EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Deandre Ayton free agency tracker: Who could sign or trade for Suns C?

May 31, 2022, 3:39 PM | Updated: Jun 1, 2022, 9:00 am
New Orleans Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes (10) defends as Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) loo...

New Orleans Pelicans center Jaxson Hayes (10) defends as Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) looks to pass during the first half of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 17, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Deandre Ayton enters restricted free agency seeking a max contract and with questions about the likelihood he returns to the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns must weigh whether re-signing Ayton or matching an offer from another team would keep them in a championship window that could be closing fast with Chris Paul aging and other contracts inflating.

In the most reasonable ways of thinking, retaining Ayton keeps the Suns in that window more than letting him leave. Allowing him to depart would no doubt require serious roster shuffling.

What if that does happen, though?

The Pistons, Pacers, Magic and Spurs are among the teams who have or are close to having the cap space to add Ayton to a max deal in free agency.

Those teams, along with the Portland Trail Blazers and Charlotte Hornets, have been linked to Ayton by other NBA executives, who assume that certain roster holes and relatively open financial situations make them candidates to pursue the Suns’ restricted free agent.

While the Suns could match any offer, they could move on from Ayton while receiving something back in a sign-and-trade.

Phoenix will be limited in most of those deals.

Because of the NBA’s base year compensation rule, any sign-and-trade that puts the team receiving Ayton over the salary cap would only be allowed to send back salaries as if Ayton’s contract was 50% of the amount of the first year of his new deal. By the standard trade rule, the Suns could take on 125% of an outgoing contract plus $100,000, making a return salary in the range of $19 million.

Including more Suns players — or more teams — could help get a trade through with more money (i.e. better players) coming back to the Suns.

In short: Ayton will likely be far and away the best player of any sign-and-trade.

Considering reports of what other NBA executives believe — Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer has reported on rumors about Ayton’s market — here’s a list of teams who realistically could pursue Ayton. Along with that are my thoughts on what pieces might interest the Suns.

Toronto Raptors

(AP Photo/Scott Audette)

Intriguing return piece: O.G. Anunoby ($17.4 million)

Fischer reported Tuesday that Toronto might be eyeing a trade of one of the league’s most physical jumbo wings, adding that the Raptors are eyeing starting centers and then amending that with a tweet indicating the team wouldn’t mind acquiring Ayton.

Taking on Anunoby is more realistic than Suns fans’s dreams of grabbing All-Star forward Pascal Siakam, who is bound to make $35.5 million next year.

Anunoby, 24, averaged 17.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. He’s a 37% three-point shooter over five NBA seasons who could probably slot in immediately as a starting power forward, even if Jae Crowder were on the roster.

Other pieces Phoenix could consider on Toronto’s roster are shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. ($17.3 million), power forward Khem Birch ($6.7 million) and power forward Precious Achiuwa ($2.8 million).

Indiana Pacers

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Intriguing return piece: Myles Turner ($17.5 million expiring)

We’re including the Pacers here because they had talks regarding an Ayton-Domantas Sabonis swap in February before the trade deadline, according to Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro.

Turner would be a more traditional center on defense, who might struggle more than Ayton dealing with perimeter threats but as a shot-blocker has a lot more to show for rim intimidation (career 2.3 blocks per game). Offensively, he adds a little more spacing pop but has not surpassed 34% from deep in the past two years.

Point guard T.J. McConnell ($8.1 million) could be a sweetener if the Suns want to do a hard reset of their backup guards.

Detroit Pistons

(AP Photo/Nick Cammett)

Intriguing return piece: Jerami Grant ($21 million expiring)

Grant is probably the best player we’ll mention as a realistic candidate in this exercise.

Booker’s Team USA teammate struggled with efficiency over the past two years with Detroit as the No. 1 option but could see a bump playing off an All-Star backcourt. The 28-year-old averaged 19.2 points and hit 36% from three and also brings some playmaking elements with him.

If Grant isn’t part of a deal, center Isaiah Stewart is set for restricted free agency next year, but there are money issues working out such a deal because he’s on a rookie contract.

Atlanta Hawks

(AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

Intriguing return piece: Clint Capela ($18.2 million expiring)

It’s a logical guess that the Hawks would ship out Capela’s expiring deal in such a deal. He averaged 11.1 points and 11.9 rebounds last year and at 28 years old has a history of being a productive rim-protector and rim-roller.

Atlanta has other fun pieces that could interest the Suns. The Hawks could unlock Kevin Huerter by trading veteran combo guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, who would be a clear upgrade for Phoenix behind Devin Booker and Paul. It’d be worth pulling young shot-blocking big Onyeka Okongwu out of a deal if Capela is a no-go.

Atlanta, though, probably would be most willing to dump the $21 million expiring contract of Devin Booker’s dad’s former teammate with Olimpia Milano, Danilo Gallinari. Reading that sentence, let’s just say the Suns should probably not take on that contract.

Portland Trail Blazers

(AP Photo/Matt York)

Intriguing return piece: Josh Hart ($13 million), Justise Winslow ($4.1 million expiring)

Sorry, no Damian Lillard dreams here. Portland’s roster includes a few nice pieces in Hart and Winslow, two team-oriented players, but otherwise has unappealing trade chips. Winslow is now 26 years old and despite entering the league with the potential to defend, play-make and shoot, has struggled with injuries. He’s missed more than half a season three out of seven pro years.

Nassir Little is still somehow 22 years old and might have more upside, but that’s another player on a rookie deal.

And what could be more unlikely than dealing for Lillard? Eric Bledsoe ended this season on Portland and would actually be a major upgrade backing up Paul (again) and playing alongside Booker (again). Did he forget that he did not wanna be here, though?

San Antonio Spurs

(AP Photo/Nick Wagner)

Intriguing return piece: Jakob Poeltl ($9.4 million expiring)

A center-for-center swap would give Phoenix a starter who last year showed how he can score efficiently (62% shooting), play-make decently (2.8 assists) and be in the right places to protect the rim (1.7 blocks). He does not pass the “can’t play this center off the court” test, however.

Otherwise, the Spurs do have fun young core players in power forward Keldon Johnson — another Team USA teammate of Booker’s — and swingman Devin Vassell. That’s why they’re in such a great spot in terms of cap space.

Additionally, Josh Richardson ($12.2 million) is a veteran contributor who has been on a lot of teams but can defend, shoot and make the right pass.

Charlotte Hornets

(AP Photo/Rusty Jones)

Intriguing return piece: Terry Rozier ($21.5 million)

Terry Rozier, if you remember, was the top free agency target as the Suns desperately sought point guard help in 2019. Phoenix offered him a deal before Michael Jordan apparently convinced him not to take it.

Rozier would be all the juice you’d need to take some of the workload off Paul and could eventually be a reasonable replacement option, as he’s on a long-term deal.

Charlotte, however, obviously values Rozier having extended him for four years last summer. It is only trading Rozier if it believes it can develop more scoring pop from a current crew that starts with James Bouknight.

More reasonable trade pieces include center Mason Plumlee ($8.5 million expiring) and power forward P.J. Washington ($5.8 million, expiring with restricted free agency upcoming).

Orlando Magic

(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Intriguing return piece: Wendell Carter Jr. ($14.5 million)

Carter last summer received a four-year extension that decreases each season and kicks in this coming year. He went out and averaged 15 points and 11 rebounds per game and at 23 years old still projects to have a bit of upside. While he’s not the tallest or longest player, Carter moves well for being a physical interior presence and on the offensive end could be a ball-mover with some upside in terms of his floor-spacing abilities.

There are other intriguing pieces on Orlando’s roster like shooter Terrence Ross’ $11.5 million expiring deal and project 20-year-old guard R.J. Hampton, but Carter feels like the best fit for the Suns’ offensive style and defense-first requirements.

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