Hollinger: Deandre Ayton leaving Suns now looks ‘more likely than not’

Jun 6, 2022, 8:51 AM | Updated: 9:03 am

Deandre Ayton’s “internal” disagreement with Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams in the last game of the year fueled the flames of assumption.

Maybe the Suns really don’t value him as a max contract player. Maybe there are fissures in relationships with his teammates and/or coaches at some level. After all, he did sacrifice in his role over the past few years.

But the more in-the-know NBA reporters and writers investigate, the more noise there is that Phoenix might have a few reasons — right or wrong — not to re-sign the 2018 first overall pick, who is about to enter restricted free agency.

The Athletic’s John Hollinger, who worked in the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies, has dug around and in doing so has more reason to believe Ayton might be on the way out of Phoenix.

In a Q&A with his The Athletic co-worker James Edwards III, Hollinger was asked how sure he is that the Suns won’t retain the center.

I was skeptical until I started talking to a few more people recently. Now, I think it’s more likely than not that he’s in a new destination next season, especially if the Suns can work out a sign-and-trade that brings back some value. For whatever reason, I don’t think Phoenix is totally comfortable going forward with him on a big-money deal, and I think Ayton might be okay with going somewhere else if he can have a bigger offensive role.

Mind you, the James Jones-led front office in Phoenix has done a good job keeping topics like this in-house. From the general manager’s own mouth, Ayton is viewed well within the organization.

“Deandre had an amazing season and he’s progressed every year and improved every year,” the GM told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo in mid-May. “He’s been here and so he’s a big part of what we do. His future with us is something we will address at the proper time, which is in the future. He’s a free agent and I’ve said all along, he’s about the same things we’re about, which is winning. We’ll address it at the proper time.”

Obviously, there are reasons for Jones to paint the picture of Ayton’s great value as a Sun.

Ayton as a restricted free agent could be a sign-and-trade candidate, which could help Phoenix recoup some value from allowing him to depart.

Edwards, as the Detroit Pistons beat writer for The Athletic, is asking Hollinger about Ayton’s chances of moving because the Pistons are a rumored landing spot for Ayton.

They have a young core led by last year’s No. 1 pick, Cade Cunningham, who would benefit by playing alongside a talented center.

The Pistons also have the financial flexibility to sign Ayton to a max deal and have one of the more intriguing players who could be the primary return piece the Suns might covet.

Jerami Grant would be a possible trade chip who could slot into the Suns’ offense as a ball-moving power forward.

Grant’s role with the Pistons the past two years saw him jump into a primary scoring role after becoming a valuable role player on the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets prior.

He averaged 19.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists last season in 47 games, shooting a shrug-worthy 43% from the field and 36% from three.

How does Hollinger like his fit if he became the No. 3 or 4 option with the Suns?

I like it to a point. I don’t think he’s as good as Ayton, but Phoenix does have a hole in its roster where the lack of big wings is a problem, and we saw it especially in the Dallas series. I think Grant has actually become fairly overrated, but if he’s willing to be the fourth option on an elite team he could fit nicely on Phoenix’s roster and would give them a viable small-ball 5 in playoff matchups that they’ve lacked the last two years.

Grant has one year left on his deal and at $21 million would be a relatively easy sign-and-trade swap for Ayton, if the Suns are interested enough to go that direction.

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Hollinger: Deandre Ayton leaving Suns now looks ‘more likely than not’