There’s no fresh news out of Deandre Ayton’s camp regarding his upcoming free agency, but a week away from the NBA Draft, there could be more clarity about what teams might be in the running to pull the center away from the Phoenix Suns.
Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported Thursday that the Portland Trail Blazers do not appear as “legitimate” contenders to land Ayton. Portland is expected to re-sign center Jusuf Nurkic and are targeting the Toronto Raptors’ O.G. Anunoby as a trade target, though there are other potential directions.
Instead, Fischer adds, Ayton’s “most realistic” landing spots outside of a Suns return are believed to be the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons and Raptors. The Indiana Pacers, who could dangle center Myles Turner in a deal, have also led some NBA whispers because the two bigs share an agency, Fischer said.
All of those teams have been mentioned because they have enough cap space to chase after Ayton, who is a restricted free agent. That would allow the Suns to match an offer.
But a sign-and-trade would present an opportunity for those teams to use their abundance of cap space on other players before swinging a deal for Ayton, allowing them to jump past the salary cap.
Anunoby, Turner, the Pistons’ Jerami Grant and the Hawks’ Clint Capela are among the players whose salaries would most easily come back to Phoenix in an Ayton deal, but adding other teams in a trade or combining salaries of other players would give Phoenix and any trade partners numerous avenues to explore an Ayton sign-and-trade.
That is, of course, assuming the Suns do not attempt to keep their young center to run it back with a core of Chris Paul and Devin Booker in 2022-23.
The 23-year-old Ayton averaged 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game last year while shooting a career-high 63.4% from the field.