The Phoenix Suns seemed poised to make another title run this season after coming up just short against the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 NBA Finals. And while they cruised through the regular season, they struggled more than expected in the first round against the New Orleans Pelicans before collapsing in the second round against the Dallas Mavericks. As a result, it would be wise to expect the Suns to look into making some changes to their roster this offseason.
The Suns do not want to give Ayton a long-term contract
One almost inevitable change is that Phoenix’s starting center, Deandre Ayton, will be moved at some point this offseason. Ayton did not play much in Phoenix’s deciding Game 7 loss against Dallas, with people close to the team saying Ayton gave up on Phoenix after finding out they did not want to offer him a max contract.
Ayton will be a restricted free agent once free agency opens up, and while the Suns could match any offer that comes their way, it doesn’t feel like that will happen. In fact, according to Adrian Wojnarowski, it seems like Phoenix is more willing to pull off a sign-and-trade involving Ayton rather than handing him an extension.
“Ayton is a restricted free agent. Certainly, Phoenix could match an offer sheet. But I think they are very motivated to find a sign-and-trade, get some assets back for him. They do not value Deandre Ayton at a max contract.” - Adrian Wojnarowski, ESPN.
Wojnarowski is one of the most well-connected folks in basketball, so chances are he has good reason to believe this will happen. There’s clearly some bad blood between Ayton and the Suns organization. And while they still have some control over him since he’s only a restricted free agent, Phoenix believes now is the right time to cut their losses with the first overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft and move on.
Who would be able to sign Ayton in a potential sign-and-trade deal?
Despite Phoenix’s willingness to get rid of Ayton, it should be noted that he is still one of the better centers in the league. Despite his size, he is a smooth finisher at the rim, and his rebounding ability makes him a nightly double-double threat. Phoenix may not want to offer him the contract he wants, but there are certainly teams out there that will.
So far, the frontrunner appears to be the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons recently swung a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers that sent star forward Jerami Grant out the door in return for some draft assets. That move has given Detroit the cap space needed to go out and sign a guy like Ayton.
Ayton is still 23 years old, and he fits Detroit’s timeline much better than a guy like Grant. They already have solid young pieces in Cade Cunningham and Saddiq Bey, so giving them another outstanding young player in Ayton would give the Pistons a core group they can build their next contender around.
Detroit has the cap space to take on Ayton and his new deal, and they have the resources to persuade Phoenix into dealing him (not that it would take much, from the sounds of it). A couple of future draft picks would probably be all it takes to land Ayton considering the Suns are aggressively looking to get rid of him. If that’s the case, this would seem like a no-brainer for the Pistons.
It may not happen during the draft tonight, but Ayton’s time with the Suns is concluding. Whether he ends up going to the Pistons remains to be seen, but it appears they are the most logical fit, and there is interest on their end to get a deal done. Ayton’s time in Phoenix certainly won’t have ended well if this is indeed the end, but a change of scenery could help the former top overall pick take the next step forward in his career.