Following the Phoenix Suns’ shocking postseason exit, all eyes
are now on Deandre Ayton’s free agency.
After the Suns declined to sign Ayton to a five-year,
rookie-scale max extension before the 2021-22 season, restricted
free agency is now on the horizon for the athletic big man. During
the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, Ayton’s agent Bill Duffy
discussed Ayton’s future on SiriusXM’s NBA show.
“We’re disappointed. We wanted a max contract,” Duffy said. “He went out and was a solider
the whole year, played well, improved his statistics. So, we’re
proud of him. A lot of guys handle things differently, but he was
very mature about it. Things will work out for Deandre. He’s a
valuable player. There’s other teams in the league as well. He’s a
restricted free agent, so we’ll see how this process unfolds.”
Ayton averaged 17.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.7
blocks on a career-high 65.6% True Shooting percentage during the
2021-22 campaign. Ayton was a key asset for the Suns on both ends
of the court, especially around the basket as an easy lob threat
and defensive anchor. Ayton has been a key piece for the Suns, but
is he worth a max contract? Based on Duffy’s comments earlier this
week, it sounds like Ayton’s camp won’t settle for anything less
than the max entering free agency.
From the Suns’ perspective, they saw improvement from the 2018
No. 1 overall pick this season before the team’s disappointing
“I think he’s shown that he’s improved each year, helps us on
both the defense and the offense,” Suns owner Robert Sarver told
about Ayton. “I think offensively, you see this year he’s taken
another good step in terms of his touch and his ability to score
around the basket. So, he’s been a key part of what we’re
Taking all of this into consideration, what if Ayton’s days in
Phoenix are numbered? Here’s a look at the most realistic
sign-and-trade destinations for Ayton this summer.
Note: It’s important to remember that sign-and-trade deals
rarely return the same value as a traditional trade. The Suns have
let it be known that they won’t simply let an asset like Ayton walk
for nothing. If Ayton’s time in Phoenix is indeed over, the Suns
won’t be leaving the relationship empty-handed.
Spurs receive: Deandre Ayton
Suns receive: Jakob Poeltl, Devin Vassell, Tre
San Antonio is one of the few teams this offseason with secured
max-level cap space. All that needs to be done in order to chase
Ayton is renounce the restricted 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 over two
decades, they have officially hit a playoff drought. San Antonio
was hoping for some lottery luck, but now they have to try another
plan to bring in a star.
San Antonio’s dynamic young duo of Dejounte Murray and Keldon
Johnson is so fun to watch, but the they need a third game-changer
to take this rebuild back into playoff mode. Ayton would be an
ideal solution, mainly because of his excellent two-way fit in the
Spurs’ system. Dropping Ayton into the Spurs’ player-development
program could make some in Phoenix worry about the long-term
consequences of this deal.
For Phoenix, cooperating with a long-time rival would hurt.
However, if the relationship between team and player becomes
fractured, the Suns won’t have much of a choice if he finds a max
offer on the open market.
The Suns won’t let Ayton leave Phoenix unless they receive
strong assets in return. The Spurs can actually provide a solid
package that helps in the short and long-term.
In this deal, Phoenix could land one of the most underrated big
men in the Association as well as two young players who have shown
flashes. The Jalen Smith experiment was a disaster for the Suns
after taking him No. 10 overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, and Vassell
went one pick later. Phoenix can right that wrong while also
obtaining an intriguing point guard to develop in Jones.
This feels like a win-win for both sides. San Antonio would have
a new Big 3 in Ayton, Murray and Johnson, while the Suns could
acquire their new starting center and two pieces to bolster the
Hornets receive: Deandre Ayton
Suns receive: Terry Rozier, PJ Washington and draft
There might not be a team with a more dire offseason need than
the Hornets and their hole at center. Charlotte was one of my NBA
League Pass teams this season due to their fun offensive pace, but
the defense often bordered on disastrous. Montrezl Harrell and
Mason Plumlee aren’t going to cut it, so it’s time for Charlotte to
Given Charlotte’s roster, they would have to move some salaries
around to make an Ayton chase realistic. Offloading Gordon
Hayward’s contract is going to be a tough task and they may even
have to relinquish one of their top-15 picks to do so, but it would
have to happen in order for them to pursue Ayton. Hayward is due
$61.6 million over the next two seasons, and Charlotte simply can’t
afford to keep biting that bullet with restricted free agent Miles
Bridges due for a payday and LaMelo Ball’s own rookie-scale
extension on the horizon. Trading away Hayward and Mason Plumlee
would give the Hornets max space.
Landing Ayton is Charlotte’s dream scenario. Not only would
Ayton continue to get spoon-fed easy looks from an elite point
guard, he would help stabilize the Hornets’ defense to respectable
levels. Thanks to his freakish athleticism, Ayton would be able to
cover up a lot of holes around him defensively.
Phoenix would love to pull off a double sign-and-trade to nab
Bridges, but that seems unlikely. Instead, this deal allows them to
find their long-term answer at point guard post-Chris Paul. While
Terry Rozier is a shot-chucker, he has improved as a playmaker in
Charlotte. In the short-term, Rozier could step in as the Suns’
sixth man and provide the exact boost that they need in offensive
guard creation. PJ Washington is an interesting add because he
could slide right into the small-ball 5 role played previously by
Pacers receive: Deandre Ayton
Suns receive: Myles Turner, Chris Duarte, TJ
What’s the next step for Indiana? Long gone are Victor Oladipo,
Domantas Sabonis and Caris LeVert. Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner
and Buddy Hield could be the next Pacers veterans to be shipped out
via trade as Indiana fully embraces a rebuild attempt. It’s been
long overdue for the Pacers to pull the plug on the core that
continued to stagnate once the postseason arrived.
A year later, Indiana’s future looks much brighter with a
talented, new-look core of Tyrese Haliburton, Chris Duarte, Isaiah
Jackson and whoever is selected at No. 6 overall.
Ayton couldn’t ask for a better pick-and-roll partner than
Haliburton. Already making magic happen with CP3, Ayton’s rolling
ability would help accentuate Haliburton’s biggest strengths. Also,
Ayton’s defensive versatility would be a welcome arrival for a team
that nosedived in that category last season.
For Indiana, the price would be hefty. Not only would this trade
require a four-year max contract for Ayton, but the Pacers would
likely need to ship out a key piece of their young core via
sign-and-trade (such as Duarte).
This trade would be a huge win for Phoenix, but it also looks
great for the Pacers. The Suns would have a starting center who
adds floor-spacing equity and elite rim protection, a capable
veteran backup point guard who can spell Paul at times, plus one of
the most impactful rookie wings in the Association. Having to
include Duarte could leave the Pacers apprehensive, but they are
reportedly enamored with adding another explosive piece via the
draft, as Jaden Ivey (Purdue), Shaedon Sharpe (Kentucky) and
Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona) have all been linked to Indiana early
in the pre-draft process.
Pistons receive: Deandre Ayton
Suns receive: Jerami Grant, Isaiah Stewart, Cory Joseph
and draft compensation
Another team that has considered making a run at Ayton this
offseason is the Pistons, and they can create max space very
easily: trading away Kelly Olynyk’s contract.
The Pistons struck gold with Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey and
they are helping usher in a new era in Detroit. Ayton’s arrival
would be the final piece to the puzzle for a team seemingly pushing
their chips in on postseason play as early as 2023.
It would be best for Ayton to land with a capable lead guard who
can feed him regularly. Already capable of tallying 20 and 10 most
nights, Ayton would be set up for long-term success alongside
Cunningham and Bey.
The question is, what would the Pistons need to send Phoenix’s
way in order for this sign-and-trade to go through? It’s going to
be a lot, and it would be a blockbuster-type transaction.
Blockbuster indeed, because Grant is now heading back to the
Valley in this scenario. If the Suns and Pistons want to cooperate
on a Ayton deal, I have to imagine one of Grant or Bey would have
to be involved. Stewart is another enticing trade chip because he’s
shown the versatility to space the floor from three-point range.
While he doesn’t have the same touch as Ayton, Stewart brings
nastiness and a tenacity on both ends of the court that Phoenix
would absolutely love.
Hawks receive: Deandre Ayton
Suns receive: Clint Capela, Bogdan
No ifs, ands or buts about it, Trae Young would make Ayton an
All-Star next season. What a fun inside-out duo this is to
envision. While Atlanta is nowhere close to reaching the necessary
cap space to absorb a massive Ayton deal on their own, a
sign-and-trade becomes feasible with all of the talent that could
fit into the Phoenix roster.
For the Hawks, Ayton represents another foundational building
block to place alongside Young for the long-term. John Collins
could be the guy, but he’s been in trade rumors for the past year
with no signs of those slowing down. Onyeka Okongwu could also grow
into that role, but the Hawks signing Clint Capela to a long-term
extension perhaps signals that they see him more as a piece to the
puzzle rather than a true building block.
Ayton would arrive in Atlanta and instantly average around 23
points and 12 rebounds per game. On box-score fit alone, this would
be the best landing spot for Ayton thanks to the greatness of
If Phoenix had drafted Luka Doncic rather than Ayton at No. 1
overall in 2018, Phoenix may have considered adding Clint Capela to
their frontcourt. Four years later, Capela being re-routed to
Phoenix in an Ayton sign-and-trade is a plausible scenario to
imagine. Capela would provide similar numbers to Ayton while
requiring less of an offensive workload. Meanwhile, Bogdan
Bogdanovic might vault to the top the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year
leaderboards in the near future. Bogdanovic and Cameron Johnson
leading the Suns’ second unit? That’s a filthy thought.
None of these trades are perfect, but they do illustrate how
challenging it will be for Phoenix to find a home for Ayton while
also returning the value they’d love to get back for him.
Ultimately, it may be in the Suns’ best interest to re-sign Ayton
this offseason and trade him at some point down the road when his
value isn’t so depressed.
Whatever happens, Ayton’s name will continue to pop up in rumors
throughout the spring and summer until the Suns and Ayton’s camp
find common ground at the negotiation table. This situation could
become awkward and dragged out, which would surely kick the trade
rumors into high gear. This isn’t the last we’ll hear about Ayton
and the possibility of him changing teams.