Deandre Ayton‘s future in Phoenix is an open question after the disastrous end to the Suns‘ season Sunday night, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said plenty of teams are planning to target the young center in free agency (video link).
Ayton played just 17 minutes in the Game 7 loss to Dallas. He remained on the bench after being pulled early in the third quarter and had a heated exchange with coach Monty Williams that had to be broken up by assistant coaches. Ayton didn’t talk to the media after the game to answer questions about the incident.
According to Wojnarowski, Ayton has felt unappreciated since last offseason, when Phoenix decided against giving him a rookie-scale extension. He will be a restricted free agent this summer when the Suns extend a $16.4MM qualifying offer.
“Deandre Ayton did not feel valued by this Phoenix organization,” Wojnarowski said. “They were not able to come to an agreement on his rookie extension. He saw many of the top players in his class get extensions and he wanted a max deal, he would not move off that. So now he moves towards restricted free agency this summer where he’ll have some more options.”
The top pick in the 2018 draft, Ayton remains extremely valuable as a 23-year-old center who averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds this season while shooting a career-best 63.4% from the field. Wojnarowski doesn’t expect the Suns to let him leave with nothing in return, but suggests that they could be open to a sign-and-trade deal.
“Ultimately, Phoenix can still match an offer out there and keep him if he signs an offer sheet with another team,” Wojnarowski added. “… [He] is going to get a max contract in the marketplace, somewhere… There are a lot of teams lining up to figure out: how can we acquire him?”
The Suns already have nine players under contract for next season at a total salary of $128.3MM, which is above the projected cap of $122MM. They are less than $20MM below the projected luxury tax threshold of $149MM, so retaining Ayton and avoiding the tax would require some additional moves.
The Pistons are consider the betting favorites to land Ayton if he doesn’t return to Phoenix, tweets Rod Beard of The Detroit News, citing odds from BetOnline.ag. The online gambling site has Detroit at even odds, the Magic at 2-to-1, Spurs at 3-1, Pacers at 4-1, Trail Blazers at 6-1, Thunder at 8-1, Rockets at 10-1, and Bulls at 12-1.