Suns big Deandre Ayton remains the center of NBA chatter since his five-point effort in Game 7 loss to Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals followed by Monty Williams "it's internal" comment after only playing him 17 minutes.
Will the Suns sign-and-trade him away to address roster issues?
Will they match a max offer from another team?
Will he ever reach his full potential?
Who wants him? Who doesn't?
Here's some of the latest chatter as free agency will begin either June 30 or July 1, as an official date hasn't been announced yet.
'Worth the bite of the apple'
The Athletic's John Hollinger breaks down Ayton's situation in rating him the top free agent big man this summer.
"Phoenix surprisingly didn't extend Ayton before last season and seems reluctant to pay him the max after the Suns fizzed out in the playoffs," he wrote. "Sign-and-trading him instead could also help the Suns skip the luxury tax, both in 2022-23 and the two seasons that follow. Also the idea of getting some added size at the forward spots is much more possible if Ayton is the trade bait.
"As a result, there's increasing chatter that Ayton may be available, in particular if a sign-and-trade scenario develops that lets Phoenix bring back talent (A straight offer sheet would likely just be matched by the Suns, who could always turn around and trade Ayton later; they really have no outs if Ayton leaves uncompensated). One note on a sign-and-trade: Phoenix can only bring back about $20 million in salary on one involving Ayton, even if he's paid the max, due to the so-called base-year-compensation rule (the CBA stopped referring to it this way, but most folks in the league still do).
"As to the question of how much he's worth. Even in my valuation system that devalues centers pretty strongly, the numbers suggest that Ayton is worth the bite of the apple."
'It's really up to him'
Suns commentator Eddie Johnson spoke with PHNX_Suns about Ayton, who is a restricted free agent.
"He can't escape the Suns if they don't want him to," Johnson said. "That has to be laid out there. I think some people out there are saying, 'Oh, he's going to leave and they're going to lose him.' No, they don't have to lose him. He signs an offer sheet from somebody else, they can match the offer sheet."
The Suns can not only match any offer, but pay him more than anyone else with a max deal of five years, $177 million.
"For Ayton right now, it's really up to him and what he's willing to accept," Johnson added.
On today's @PHNX_Suns Podcast, we talked with @Jumpshot8 about his interaction with Kevin Durant, the Suns' offseason, Deandre Ayton and more!
Listen/subscribe: https://t.co/ewVh6HApDg pic.twitter.com/TrPhIVJdgv
— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) June 10, 2022
Ayton for Turner in sign-and-trade?
Jake Fischer and Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report have Indiana in the mix for Ayton in a possible sign-and-trade involving Pacers big Myles Turner.
Bill Duffy represents both Ayton and Turner as Sam Amico of hoopswire.com writes, which could play a role in the deal.
Amico noted how Fischer has the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons as possible destinations for Ayton.
Dejounte Murray and Deandre Ayton next season pic.twitter.com/iE9ggAFC5c
— ᴱᵛᵃⁿ (@OfficialEvanAZ) June 13, 2022
Blazers 'prioritizing' Anunoby instead of Ayton
Portland is reportedly "prioritizing" a move for Raptors wing OG Anunoby, sources informed Fischer of Bleacher Report.
This is after Fischer said Damian Lillard has interest in playing with Ayton. The Blazers are expected to keep Jusef Nurkic, Fischer said.
A trade rumor also has Portland going after former Arizona State star Lu Dort in a move that would involve its No. 7 pick and Oklahoma City's No. 12 pick in Thursday's draft.
Hawks in pursuit of Ayton?
Fischer also is saying the Atlanta Hawks are pursuing Ayton.
“Atlanta is definitely another team that I’ve heard for Ayton. There’s one person I talked to pretty consistently who’s like convinced Ayton is the guy that Atlanta wants," said Fischer on The Athletic's NBA Show Podcast (h/t Pro Basketball Talk).
Ayton's fit in Detroit?
Hollinger said he likes Ayton's fit with the Pistons, but has concerns.
"I do like the fit," Hollinger wrote. "First of all, the Pistons are in a position where they need high-level talent of any stripe in order to compete at a high level. Cade Cunningham is part of that solution and the fifth pick may net another player of that level, but Detroit is still at the stage where talent acquisition matters more than fit.
"The issue I see for Detroit is that it likely will cost them something to pull off because Ayton is a restricted free agent. Even if Phoenix is reluctant to bring him back, the Suns are better off matching an offer sheet rather than letting him leave for nothing. On the other hand, a return in a sign-and-trade could reshape their roster in a way that keeps them below the luxury tax line and still allows them to compete next year.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to draw a throughline to Jerami Grant here. If not the Pistons, the other two strong fits I see are in Portland and San Antonio."
Can Suns live without Ayton?
Fischer talked on the "Dunc’d on Basketball NBA Podcast'' with Nate Duncan about Ayton. He said other teams were getting a vibe the Suns questioned why should pay Ayton when Chris Paul was making Bismack Biyombo look good.
“There were starting to be some word around the league like, oh, the Suns are just saying that they think CP3 is just so good that they can bring Bismack Biyombo off the street,” Fischer said. “Why do they have to pay Deandre Ayton? JaVale (McGee) has worked out for them.”
'Criminally underused in Phoenix'
This was posted about Ayton on reddit.com recently with the title: "Deandre Ayton was criminally underused in Phoenix. I think he can and will become a ~25/10 guy wherever he goes next."
"I'm not gonna talk about Ayton's defense because everyone knows that's his strength.
"Ayton is a borderline elite scorer and was criminally underused in Phoenix. It was the result of playing next to two ball-dominant guards in Booker and CP3. CP3 is one of the greatest playmakers ever, but his presence basically turns any big man into strictly a roll man and dump off guy, because you would never want to take the ball out of his hands. Ayton's touches per game decreased from 60 a game in his 2nd season in the league, to just 42 a game this year. For a young player, seeing your offensive touches peak in your 2nd season has to be bad for your development.
"Ayton has everything you want in a big man to carry the load scoring wise. He has incredible touch in the paint, a variety of moves on the block, and a great jump shot. He shot 54% on jump shots in the playoffs this year. We saw him put in work when Booker missed the first round of the playoffs, averaging 21ppg on 72% TS. He's not a liability at the FT line either (75.4% for his career) and so can close out games for you.
"I really do not understand why Ayton has randomly become so underrated, and everyone saying he's basically just a 16/10 roll man. He has shown everything you could want to see in a star big man. I would not be surprised if he was immediately an All Star next season upon switching teams, and eventually becoming a 25/10 type of player."
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Deandre Ayton trade rumors, free agency speculation for Phoenix Suns