Reports this week have continued to suggest that the Suns and Deandre Ayton may be headed for a divorce, with a sign-and-trade agreement considered the most likely outcome. However, it remains unclear which teams will be Ayton’s top suitors in restricted free agency.
Prior to last week’s draft, the Pistons were viewed as a strong candidate to make a play for Ayton, but they landed Jalen Duren on draft night and committed to using most of their available cap room to accommodate salary dumps, reducing the likelihood that they’ll make a serious play for the former No. 1 overall pick.
In the latest episode of his Hoop Collective podcast, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said to “keep an eye on Indiana,” noting that the Pacers spoke to Phoenix about a possible Ayton deal prior to February’s trade deadline (hat tip to Timothy Rapp of Bleacher Report).
Indiana would make sense as a landing spot for Ayton if the team trades incumbent center Myles Turner. The Pacers have some cap flexibility and wouldn’t be as hamstrung by the base year compensation rule impacting Ayton as some of his other suitors might be.
As a result of the base year compensation rule, Ayton’s incoming salary from a new team’s perspective will count in full (on a maximum-salary contract, that’d be approximately $31MM), whereas from the Suns’ perspective, the outgoing salary would only be half that amount (about $15.5MM).
That will make salary-matching very challenging in some cases, but not for the Pacers, who have the cap flexibility necessary to accommodate Ayton’s new contract while sending out less than the $24-25MM+ that would be required to meet matching requirements.
Here are a few more rumors on possible landing spots for Ayton:
- The Timberwolves, who are believed to be in the market for a rim-protecting center, are “another team to watch” for Ayton, Windhorst said during the aforementioned episode of his Hoop Collective podcast. The Wolves will be over the cap and would need to make a sign-and-trade deal. It’s unclear if they have the pieces necessary for such a move.
- The Nets like Ayton, according to Chris Mannix of SI.com, who suggests Brooklyn could put together a package centered around Joe Harris. However, that would be extremely difficult, since acquiring a player via sign-and-trade would hard-cap the Nets, who project to be well over the tax. It’s hard to see how they could make such a move without moving off Kyrie Irving or Ben Simmons.
- The Raptors have been mentioned as a possible Ayton suitor, but Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link) doesn’t believe there have been any talks about Toronto acquiring the big man.
- John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter link) suggests that the looming possibility of a Rudy Gobert trade could affect Ayton’s market, since some of the teams in the market for an impact center prefer the Jazz star to Ayton.