EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Deandre Ayton free agency market could be cooling with reported Pistons trade
The Detroit Pistons appear to have removed themselves from the Deandre Ayton chase days before free agency officially begins in the NBA.
According to multiple reports, Detroit was viewed in NBA circles as the most likely Ayton landing spot outside Phoenix. The Pistons not only drafted a project center in the NBA Draft last Thursday but filled another frontcourt spot by reportedly agreeing on Tuesday to acquire big man Nerlens Noel, along with guard Alec Burks, from the New York Knicks.
Noel and draftee Jalen Duren join a big man group that could return Marvin Bagley III to go with Isaiah Stewart and Kelly Olynyk, both of whom remain under contract. The trade takes on salaries that as of Tuesday removes Detroit from being able to offer Ayton, the Phoenix Suns’ restricted free agent, anything close to a max contract.
Being that the Pistons were considered the frontrunner to pursue Ayton, it appears his market has cooled.
Ayton was seeking a max contract that would start above $30 million per year, but the Suns opted against offering such an extension last offseason. Now, with their ability to match any contract offer from another team, the center could be left with less leverage in any bargaining process if a return to Phoenix is still a possibility.
Who could still offer Ayton something close to a max contract?
The San Antonio Spurs project to have enough cap space but in recent days have been shopping All-Star guard Dejounte Murray, a sign they might hit a harder roster reset than first anticipated. They previously appeared to be an Ayton landing spot via sign-and-trade if the Suns took back some combination of center Jakob Poeltl or Keldon Johnson.
The Portland Trail Blazers were on the fence in terms of having enough salary cap space to offer Ayton a max a few weeks back, then traded for former Detroit forward Jerami Grant via a trade exception that zapped spending money.
Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported Wednesday that it is believed outside Phoenix that Ayton is still seeking a new home, but the teams with available money and their intentions aren’t lining up for that to happen on a max deal.
With Phoenix, there’s far less belief the Suns will ultimately match whatever offer Ayton can draw. The relationships between him and Phoenix’s other primary actors—most notably head coach Monty Williams and point guard Chris Paul—seem untenable for an Ayton return. But there aren’t many looming possibilities for him to find the maximum contract he is said to desire.
San Antonio, with its Murray conversations, appears willing to steer more towards a rebuild than offer a hefty salary. Perhaps the Raptors are the team that presents Deandre Ayton with the lucrative deal he covets, but Toronto could only afford such a contract by swinging a sign-and-trade for Ayton. Toronto continues to monitor the availability of several elite centers, sources said, including Utah Jazz All-Star Rudy Gobert.
Toronto has not been directly linked Ayton, but there are a few factors to consider.
One reported tradeable asset, forward O.G. Anunoby, could be had by Phoenix in a relatively basic sign-and-trade for Ayton. He’s one of few sign-and-trade targets on the known market who is on a multi-year contract.
Anunoby is set to make $17.4 million next season and is under contract through 2024-25.
Another potential team with cap space and looking to turn a leaf, the Indiana Pacers, had their GM leave a quite soft commitment to center Myles Turner, who could be on the move if the team wants to replace him with Ayton.
“We are not actively shopping Myles Turner,” general manager Chad Buchanan told Kevin & Query on 107.5 The Fan on Tuesday, according to IndyStar.com. “We are listening to other teams that contact us, but we are in no hurry to massively alter this roster. We are trying to do things in order to give us a chance to be better down the road.”
Turner is notably on an expiring contract that pays out $17.5 million this coming season.
The Orlando Magic are the one other team with significant cap space among the above squads. They’ve not been linked to Ayton, but are worth a brief mention considering their similar operating procedures to Phoenix — in the shadows — that surprisingly landed them Paolo Banchero and not Jabari Smith or Chet Holmgren in the draft last week.
Ayton, the No. 1 draft pick in 2018, averaged 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists on 63% shooting last season.