Restricted free agency can be a frustrating process for players,
and Deandre Ayton is currently experiencing that firsthand. As
Ayton continues to sit on the open market, his destination is
seemingly tied to the ongoing Kevin Durant saga. Hours before the
free-agency moratorium period began last week, Durant requested a
trade from the Brooklyn Nets, and the Phoenix Suns are reportedly
atop his wish list.
Over the last 48 hours, the Suns have been the most active team
in free agency, agreeing to terms with four minimum-salary players:
Bismack Biyombo, Damion Lee, Jock Landale and Josh Okogie. Phoenix
seems to be focusing on the bottom of its roster and preparing for
substantial changes — regardless of whether the team acquires
Finding a sign-and-trade partner for Ayton sits atop the Suns'
to-do list, as this could determine whether they land one of the
greatest scorers in NBA history in Durant. Phoenix is currently the
betting favorite to acquire Durant, but since Brooklyn reportedly
has no interest in Ayton, the Suns must try to find a third team to
help facilitate a deal, or flip their center for additional pieces
that they can send to Brooklyn. It's worth noting that Ayton must
agree to any sign-and-trade deal (giving him a lot of power in this
It seems Ayton doesn't have a tangible market right now, which
is truly surprising. Restricted free agency usually bogs down the
bidders, but you'd think a player of Ayton’s caliber would have
multiple interested teams pursuing him. However, it's fair to
wonder whether a robust market for Ayton ever existed.
The Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs have been speculated as
potential destinations, but it remains to be seen if either team
has a real interest in Ayton. Both teams are entering a rebuild,
and it's unclear if they're open to paying Ayton a max or near-max
salary. Also, Indiana loves its young big-man duo of Jalen Smith
and Isaiah Jackson (which is why the organization is making Myles
Turner available in trade talks), while San Antonio has Jakob
Poeltl manning the middle.
As the market begins to shift, let’s look at which teams could
still be an option for Ayton.
Toronto has been gaining steam in the betting odds for Durant
over the last 48 hours, somehow jumping from +3500 to +250. It's no
surprise that Masai Ujiri is trying to bring Durant to Toronto, but
if he can't land KD, could Ayton be the Raptors' consolation prize?
A three-team trade involving the Suns, Raptors and Nets could make
an awful lot of sense for all sides.
It’s well-known that the Raptors need a long-term answer at
center. Ayton, the former No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, could
be the perfect high-upside swing from Ujiri and Co. Placing Ayton
alongside Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, Fred VanVleet and either
OG Anunoby or Gary Trent Jr. would give Toronto a very dangerous
lineup in the Eastern Conference. And at this point, the Raptors
could swoop in to land Ayton for way cheaper than expected if they
were to help facilitate a Durant-to-the-Suns trade, which is
reportedly KD's preferred outcome.
Crafting an Ayton-to-Toronto trade isn't too difficult. Trent or
Anunoby would be the centerpiece with any small expiring salaries
needed to make it happen. Also, the Raptors being able to snag
Ayton for one player and perhaps a future pick is a home-run
Working with the Raptors’ player development program, Ayton
would be in the perfect spot to reach his sky-high ceiling; that
goes without mentioning that Deandre playing next to Siakam and
Barnes in the frontcourt is a dream fit for all involved. You want
the perfect defensive trio to stop superstars like Joel Embiid and
Giannis Antetokounmpo? Look no further than Ayton, Siakam and
Ayton in Toronto can only happen if the Raptors are willing to
part with Trent or Anunoby. If not, this is likely a non-starter in
negotations unless they are willing to give up multiple future
first-round picks and expiring salaries to help faciliate Durant to
Phoenix. Maybe even young big man Precious Achiuwa could intrigue
Brooklyn or Phoenix enough with the right amount of draft capital
Don't rule out the Raptors being a sneaky candidate to swoop in
for Ayton because their front office is known to move in silence
with no leaks in advance of massive moves.
The Hawks already pushed the chips all-in with the acquisition
of Dejounte Murray, but could they be looming as a potential
destination for Ayton? If you add up the pieces for the win-now
Hawks, it makes a lot of sense. Adding Ayton into the Hawks’
ecosystem is a sure-fire bet to give this team legitimate NBA
A new big three in Atlanta consisting of Young, Murray and Ayton
would make for nightly fireworks on the court; plus, it’s a stable,
All-Star-level foundation with youth that could grow together on
the same timeline for years to come.
Atlanta also stands out as a strong Ayton suitor because of its
available assets, even after coughing up draft picks to the Spurs
for Murray. Clint Capela is an obvious candidate to be moved in any
Ayton deal due to his salary and position. Atlanta also has other
salaries that can work in multi-team frameworks such as the
often-rumored John Collins as well as Bogdan Bogdanovic. And don't
forget about the Hawks' underrated core of young talent: De'Andre
Hunter, Onyeka Okongwu, AJ Griffin and Jalen Johnson.
It's unlikely that the Hawks would make Hunter or Okongwu
available for Ayton, but what about their recent first-round pick
in Griffin? That's where it gets interesting, because a piece like
Griffin can help accelerate a potential three-team deal between
Phoenix, Brooklyn and Atlanta where the end result ultimately lands
Durant alongside Booker.
The Hawks have extinguished most of their future assets for
Murray, but they still have enough wiggle room to make another big
splash. Ayton could be the final missing piece for Atlanta to
become a real Finals competitor as early as next season. In
addition, this would help the Suns land their ultimate prize.
This was a surprise team that reportedly checked in on Ayton
last week, according to Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro. Shipping
out Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves brought back an
enormous return of draft capital, including three future
unprotected first-round picks. As the Jazz aim to retool around
Donovan Mitchell, Ayton actually checks a lot of boxes for them.
Not only would he cost around $20 million less than Gobert
annually, especially down the line, but Ayton is also on the same
timeline as Utah's superstar shooting guard.
In order to appease Mitchell and prevent a trade request down
the line, would someone like Ayton be a worthy gamble on a
discount? Honestly, it makes a lot of sense. Assuming the Jazz send
out more veterans and prioritize a youth movement around Mitchell
in the short-term, they may very well become a real contender for
Ayton out of nowhere.
Diving in deeper, Utah has the perfect amount of assets to
sneakily make its move for Ayton. Bojan Bogdanovic's $19 million
expiring salary is already enough to almost make salaries work.
Throw in Jordan Clarkson, who no longer fits Utah's timeline and
would be a huge bench upgrade for Phoenix, and that's where this
gets serious. The Jazz also now have extreme amounts of draft
artillery thanks to the Gobert trade pulled off last week by Danny
Going off the assumption that Ayton will no longer be receiving
a max-contract offer, Utah could quickly match the Suns' win-now
timeline returning Bogdanovic, Clarkson and picks in exchange for
Ayton. Those picks, alongside Bogdanovic's expiring deal in turn,
could be flipped to the Nets in a three-team deal that lands Durant
in the Valley.
For fun, here's a possible three-team trade involving the Suns,
Jazz and Nets — a template where each side can say they exited in a
Nets receive: Mikal Bridges, Bojan
Bogdanovic, Torrey Craig, Cameron Payne, 2023 first-round pick (via
Suns), 2023 first-rounder (via Jazz), 2025 first-rounder (via
Timberwolves), 2025 first-rounder (via Suns), 2027 first-rounder
(via Suns), 2029 first-rounder (via Suns), rights to swap firsts in
2024, 2026, 2028 with Suns
Jazz receive: Deandre Ayton (four-year,
$110 million sign-and-trade), Jae Crowder
Suns receive: Kevin Durant, Jordan
Again, the Nets would secure a foundational building block with
immense two-way upside in Bridges. Also, the $19 million expiring
contract for Bogdanovic could be a huge trade chip for the Nets
with their replenished box of assets.
Utah’s added draft compensation via the Timberwolves helps
facilitate this deal for Brooklyn and Phoenix, and it makes a
strong return for the Jazz in the process. Crowder would
immediately takes Bogdanovic’s role in the rotation, as would Ayton
for Gobert. Losing Clarkson is a tough pill to swallow for the
Jazz, but if he were to be the price to pay for a former No. 1
pick, it’d certainly be worth it.
Phoenix and Durant get their way in the end, and Clarkson’s
addition is the perfect cherry on top of a historic trade for the
organization. Right off the bat, Clarkson could become the Suns’
sixth man and solidifiy their overall depth issues if this trade
were to occur.
It's rare to see the market swing the opposite direction so
quickly, but that seems to be what's happening in real time with
Ayton. The longer Ayton continues to sit out on the open market,
the better the Suns' chances of acquiring Durant are.
As free agency has come to a screeching halt over the last few
days due to the looming situation with Durant and the Nets,
everyone is waiting for the domino to finally fall. Will Durant get
his way and end up alongside Devin Booker and Chris Paul in
Phoenix? That remains to be seen, but the exercise above really
does show the Suns will have to get creative in order to get it
Deandre Ayton was the Suns’ first No. 1 overall pick in
franchise history, and now he’s the deciding factor to whether
Kevin Durant eventually takes his spot as the final piece to their