Since the day the Suns were eliminated from the playoffs in a game where Deandre Ayton played just 17 minutes, speculation about Ayton moving on from the Suns has been rampant. Rumors about Ayton — a restricted free agent this summer — moving on to the Pistons, Hawks, Raptors, Pacers, Magic, Spurs and others have been flying around the league.
If the Suns want to shake things up in the wake of their Game 7 collapse against the Mavericks, a sign-and-trade of Ayton bringing back players at a position of need — backup point guard, for example — is the most straightforward way to do it.
When asked about Ayton’s future on Wednesday, Suns GM James Jones pumped the breaks on the rumors, but just a little. Here is what he said on the Burns & Gambo show on Arizona Sports 98.7 (via Jake Anderson).
“Deandre had an amazing season and he’s progressed every year and improved every year,” the GM said. “He’s been here and so he’s a big part of what we do. His future with us is something we will address at the proper time which is in the future. He’s a free agent and I’ve said all along, he’s about the same things were about which is winning. We’ll address it at the proper time.”
That’s fairly vague and open to interpretation. One could read Jones’ comments as not so much “we will not trade him” and more “don’t expect to lowball us.” Ayton is a restricted free agent and the Suns can match any offer to keep him; if Ayton moves on, it’s likely through a sign-and-trade.
The Suns and Ayton didn’t reach a deal on a contract extension before the season because Suns management would not put a max offer on the table (leading to tension between the sides). Ayton upped his game this season and averaged an efficient 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds a game, although he was not a defensive force in the paint (the Suns’ defense was 2.3 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor). In the playoffs Ayton was up and down, some nights looking like he deserved that max and others seemed to float around the court and not impact the game (such as Game 7 against Dallas).
Other teams are reportedly looking to offer the max for Ayton (which would be four years, $131 million). At that price, would the Suns want to move on? An Ayton trade may be Phoenix’s best chance to reshape the roster and they could fill in needs around the roster (a backup point guard to limit Chris Paul‘s regular season minutes, for example).
Or, maybe owner Robert Sarver pays up, they keep Ayton matching whatever offers come in, then look to trade Ayton at the deadline or next summer. If at all.
The Suns and GM Jones have options. It’s about capitalizing on their championship window, and Ayton may not be a part of that future.