EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Raptors, Suns reportedly talked Deandre Ayton sign-and-trade last summer
The Toronto Raptors have a bevy of tradeable, starting-caliber players. They presumably have more trade offers on the table than they know what to do with heading into next week’s trade deadline.
Toronto has been heavily linked to the Suns because any of its current players could mark a significant upgrade for a Phoenix core that, to some degree, has plateaued. The Suns have been reportedly showing interest in point guard Fred VanVleet, as well as O.G. Anunoby in the past month.
A story from TSN’s Josh Lewenberg that was published Thursday included another noteworthy tidbit:
Toronto was close to acquiring Deandre Ayton from Phoenix in a sign and trade last summer, according to a source. Perhaps there’s a deal to be made with the Suns, who are said to be one of Anunoby’s many suitors.
That adds fuel that the Suns have interest in at least one of the Raptors’ valuable trade assets: VanVleet, Anunoby, forward Pascal Siakam and guard Gary Trent Jr.
As for the Raptors, it bolsters what we already knew.
Dating back to last summer, Toronto reportedly had significant interest in adding a center. Jakob Poeltl, a San Antonio Spur who began his career north of the border, was linked to the team then.
Yahoo! Sports’ Jake Fischer reported in January that Ayton and Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner, who recently received an extension, were on the Raptors’ radar.
It’s worth questioning if and how much any Ayton interest on Toronto’s end has cooled.
Relative to his peak play, Ayton has struggled this season after Phoenix matched a max contract offer sheet issued to the big man by the Pacers last offseason.
He is averaging 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists but has been subject to criticism due to his habit of shying away from contact in favor of finesse perimeter moves. On the defensive end, he has gone through bouts of inconsistency, enough to question his effort and focus levels.
Ayton owns the third-worst net rating and the second-worst plus-minus on the Suns roster. It is not helpful that, among two-man combinations, his net rating with Torrey Craig (-11.9) and Chris Paul (-11.8) are unsightly as well as heavily utilized groupings within the starting lineups for much of the season.
On to the optimistic evaluation: Ayton was one of the main reasons Phoenix reached the 2021 NBA Finals, as his regular season inconsistencies flipped into scheme domination as the Suns pushed past injuries and illness for then-All-Star Chris Paul before they lost in six games to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Ayton got off to a hot start against a Lakers team not scheming to stop him, limited regular-season MVP Nikola Jokic in the conference semifinals and caused problems for a wing-heavy Clippers team before being a primary defender on Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
It’s worth wondering if teams like Toronto believe Ayton still has that motor and focus somewhere in there. Does it help or hurt that the center and the Suns allowed an awkward end of 2021-22 — the whole Game 7 Ayton benching — to bleed into the start of this season?
Could other teams believe Ayton can hit another level with a fresh start?
Beyond him, a complicating set of factors is what else the Raptors have on the table. How a puzzle of multiple deals might get done to restructure the team remains too hard to imagine with so many possibilities — ones that only Raptors GM Masai Ujiri knows at the moment.
Also notable, since we’re here: He and Suns president of basketball operations and GM James Jones have spoken recently, about something.
Suns and Raptors respective presidents of basketball operations James Jones and Masai Ujiri walk down the tunnel together before their teams square off. pic.twitter.com/5amnUS9Dqz
— Arizona Sports (@AZSports) January 31, 2023
What a Deandre Ayton to Raptors trade could look like
All the above breadcrumbs lead us to what the Suns could get in exchange for an Ayton trade with the Raptors.
Kevin Pelton, in a piece of what trades ESPN authors would like to see, has the Suns shaking up their foundation and adding an All-Star-caliber talent in Siakam.
Toronto Raptors get: Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, 2023 Phoenix first-round pick, 2026 swap rights, 2027 Phoenix first-round pick (top-10 protected in 2027, top-4 protected in 2028, unprotected in 2029)
Phoenix Suns get: Pascal Siakam
Siakam has two years left on his deal paying him $35 million this season, and the 28-year-old could slot in at power forward. That would push Cam Johnson to the bench — at least to start games with a traditional lineup — and move centers Bismack Biyombo and Jock Landale into more minutes.
Phoenix has proven plenty successful with non-Ayton center minutes in the past few years, and Siakam gives head coach Monty Williams the ball-moving forward that fits the offense. It’s just that this particular ball-moving forward averages 24.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game.
Less blockbustery trades could ship Ayton to Toronto for Anunoby, backup big Khem Birch and one more player as salary filler (Adam Sandler’s Hustle co-star Juancho Hernangomez plus those two would work, for example). You can throw draft picks in there to make it more fair in either direction.
Anunoby slots in similarly to Siakam at about half the price, bringing an upgraded jumbo wing without all the offensive bells and whistles that Siakam would.
Ayton could also be dealt for VanVleet and veteran forward Thad Young, the latter of whom would add a smart-as-heck, 20 minutes off the bench. Again, you can include draft compensation to create a more palatable deal.
VanVleet, you’d think, would have to tag in as a third guard to start, but he would easily get starter minutes to preserve Paul and then present a post-Paul solution in the coming years.
Those are just a few of the combinations to consider between the Suns and Raptors. And it gets a lot crazier when not including an Ayton trade.