It’s true that if Deandre Ayton wants to leave the Phoenix Suns, there’s not much they can do to retain him. How badly they want to is anyone’s guess right now.
While it would be a massive loss for the Suns to let him walk outright because of their salary cap situation and Ayton’s Bird rights — they can’t just sign another $30 million worth of contracts because they aren’t wanting to pay Ayton $30-or-so million — they can work out a sign-and-trade.
Ayton’s desired landing spot will put him in control, but there is one big reason for any potential new team to work out a sign-and-trade deal with the Suns.
The Athletic’s John Hollinger said this week that, from talking to people across the league, he believes Ayton is on his way to a new franchise. Joining Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Wednesday morning, Hollinger made this one important point about why it could be an avenue for the Suns to get something in return.
“I think he’ll be gone,” said Hollinger, a former executive for the Memphis Grizzlies. “Sign-and-trade is the way for this to go that satisfies the needs of everyone. Even of the teams he could go to (who have enough cap space), there’s not that much cap space out there.
“Even a team like Detroit can sign other players with cap space and then do a sign-and-trade to bring in Ayton. Even cap room teams may be more inclined to do a sign-and-trade.”
The Pistons are among the handful of teams who could sign Ayton in free agency to a max contract to keep the Suns from matching. But because Ayton can sign with the Suns for any amount over the cap because they still have his Bird rights, that would allow a team like Detroit to sign one or more players to around that max amount of money and then trade for Ayton once they are near the salary cap.
That’s an important point to factor in if Ayton truly wants out.
It would also help Phoenix recoup some value. That part gets complicated because of the base year compensation rule, which in this case would allow the Suns only to take back about $19 million in an Ayton-only sign-and-trade if his salary on a new contract began at around $30 million.
Obviously, we don’t know how the Suns truly view their 2018 first overall draft pick, and that will sway how his restricted free agency goes.
“Are you comfortable paying him … something near the max?” Hollinger asked. “If you’re not or if that makes you a little skittish … you owe it to yourself to at least find out what your players are worth and what is potentially out there if you decide to go in a different direction.”
Hollinger does not think the Suns flubbed Ayton’s situation by not signing him to a max deal last offseason.
He did add it’s an awkward “chicken and egg” question of how the relationship between the player and the team apparently has soured. After Ayton put his non-extension aside and played well for his team, the Suns reportedly considered dealing Ayton at the February trade deadline and then had at least a public disagreement during Game 7 of their playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks.
Did the Suns cause Ayton to consider leaving? How serious is he about that potential? Joining a new team is something his agent suggested in an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio.
On the team side, does Phoenix want to consider bringing him back at the right price after he averaged 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists on 63% shooting last year?
“I think he’s a really good player,” Hollinger said. “He is a not-quite All-Star — what we would call, back in the day, an Eastern Conference All-Star. You can’t say that anymore ’cause the East is good now.”
But at the center position, it’s easier than other positions to find value financially. Hollinger said that if Phoenix moves on from Ayton, adding more versatile wings would help the team change its philosophy. Again, that remains an if, even as it appears Ayton will consider all his options.
“Phoenix has stayed big the last two postseasons for virtually all their minutes,” Hollinger said. “The one thing Phoenix has always lacked is guys in the 6-8 to 6-10 range — Cam Johnson is really the only guy — who have more of that cross-positional functionality. As good as they are, without the 7-footer in the middle, the rest of that lineup is quite small.”