When the rookie scale extension deadline came and went last year without a new deal in place for Deandre Ayton, despite Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr., Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and teammate Mikal Bridges all inking new deals, it raised plenty of eyebrows.
Still, the expectation was, with Phoenix coming off of a Finals run, that another excellent season from Ayton and a deep playoff run would secure him the max extension he believed he deserved and the Suns would keep their core from the 2021 Finals intact. Ayton completed the first part of that, putting forth regular season averages of 17.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game on strong efficiency as Phoenix locked up the West’s top seed and the NBA’s best record.
However, after getting bounced in the second round by the Mavs in rather stunning fashion, with Ayton being benched after 17 minutes of play in Game 7 during a blowout loss, the tone about Ayton’s future in the desert shifted. There are enough teams that believe in Ayton that he’s going to get a max offer sheet from someone, but no longer is it expected that the Suns will go ahead and match. In fact, per The Athletic’s John Hollinger, the expectation from those around the league is that Ayton will play somewhere else next year.
Rumors continue to intensify regarding Ayton and his relationship with the organization that drafted him. We’ll elaborate on this below, but sources tell The Athletic that it’s “more likely than not” that Ayton plays somewhere other than Phoenix next season.
This came from a Q&A about the Detroit Pistons, who Hollinger notes figure to have a good chance of landing Ayton given their cap space and how well Jerami Grant would seemingly fit in Phoenix as a strong return in a sign-and-trade, which is how most anticipate the Suns handling Ayton’s exit. There will be plenty of other teams interested in Ayton’s services, as the Hawks and Trail Blazers have each been linked to having interest in trading for the young center to pair with their star guards, and it will seemingly come down to where Ayton and the Suns can find common ground between where he’d like to play and where they can get the best value in return.
It’s a rather stunning rift that’s grown between the former top pick and the organization that took him first overall four years ago, choosing him over Doncic in part because of his ties to the state of Arizona having played his college ball in Tucson. Now it’s about how the Suns pivot in order to maintain their championship window and what teams see this as an opportunity to vault themselves into contender status by adding a young center still growing into his immense talents.