Which team will play Deandre Ayton next season?
It’s a question that has gained credence over the past few weeks, and hints at what should be the most interesting storyline heading into this offseason. The 24-year-old Suns future big man, who was the No. 1 pick in 2018, enters restricted free agency this summer after Phoenix flopped in the playoffs. Rumors continue to escalate regarding Ayton and his relationship with the organization that drafted him. We’ll expand on that below, but the sources say Athleticism that it is “more likely than not” that Ayton will play somewhere other than Phoenix next season.
One of those destinations could be Detroit, where the rebuilding Pistons enter free agency with plenty of cap space, a franchise player in Cade Cunningham and one of the most accessible and attractive trade tokens in the league. to Jerami Grant. The Pistons should do their due diligence and give Ayton a run, the sources say. However, the extent to which Detroit is willing to go to secure his services is murky.
With the Ayton saga sure to dominate the offseason once the NBA Finals are over, Athleticism John Hollinger, a former NBA executive, and James L. Edwards III (writer of Beat Pistons) discuss Ayton, the likely end of his time in Phoenix, whether Detroit makes sense as a destination and whether the Pistons to have to do whatever they can to land Ayton.
(Editor’s note: Conversation edited for both clarity and length)
Edwards: Given the ongoing dysfunction between Deandre Ayton and the Suns, the consensus belief aligns with what I’ve heard and it looks like he’ll be playing for another team next season. Are you sure his time in Phoenix is over?
Hollinger: I was skeptical until I started talking to a few people more recently. Now, I think it’s more likely than not that he’ll be in a new destination next season, especially if the Suns can find a sign and trade that brings back some value. For some reason, I don’t think Phoenix is totally comfortable moving forward with him on a big deal, and I think Ayton might be okay with going somewhere else if he can get a bigger attacking role.
Edwards: The clash between Ayton and Suns head coach Monty Williams is here. There are also rumors that Ayton doesn’t get much sleep because he plays video games all night. Do you think teams are more hesitant now to max it out and acquire it than they were, say, six months ago? Or are these concerns a bit exaggerated?
Hollinger: As long as he plays Strat-O-Matic Basketball, I don’t see where the problem is. On a more serious note, I think the questions every team asks are a version of “What don’t we know? Why is Phoenix reluctant to pay him? Is it just that Robert Sarver is Robert Sarver or is there something else going on here? I don’t see any specific reason for his value to be down beyond the questions every front office will be asking regarding what turned the Suns off.
Ayton has had a good season and will be one of the best free agents out there. The last two playoffs have shown he can hold out in a high-level game and not get played on the floor.
Edwards: As mentioned earlier, I believe the Pistons will do their due diligence on Ayton and, if priced right, be in contention to land his services. I don’t feel like they’re going to break the bank for him, though. On the surface, do you like Ayton’s compatibility with the Pistons? Is there another team where you think he would do better?
Hollinger: I like the cut. First, the Pistons are in a position where they need top talent of all kinds to compete at a high level. Cade Cunningham is part of that solution, and the fifth pick may net another player at that level, but Detroit is still at the stage where talent acquisition matters more than decently.
The problem I see for Detroit is that it will probably cost them something to take out because Ayton is a restricted free agent. Even if Phoenix is reluctant to bring him back, the Suns better match an offer sheet than let him go for nothing. On the other hand, a return to 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 lay down a guideline to Jerami Grant here.
If not the Pistons, the other two strong points I see for Ayton are in Portland and San Antonio. Portland, again, would almost certainly go through with a sign and trade given the Blazers’ current cap situation; Spurs have the option of signing Ayton outright, but a sign and trade – for, say, Jakob Poeltl and Keldon Johnson – would seem a more likely endgame.
Edwards: As you mentioned, Detroit can pursue Ayton in restricted free agency, but a signing and trade involving Jerami Grant seems like an avenue that could benefit both parties. If Ayton leaves Phoenix, are you sure it’s by sign and trade? Do you like the fit with Grant on the Suns?
Hollinger: Yes, the Suns are almost certain to pursue a sign and trade if Ayton leaves because they simply have no way to replace him otherwise. They can only recoup $18.9 million and Grant earns $20.9 million, but that part is easily solvable with the addition of small contracts from Phoenix.
The biggest advantage for Detroit is the ability to make a trade like this and too be a player in the rest of free agency. They could pick the options on Frank Jackson, Luka Garza, and Carsen Edwards, spend around $25 million in free agency, and then, once their shopping is done, operate as an “over the cap” team and make a signing and- trade sending Grant, Jackson, Garza and Edwards for Ayton and Torrey Craig.
As for Grant’s compatibility with the Suns… I like that to a point. I don’t think he’s as good as Ayton, but Phoenix has a hole in their roster where the lack of big wings is an issue, and we’ve seen that especially in the Dallas Series. I think Grant has actually become quite overrated, but if he’s ready to be an elite team’s fourth option, he could fit right into Phoenix’s roster and give them a viable little ball 5 in the playoff games they’ve been missing the last two years.
Edwards: Last thing: I’m in the boat that the Pistons, while having a fair amount of cap space, don’t need to use it all up in free agency this summer. This class is BLA bla. Jalen Brunson seems to have gone to New York or is staying in Dallas. Zach LaVine is not coming to the Pistons. I don’t see Detroit suing Miles Bridges given the price he will likely demand. The verdict fell on Ayton. I loved how Isaiah Stewart ended the season. Saddiq Bey is already good. Cade Cunningham is the face. A top five pick is coming.
I guess my question for you is, do you think the Pistons should feel compelled to take a big step this summer, like the acquisition of Ayton? I think the pressure to really turn a corner is a year away, personally.
Hollinger: I agree with you on the timing issue. Detroit’s big push up the standings is set to come in a year, when the Cunningham-Bey-Stewart group have another year together, the fifth pick in 2022 has a full year under their belt and the Pistons will be sitting on a massive treasure trove. cap space.
On the other hand, I don’t see how turning Grant into Ayton hurts either of those approaches, except insofar as it leads to a worse first-round pick in 2023. Grant is on an expiring contract, his value will never be higher and he will want a salary that might be a bit out of step with his actual position in the league. Detroit’s cap situation is so clean that a maximum salary acquisition this year wouldn’t prevent them from doing it again next year; Cunningham is the only player guaranteed over $10 million in 2023-24.
Given the difficulty, in general, of bringing big-name players to Detroit in free agency, and the scarcity of good young players of all persuasions becoming free agents, I think it behooves the Pistons to explore all of their options on Ayton. You’re right to say they don’t to have to do that, and there should be a price in the signing and trade talks where they’re willing to walk away. That said, this opportunity will not necessarily present itself on the horizon of the next two to three years.
(Top photo credit Deandre Ayton and Isaiah Stewart: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)