But he could draw a max offer sheet in restricted free agency. Keeping Ayton is Phoenix’s most direct path to a player anywhere near his caliber. Capped out, the Suns would be limited to about the mid-level exception for an outside free agent barring other major moves. In championship contention with an aging Chris Paul, this is not the time to take a step back.
How will Phoenix handle this dilemma?
sources tell The Athletic that it’s “more likely than not” that Ayton plays somewhere other than Phoenix next season.
The way free agency takes off well before it officially opens, this could be more than mere speculation.
A sign-and-trade might be the solution for everyone involved. The Suns would get return for their talented 23-year-old. Ayton would get to a team willing to pay him and, therefore, more likely to give him a larger offensive role. The acquiring team would get Ayton without fearing Phoenix matching an offer sheet. If the acquiring team lacks cap space, a sign-and-trade would be even more helpful to that team.
It’s a lot to sort out.
Which is why teams and players sometimes get a head start on moves like this – and that maneuvering can leak.