Six potential Deandre Ayton trades

The 2018 first overall pick seems likely on the move. Who should buy, and what should Phoenix get?

There have been questions of discontent surrounding Deandre Ayton and the Phoenix locker room since last offseason, stemming from reports of hesitance on the organization’s side to offer Ayton the potential maximum rookie contract extension. Tempers seemed to reach a boiling point when Ayton was benched late in the Suns’ season-ending Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks by coach Monty Williams for reasons unrelated to his play. 

A recent quote from Deandre Ayton’s agent, Bill Duffy, has led a lot of people around the league to suggest the former first overall pick of the Phoenix Suns will be moving on from The Valley this offseason. The quote read in part, “Things will work out for Deandre. He’s a valuable player. There’s other teams in the league… He’s a restricted free agent, so we’ll see how this process unfolds.”

Any max deal that a player can sign is larger to their current team than it would be if they were to sign elsewhere, and the current team is the only one that can offer five years in length. The Suns can offer Ayton 5 years for $177 million ($37.4 million a year). All other teams can offer the Arizona product 4 years for $131.5 million ($32.9 million a year).

As a restricted free agent, the Suns can match any deal Ayton signs in free agency. But there is still not much leverage to retain him. We’ve reached a point in the player movement era where Ayton could simply not join the team and force Phoenix’s hand. See: Anthony Davis to the Pelicans, Andre Iguodala to the Grizzlies, John Wall to the Rockets. So if he says he’s going elsewhere, it’s unlikely the team denies his wishes. This alongside the fact that most teams don’t have the cap space to sign him outright means any team acquiring Ayton would have to do so in a sign-and-trade. Here’s six frameworks for potential suitors.


Suns receive: Nikola Vucevic 

Bulls receive: Deandre Ayton

Nikola Vucevic could be exactly what the doctor ordered for Phoenix. The former two-time All-Star has averaged 20-11-4 on 49/36/79 shooting over the last four seasons between the Bulls and Orlando Magic. He can create on the perimeter, screen well, interior pass, and stretch the floor. The Suns’ roster as a whole is missing that. If the Suns don’t try to retain Ayton, it’s likely because they envision winning in a direction different from what the 6’11”, 250 lb. center offers. Vucevic leaves things to be desired defensively.

This deal could work straight up because the Bulls currently have $22 million in cap space (their payroll is at $100m including Vuc, against the projected cap of $122m). Ayton is likely better than Vucevic, but sign-and-trade returns are different from trades where both players were already under contract. 

Other pieces to consider include Coby White, Alex Caruso, Cameron Payne, and Dario Saric. The Bulls have pick 18 in this draft, the Suns have none. In next year’s draft, Chicago has no picks (1st to Orlando, 2nd forfeited due to a tampering ruling regarding its trade for Lonzo Ball). Phoenix owns all of their own picks after this draft.


Package 1

Suns receive: Gordon Hayward, Mason Plumlee

Hornets receive: Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric

Package 2

Suns receive: Terry Rozier, Mason Plumlee, Kai Jones

Hornets receive: Deandre Ayton, Cameron Payne, Dario Saric, 2023 second round pick

Gordon Hayward offers something the Suns didn’t have this season: a third player that can dribble the ball. He can also hit some shots in rhythm, and is a good communicator. His defense has lost a step, but he helps them go smaller. If they move on from DA, we could see more lineups with Crowder at the five again, or Cam Johnson/Torrey Craig. They likely retain one or both of JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo, or pick up another quality vet to supplement Mason Plumlee. Plumlee is a fine player, and is thankfully defense-first.

There is also a world where the Suns ask for Terry Rozier, as he is a large upgrade on Cam Payne. Third guard is the Suns’ biggest need at this point, as shutting down Devin Booker and Chris Paul at all costs was ultimately their undoing this playoffs. Once a team did that, they had no other options to run quality offense. Kai Jones is developmental and likely a non-factor this season, but at least plays big.


Suns receive: Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Ivica Zubac

Clippers receive: Deandre Ayton, Cameron Payne, 2023 second round pick

This package suits the Suns’ needs best. Reggie Jackson is a starting point guard right now, and gives them a legit three-headed guard attack. Carrying offensive load is important; as the playoffs established, the Suns need players they can run offense through and that provide quality ball handling. Luke Kennard is one of the better bench players in the league in similar capacities, albeit different ways. Ivica Zubac can be a starting center in this league.

I’m not positive the Clippers would do this. It’s a lot of change to your current roster, and a bet on Kawhi returning 100%. You’re screwed regardless if he doesn’t come back that way, though, and have no firsts until 2027. So LA has to go ceiling and all in.

Clippers potential starting five: Norman Powell, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Robert Covington, Deandre Ayton. Bench: Marcus Morris, Cam Payne, Terance Mann, Nicolas Batum, BJ Boston. They could flip some guys around to address point guard and backup big, and have the pieces to do so. Free agent veteran point guards could fit well with that starting four, and Norm Powell would join Tyler Herro as one of the two best sixth men in the league. Isaiah Hartenstein is a free agent, and loved his role last year.


Suns receive: Kelly Olynyk, Isaiah Stewart, Killian Hayes

Pistons receive: Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric

This might be the best deal for Phoenix. Olynyk has diversified his game offensively a lot more than people realize. He can do more than just stand still and shoot like Steve Novak. Additionally, he has truly done a 180 on the defensive end. He’s a big best suited to switching as opposed to drop and rim protection like we have seen with Ayton. The rest of the Suns D is well-suited for that: Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Cam Johnson, Devin Booker is a lot of length and strength. He gives you much different looks offensively than DA’s post touches. Isaiah Stewart is a pure big to diversify your lineup portfolio. Killian Hayes is an off-guard that plays intense defense and has upside. He may make that switching wing quartet into a quintet. Phoenix keeps Payne and adds an extra ball handler.

I would be over the moon for Cade Cunningham, Deandre Ayton, Saddiq Bey, Jaden Ivey/Shaedon Sharpe, and Jerami Grant or whatever he’s traded for. (Marvin Bagley and Isaiah Livers too).

Worth noting somewhere that the Pistons have the most cap space in the league right now, so any prospective deal is easier as it’s less beholden to salaries. Detroit could sign Ayton outright if he wasn’t a restricted free agent.


Suns receive: Eric Gordon, Christian Wood

Rockets receive: Deandre Ayton, 2023 second round pick, 2025 second round pick

The Suns wanted Eric Gordon at the deadline, and really could have used the two-way shooting guard in the playoffs. He can put the ball in the hole and create for himself, which no Sun except for Paul and Booker could. Christian Wood is an enigma, but even better on offense than EG. This is a lot like the Olynyk/Hayes/Stewart package, but with offense and experience for a little less defense and size. This could be awesome. 

The Rockets hold the 3rd overall pick in this year’s draft. They may not make this trade depending on who they get at 3. The draft is held before free agency opens.


Suns receive: Clint Capela, pick 16, pick 44, Kevin Huerter

Hawks receive: Deandre Ayton

The Suns choose this direction if they are confident in the rest of their roster. The Hawks sadly don’t have anyone who can dribble outside of Trae Young, and so they can’t help the Suns fill that need. But picks 16 and 44 along with Huerter/his salary can net Phoenix an extra something. Capela won the rebounding title a season ago and should have been All-Defense (I had him as my Defensive Player of the Year runner-up). He had a down year last year and is a downgrade from Ayton, but this trade opens up avenues to improve around the periphery for a team that just won 64 games as-is.

There is also a road where the Hawks push John Collins toward Phoenix instead, and move Clint Capela somewhere else. Atlanta could be primed for a major shake-up around helping Trae, and they could think this is too much. Any Ayton deal would reflect a misguided lack of faith in noted My Guy, Onyeka Okongwu.

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