After the Phoenix Suns’ shock postseason exit, all eyes are now on Deandre Ayton’s free agency.
After the Suns refused to sign Ayton to a five-year, rookie-sized max extension until the 2021-22 season, restricted free agency is now looming for the athletic big man. Ayton’s agent, Bill Duffy, discussed Ayton’s future on SiriusXM’s NBA show during the NBA draft in Chicago.
“We’re disappointed. We want a max contract,” Duffy said“He’s been out all year, playing well and improving his stats. So, we’re very proud of him. A lot of people handle things differently, but he’s very mature about it. Deandre everything will be fine. Yes. He’s a valuable player. There are other teams in the league. He’s a restricted free agent, so we’ll see how the process unfolds.”
Ayton is averaging 17.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.7 blocks per game in 2021-22 with a career-high 65.6 true shooting percentage. Ayton is a key asset for the Suns on both ends of the floor, especially around the rim, as an easy lob threat and defensive anchor. Ayton has been a key player for the Suns, but does he deserve a max contract? Based on Duffy’s comments earlier this week, it doesn’t sound like Ayton’s camp will be content with entering the max cap in free agency.
From the Suns’ perspective, they saw an improvement this season with the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 before the team’s disappointing playoff performance.
“I think he’s proven that he’s improving every year, helping us both defensively and offensively,” Suns owner Robert Sarver told Reuters
Basketball News Network Recently about Ayton. “I think offensively, you’ve seen him take another big step this year in terms of his touch and his ability to score at the rim. So he’s been a key part of what we’re doing.”
With all of this in mind, what if Ayton’s days in Phoenix are numbered? Here are the most realistic sign-and-trade destinations for Ayton this summer.
Note: It’s important to remember that a sign-and-trade deal will rarely return the same value as a traditional deal. The Suns have made it known that they won’t let an asset like Ayton slip away. If Ayton’s time in Phoenix does come to an end, the Suns won’t come home empty-handed.
San Antonio Spurs
Spurs get: DeAndre Ayton
Suns get: Jakob Poeltl, Devin Vassell, Trey Jones
San Antonio is one of the few teams with the most cap space this offseason. In order to chase Ayton, all that needs to be done is to give up restrictive rights to Lonnie Walker.
Being at the bottom of the NBA standings is new for the Spurs. After being one of the league’s model organizations for more than two decades, they’re officially suffering from a playoff drought. San Antonio was hoping for some lottery luck, but now they have to try another plan to bring in stars.
The dynamic young duo of San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson look very interesting, but they need a third game-changer to get this rebuild back into playoff mode . Ayton would be an ideal solution, largely because of his excellent two-way play in the Spurs system. Adding Ayton to the Spurs’ player development program may have some in Phoenix worried about the long-term consequences of the deal.
For Phoenix, teaming up with a longtime competitor will hurt. However, if the relationship between the team and the player breaks down, and if he finds the top offer on the open market, the Suns won’t have many options.
The Suns won’t let Ayton leave Phoenix unless they get a strong asset in return. The Spurs can actually offer a solid solution that helps in the short and long term.
In this trade, Phoenix could sign one of the most underrated big men in the league, as well as two young players who are performing well. After drafting Jalen Smith with the 10th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Suns experiment proved a disaster for the Suns, and Vassell was subsequently selected. Phoenix could correct that mistake while also finding an interesting point guard in Jones.
It’s a win-win feeling for both parties. San Antonio will have a new big three in Ayton, Murray and Johnson, while the Suns can get their new starting center and two pieces to strengthen the bench.
Hornets get: Deandre Ayton
Suns get: Terry Rozier, PJ Washington and draft compensation
Probably no team needs the offseason more than the Hornets and their center hole. Charlotte is one of my NBA League Pass teams this season due to their interesting offensive pace, but defense often borders on disastrous. Montrezl Harrell and Mason Plumlee aren’t going to cut it, so it’s time for Charlotte to get aggressive.
Given Charlotte’s roster, they’re going to have to move some salary around to make chasing Ayton a reality. Selling Gordon Hayward’s contract would be a tall order, and they might even have to give up one of their top 15 picks, but in order to pursue Ayton, that has to happen. Hayward will make $61.6 million over the next two seasons, and Charlotte simply can’t afford restricted free agent Miles Bridges’ payday and LaMelo Ball’s own rookie size Expand what’s coming. Trading Hayward and Mason Plumlee would give the Hornets the most room.
Landing on Ayton was Charlotte’s dream scene. Not only will Ayton continue to get an easy look from a good point guard, he’ll also help the Hornets’ defense stabilize to a respectable level. Due to his unusual athleticism, Ayton is able to cover up a lot of holes around him on the defensive end.
Phoenix would love to take Bridges in a double-sign deal, but that seems unlikely. Instead, the trade allows them to find their long-term answer at point guard after Chris Paul. While Terry Rozier is a shooter, his playmaker has improved in Charlotte. In the short term, Rozier could become the Suns’ sixth man and provide the exact boost they need in offensive linebacker creation. PJ Washington is an interesting addition as he can jump right into the small-ball No. 5 role that Dario Saric previously played.
Pacers get: Deandre Ayton
Suns get: Miles Turner, Chris Duarte, TJ McConnell
What’s next for Indiana? Gone are Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Caris LeVert. Malcolm Brogdon, Miles Turner and Buddy Hield could be the Pacers’ next veterans to be shipped off in trade, as Indiana fully embraces rebuilding attempts. The Pacers are long overdue to unplug the core that continues to stagnate after the playoffs arrive.
A year later, Indiana’s future looks even brighter, with a talented core of Tyrese Haliburton, Chris Duarte, Isaiah Jackson, and whoever gets selected No. 6 overall.
Ayton couldn’t find a better pick-and-roll partner than Haliburton. Having already done wonders with the CP3, Ayton’s rolling abilities will help highlight Halliburton’s greatest strengths. Additionally, Ayton’s defensive versatility would be a welcome arrival for a team that fell sharply in that category last season.
For Indiana, the price will be high. Not only would the deal entail providing Ayton with a four-year max contract, but the Pacers may need to give away key pieces of their young core through a sign-and-trade (like Duarte).
This trade would be a huge win for Phoenix, but also great for the Pacers. The Suns will have a starting center who adds floor space fairness and elite rim protection, a capable veteran backup point guard who can sometimes spell out Paul, plus the most impactful player in the league. One of the rookie wings. Having to include Duarte might be a concern for the Pacers, but they reportedly enjoyed adding another explosive player through the draft as Jaden Ivey (Purdue), Shadden Sharp (Kentucky) and Benny Dick Mathurin (Ariz.) was both linked with Indiana early in the pre-drafting process.
Pistons get: DeAndre Ayton
Suns get: Jerami Grant, Isaiah Stewart, Corey Joseph and draft compensation
Another team considering playing at Ayton in the offseason is the Pistons, who could easily create maximum space: trade off Kelly Olynyk’s contract.
The Pistons, who won gold with Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey, are helping usher in a new era in Detroit. Ayton’s arrival will be the final piece of the puzzle for a team that appears to be putting chips in the playoffs as early as 2023.
For Ayton, the best thing to do is to have a capable defender who can feed him on a regular basis. Having been able to count 20s and 10s most nights, Ayton will have long-term success with Cunningham and Bay.
The question is, what path does the Pistons need to give Phoenix in order for this sign-and-trade deal to work? That’s going to be a lot, and it’s going to be a blockbuster type of deal.
A blockbuster indeed, because Grant is now returning to Silicon Valley in this case. If the Suns and Pistons want to work together on the Ayton trade, I have to imagine one of Grant or Bay has to be involved. Stewart is another enticing trade chip, as he has shown versatility to stretch the floor from 3-point range. While he doesn’t have the touch of Ayton, Stewart brings the dirt and toughness Phoenix absolutely loves on both ends of the court.
Eagles get: DeAndre Ayton
Suns get: Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovich
No ifs and no, but Trae Young will make Ayton an All-Star next season. What a fun inside-out duo this is. While Atlanta is far from the cap space it needs to absorb a massive Ayton trade, a sign-and-trade is doable for all the talent that could fit into Phoenix’s roster.
For the Hawks, Ayton represents another cornerstone that can play alongside Young for the long haul. John Collins may be that guy, but he’s been in trade rumors for the past year and shows no signs of slowing down. Onyeka Okongwu could also grow into the role, but the Eagles’ signing of Clint Capela to a long-term extension may indicate that they see him more as a piece of the puzzle than a real building block.
Ayton will arrive in Atlanta and immediately average 23 points and 12 rebounds per game. Based on point matching alone, this would be Ayton’s best landing spot, thanks to Young’s greatness.
If the Suns drafted Luka Doncic instead of Ayton with the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, the Suns might consider adding Clint Capela to their frontcourt. Four years later, Capela was reassigned to Phoenix in the Ayton sign-and-trade, a plausible scenario to imagine. Capela will provide similar numbers to Ayton while reducing the offensive workload. Meanwhile, Bogdan Bogdanovic could be at the top of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year list in the near future. Pogdanovic and Cameron Johnson lead the Suns’ second unit? This is a dirty idea.
None of these deals are perfect, but they do illustrate how challenging it can be for Phoenix to find a home for Ayton while also returning the value they hope to get back for him. Ultimately, it may be in the Suns’ best interest to re-sign Ayton in the offseason and trade him at some point when his value isn’t so low.
Whatever happens, Ayton’s name will continue to appear in rumors throughout the spring and summer until the Suns and Ayton’s camps find common ground at the negotiating table. The situation can become awkward and delayed, which is sure to keep trade rumors hyped. This isn’t the last time we hear about the possibility of Ayton switching teams.