of the best defensive rebounders in the game,” Vogel said. “So as we compete to guard, we’re going to force a lot of misses. And we got to board. We want to get out and be a running team, we got to have somebody who can dominate the defensive boards and he’s elite at that.”