Deandre Ayton

Suns Rumors: McConnell, Johnson, Ishbia, Ayton, Lowry

The Suns are believed to have maintained their interest in Pacers guard T.J. McConnell, Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports said in the latest episode of the No Cap Room podcast (YouTube link).

Phoenix’s interest in McConnell was reported by multiple outlets earlier in the summer, but at that time, the team had no clear path to acquiring him due to his $8.7MM cap hit. Following their trade of Deandre Ayton and Toumani Camara for four players, the Suns have more potential pathways to acquiring McConnell, with either Nassir Little ($6.25MM) or Grayson Allen ($8.93MM) as a logical salary-matching piece.

While Fischer points out that the Suns are extremely short on point guard depth, he admits he’s not sure if the team will be eager to sacrifice its wing depth by moving a player like Little or Allen. Allen, in particular, had been on Phoenix’s radar for a while, as Fischer noted on Wednesday.

Here’s more on the Suns:

  • During the same podcast, Fischer reiterated that Keon Johnson‘s days in Phoenix are likely numbered. “I don’t think they’ve officially waived Keon Johnson yet, but from my understanding, they plan to waive him,” Fischer said. The former first-round pick was sent from Portland to the Suns in Wednesday’s blockbuster deal.
  • Suns owner Mat Ishbia was “very involved” in the trade that landed Allen, Little, Johnson, and Jusuf Nurkic in Phoenix, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic. As Amick explains, the Suns view the move as one that not only adds depth but gives them players who better fit around their stars. Nurkic was a longtime target for the club, which is “thrilled” to have landed him, Amick adds.
  • While he’s not an All-Star like Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday, Ayton is the only player in Wednesday’s blockbuster who is a former No. 1 overall pick, so his departure represents the end of an era, of sorts, in Phoenix. Doug Haller of The Athletic and Gerald Bourguet of take a look back at Ayton’s tenure with the franchise and, in Bourguet’s words, the “polarizing, complicated” legacy he’ll leave behind.
  • John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 has shot down a report claiming that the Suns had interest in acquiring Kyle Lowry from the Heat as part of a three-team trade if the Trail Blazers had decided to send Lillard to Miami. There’s “absolutely no truth” to that claim, according to Gambadoro (Twitter link), who says Phoenix was “totally focused” on Nurkic and the smaller pieces they could get with him.

Details On Damian Lillard’s “Messy” Exit From Portland

Multiple reporters have cited sources who said the Trail Blazers hadn’t discussed a Damian Lillard trade with the Heat — Lillard’s preferred landing spot — since July.

According to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report, the last dialogue the two sides had was a phone call at Summer League between Blazers GM Joe Cronin and Heat GM Andy Elisburg. Miami wanted to set up an in-person meeting in Las Vegas to have further discussions, but it never transpired, per Haynes.

How this summer played out behind the scenes definitely left a sour taste in my mouth,” Lillard told Haynes. “But it doesn’t change the amazing experiences I’ve had with the Trail Blazers and this city. I’ll always cherish this place. This is my home. I’ll always live here regardless.”

The situation became acrimonious almost immediately, as the Blazers felt Lillard’s trade request had put them at a negotiating disadvantage, while Miami believed Portland was acting out of emotion instead of understanding the league is a business, Haynes writes.

Following a lengthy period of inactivity, Aaron Goodwin, Lillard’s agent, suggested that Cronin meet with Lillard in the event that the longtime star returned to the team.

As Haynes details, at the meeting on September 5, Lillard expressed his disappointment with the situation and wondered why there hadn’t been any communication between Portland and Miami. He didn’t want to be traded anywhere else and noted that he’d been willing to sacrifice for the team.

Specifically, Haynes cites sources who say the Blazers asked Lillard to sit out the final 10 games of last season to boost Portland’s lottery odds. Lillard was told a top pick would improve the front office’s chances of trading it for a win-now veteran. Lillard reluctantly agreed, with the team citing a “calf injury.” Portland ultimately kept the pick and selected Scoot Henderson No. 3 overall.

According to Haynes, Cronin told Lillard at the September 5 meeting that he planned to extract every possible asset from the Heat if he had to deal with them. Realizing that was unrealistic, Lillard responded by saying if he couldn’t land in Miami, he’d prefer to rescind his trade request and return to Portland.

Cronin told Lillard he couldn’t come back, which “shocked” the 33-year-old, sources tell Haynes. Lillard was “discouraged” that he couldn’t return to the Blazers, but he also didn’t want to be somewhere he wasn’t wanted, so he ended the meeting.

Shortly thereafter, the Blazers — who were frustrated with their offers at that point — refused to communicate with Lillard and Goodwin for almost three weeks. Portland didn’t want Goodwin meddling in trade talks, which is how the team rationalized the decision, per Haynes.

With Cronin refusing to talk, Goodwin came up with a contingency plan, letting both Milwaukee and Brooklyn know Lillard would be interested in joining those two teams. Haynes is now the third to report that information regarding the Bucks and Nets.

The NBA actually got involved on September 23 because of the contentious communication breakdown, Haynes writes. Cronin agreed to have dialogue with Goodwin at that point, and a few days later Lillard was traded to the Bucks.

Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo admitted he has mixed emotions about the trade, he told Haynes.

It’s a bittersweet day for the city of Milwaukee,” Antetkounmpo said. “You get Dame, who is a great player, but you lose a great guy. Jrue (Holiday) took us to the promised land. I’m 10 years in now. I know it’s a business. At the end of the day, Jrue will alway be be my brother for life. He’s one of the best human beings I’ve been around. But we’ve got to focus on the goal to win the championship. Dame wants this. He’s hungry to win, and he’s going to push us. I’m very happy to have him on our team.”

Haynes’ story for Bleacher Report has more details and quotes and is worth reading in full.

Here are some more notes related to the three-team blockbuster:

  • In a series of Twitter posts, Lillard sent a heartfelt thank you and goodbye to Blazers fans, teammates, coaches, employees, the media, and more. In conclusion, he wrote, “As this chapter of my life ends, I look back and realize how special it was. Even in this moment I feel sad that we never accomplished what I so badly wanted to. I don’t cry much, but I know my love for you is real because I am for sure dropping some tears right now. Rip City you know my heart and where I stand because I’ve stood there for over a decade so to have to move off my square hurts my heart. … I do believe a day will come where I put on a Blazers uniform on again, and hopefully by then I’ll be forgiven for breaking your hearts along with my own.”
  • Center Deandre Ayton, who was sent to Portland in the deal, also sent a thank you message to the Suns (via Twitter).
  • Only Lillard and Holiday will be required to report and pass physicals as part of the deal, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter links), who adds that Holiday can’t be traded until both players pass their physicals. The Blazers owe the Bulls a top-14 protected first-rounder through 2028, and if it conveys that summer, Portland’s ’28 first-round pick swap with Milwaukee will be voided, Marks reports.
  • The Blazers generated an $8.8MM traded player exception in the deal, while the Suns got a $1.1MM TPE, per Marks.
  • In another tweet, Marks notes that Holiday can’t be aggregated with other salaries for two months, though he can be traded on his own (or with one or more players if his salary isn’t aggregated with theirs).
  • While multiple reports have now said Goodwin reached out to Brooklyn, hears the Nets were never interested and only discussed Lillard with Portland one time, in July. The Nets simply didn’t believe Lillard could turn them into a contender and were wary of his age and long-term contract, per NetsDaily.
  • Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype explores what’s next following the deal, while Sam Vecenie of The Athletic evaluates the trade for the Bucks, Blazers and Suns.

Inside The Damian Lillard Trade

Damian Lillard had become more involved with the Trail Blazers over the past two weeks and was preparing to attend training camp with the team if he didn’t get the trade he requested, according to Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic.

After nearly three months of waiting, that deal came together on Wednesday, sending Lillard to the Bucks in a three-way trade that also involved the Suns. Lillard hadn’t been reconciling with Portland, the authors add, but he was working out at the team facility and interacting with coaches and teammates to show that he was willing to remain patient as the Blazers’ front office tried to find a trade.

Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, informed general manager Joe Cronin early in September that Lillard was open to participating in camp if a deal didn’t happen before then, sources tell Charania and Amick, and Lillard told team officials that he would be “fully present” for the start of the season while trade talks continued.

However, the authors’ sources say Cronin didn’t want the distraction of having Lillard on the roster when camp began and preferred to get a deal out of the way before Monday’s media day. He viewed the Lillard situation as “a cloud over the organization” and wanted the team to be able to focus on the season ahead without having to worry about Lillard’s future.

Charania and Amick provide more inside information about Wednesday’s blockbuster:

  • When Lillard made his trade request on July 1, he told team officials he only wanted to go to Miami and was expecting to be rewarded for his years of loyalty to the organization. Charania and Amick confirm the Blazers and Heat talked several times in July, but the negotiations never became “substantive,” according to the authors’ sources. Portland asked for Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo in its first call, and Miami eventually decided that Cronin wasn’t serious about working out a deal with them.
  • Sources tell Charania and Amick that in July and August, the Heat were willing to part with three first-round picks, multiple second-rounders and pick swaps, along with Nikola Jovic in a proposal that would have sent Tyler Herro to a third team. However, the Blazers weren’t interested and the relationship between Portland and Miami started to become contentious. It’s worth noting that Miami didn’t technically have three tradable first-round picks available due to an obligation to the Thunder and the Stepien rule.
  • Cronin began serious trade discussions around the league on September 18 and found interest from the Bucks, Celtics, Pelicans, Raptors, Timberwolves and Bulls. All those teams wanted to acquire Lillard, but they were concerned about Portland’s asking price and whether they would have enough talent left on their roster after a deal to compete for a title.
  • Tensions reached a point where Cronin stopped responding to Goodwin in mid-September, sources tell Charania and Amick, and Goodwin began to explore other options that might appeal to Lillard. He was willing to consider the Bucks and Nets, and Goodwin communicated his interest to both those teams. The Raptors also had serious interest, but Lillard’s reluctance to play there was an obstacle until the end, the authors note.
  • The authors’ sources say the Suns started discussing the framework of a Deandre AytonJusuf Nurkic trade in mid-July, but the Blazers wanted to make sure they could avoid the luxury tax when Lillard was eventually dealt. Phoenix would likely have been part of any deal with the Bucks, Nets or Heat, Charania and Amick add.

Bucks Acquire Damian Lillard In Three-Team Trade

9:37pm: The trade is now official, the Bucks announced in a press release.

Damian Lillard is an elite player in our league and someone we’ve long been fans of,” said general manager Jon Horst. “These opportunities are rare and hard to measure and execute. We are incredibly grateful for this opportunity for our community and team, and beyond excited to welcome Damian and his family to the Milwaukee Bucks. His character, competitiveness, talent and experience complement our group and gives us the best chance to win at the very highest level as we create new memories together.”

These are the hardest, most human moments of this business. Jrue was unmatched in his commitment to the Bucks and the Greater Milwaukee community,” Horst said of Holiday. “He’s truly a champion on and off the court, and we are all thankful for what he and his family have given to our team and city. He and his wife Lauren were steadfast in their efforts to make a positive difference in the lives of so many people. Their leadership and dedication to the community has left an indelible mark and inspired the Bucks organization for years to come.”

1:22pm: The Bucks have reached an agreement to trade for star Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard in a blockbuster three-team deal that also includes the Suns, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter links).

According to Wojnarowski, Portland will acquire guard Jrue Holiday and an unprotected 2029 first-round pick from the Bucks, along with the right to swap first-round picks with Milwaukee in 2028 and 2030. The Blazers will also get center Deandre Ayton and rookie forward Toumani Camara from the Suns in the deal.

In exchange for Ayton and Camara, Phoenix will receive center Jusuf Nurkic, forward Nassir Little, and guard Keon Johnson from Portland, as well as wing Grayson Allen from Milwaukee, per Woj.

The massive deal is the culmination of a saga that lasted nearly three months after Lillard requested a trade out of Portland in early July. The seven-time All-Star had spent his entire 11-year NBA career with the Trail Blazers but felt that the team was no longer moving toward championship contention following consecutive lottery seasons and sought a change of scenery.

Miami was Lillard’s landing spot of choice, but reports throughout the process indicated that there was little communication between the Heat and Trail Blazers. In recent days, with the Blazers believed to be working to make a deal before the start of training camp, other Eastern Conference suitors like the Raptors and Bucks were increasingly connected to the 33-year-old.

Milwaukee ultimately emerged as the surprise winner of the Lillard sweepstakes, beating a handful of conference rivals to the punch and strengthening a core that also includes two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and standout starters Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, both of whom signed new free agent contracts with the club this offseason.

While there have been questions about whether Lillard would be happy to report to any team besides the Heat, both he and Antetokounmpo have expressed a desire to play with one another in the past, as Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and Alex Kennedy of point out (all Twitter links). And the Bucks should put Lillard in a better position to win a championship than he ever had with the Blazers.

Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo may not be any more inclined to sign a long-term extension with the Bucks following the acquisition of Lillard than he was earlier in the offseason, given that he would benefit financially from waiting another year. However, in dealing for another star like Lillard, the Bucks’ front office proved it heard Giannis’ call for the organization to be as committed to contending for titles as he is.

The Blazers, who patiently scoured the market for most of the offseason in the wake of Lillard’s trade request, will come away from the deal with a pair of intriguing new players in Ayton and Holiday, though the big man is more likely to remain in Portland than the veteran guard.

According to Wojnarowski (Twitter link), the Blazers – who are focused on developing a young backcourt that features Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons, and this year’s No. 3 overall pick Scoot Henderson – remain engaged in trade talks involving Holiday and could flip him to a contender for additional assets.

Holiday, who can become a free agent next summer if he turns down his 2024/25 player option, recently spoke about his desire to sign a contract extension with the Bucks, but now appears destined for a new long-term NBA home. Holiday will become extension-eligible in February, though as Bobby Marks of ESPN notes (via Twitter), he won’t be able to sign a contract that exceeds the extend-and-trade limits (two new years, 5% raises) until six months after being dealt.

On the other hand, it sounds like Ayton will be a keeper for the Blazers, who have had interest in the former No. 1 overall pick in the past and were linked to him again within the last week. The 25-year-old had an up-and-down five-year stint in Phoenix that included some tension with former Suns coach Monty Williams, but he has averaged a double-double for five straight seasons, including 18.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in 30.4 minutes per game across 67 contests last season.

As for the Suns, they recognized that a player such as Ayton, who liked to have the ball in his hands, might not be an ideal fit alongside their new big three of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal, and turned the young center and his $32.5MM cap hit into a series of role players on smaller contracts, including another big man in Nurkic.

Acquiring Nurkic, Little, Allen, and Johnson will make the Suns deeper and will give them more flexibility in future trades, given that their nearly all of their non-stars had been on minimum-salary contracts. However, the move creates a bit of a roster crunch in Phoenix. The club will now have 15 players on guaranteed contracts, plus Jordan Goodwin and Ish Wainright on partially guaranteed or non-guaranteed deals. At least two of those 17 players will have to be traded or cut before the regular season tips off.

While the Suns will increase their roster count as a result of this trade, the Bucks and Trail Blazers are both sending out more players than they’re taking back. That’s especially notable for Milwaukee, which had been carrying 15 players on guaranteed salaries prior to agreeing to acquire Lillard. The Bucks now project to have an open spot on their 15-man regular season roster, which could be used to add a backup point guard.

From a cap perspective, the Bucks will take on the biggest long-term deal in the three-team trade — Lillard is under contract for four more seasons and will earn a projected $216MM during that time, while Holiday ($36.86MM) and Allen ($8.93MM) could both reach free agency next summer.

The Blazers will owe Ayton approximately $102MM over the next three years before he becomes eligible for free agency. Camara is under contract for four years, but it’s a minimum-salary deal and only the first season is guaranteed.

The Suns will take on Nurkic’s three-year contract worth $54.38MM and Little’s four-year contract worth $28MM in addition to Allen’s expiring deal. Johnson is owed a guaranteed $2.81MM salary in 2023/24 and has a $4.47MM team option that the Suns must pick up or decline by October 31, if he’s still on the roster at that point.

Fischer’s Latest: Payne, Bucks, Allen, Suns, Ayton

Trading Jrue Holiday and Grayson Allen in the Damian Lillard blockbuster created a roster opening for the Bucks, who still need a backup point guard. Free agent Cameron Payne is worth keeping an eye on for that spot, league sources tell Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports.

As Fischer writes, the Bucks considered several trade packages last season that would have sent Allen to the Suns when they were pursuing Jae Crowder. Milwaukee eventually landed Crowder at the February deadline without involving Allen, but he’ll end up in Phoenix as part of this deal, which shows the club’s interest in the sharpshooting guard was indeed legitimate.

The Suns added two extra players in the three-team deal, sending Deandre Ayton and Toumani Camara to Portland and receiving Allen, Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little, Keon Johnson. They now have 17 players on standard contracts, with Johnson ($2.8MM guaranteed) and Ish Wainright ($1.9MM non-guaranteed) the top early candidates to be waived ahead of the 2023/24 season, sources tell Fischer.

Jordan Goodwin‘s deal for ’23/24 is only partially guaranteed, but Fischer hears Phoenix decided to move Camara instead because Goodwin is friends with Bradley Beal and is the only point guard on the roster.

As for Ayton, Suns players and front office members alike were “eager for a change of direction,” according to Fischer, which is why the club decided to trade the former No. 1 overall pick. For his part, Ayton is glad to have a “fresh start” in Portland, sources tell Fischer.

More Notes On Bucks’ Trade For Damian Lillard

The Damian Lillard news that we’ve been waiting for all offseason finally broke on Wednesday afternoon, as the Bucks reached an agreement to acquire the star guard from Portland in a three-team deal that will send former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton to the Trail Blazers.

Lillard and agent Aaron Goodwin made it clear shortly after Dame asked to be traded that the 33-year-old only wanted to be dealt to Miami. Instead, he’ll end up in Milwaukee, joining one of the Heat’s biggest Eastern Conference rivals. In his first public statement since news of the deal broke, Lillard said goodbye to Portland and seemingly put to rest any speculation that he would decline to report to his new team.

“The casuals won’t be addressed but the Trail Blazers fans and city of Portland that I love truly will be … and they will be addressed truthfully. Stay tuned,” Lillard wrote on Twitter. “Excited for my next chapter! @Bucks.”

Here’s more on the Lillard trade:

  • The Trail Blazers didn’t re-engage with the Heat prior to accepting the Bucks’ offer on Wednesday, a league source tells Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald (Twitter link). According to Chiang, the communication between Miami and Portland this offseason was pretty limited, and the Heat only learned about the trade when Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news.
  • According to Chiang (Twitter link), Goodwin put out a statement today on the Heat‘s pursuit of his client: They did everything they could to acquire Dame. It takes two to get a deal done. I appreciate all that Pat (Riley), Andy (Elisburg) and Micky (Arison) did to try and make this happen.”
  • With Jrue Holiday expected to remain very available for trade after being sent to Portland, the Sixers will be among the teams with interest in acquiring him, reports Kyle Neubeck of PHLY Sports (Twitter link). If the 76ers were to land Holiday, I imagine it would be in a multi-team deal involving James Harden, though that’s just my speculation.
  • Holiday also seems to fit the mold of the type of player the Heat would covet, Chiang notes (via Twitter), though he acknowledges that the veteran guard’s market could be “robust.”
  • No longer having Deandre Ayton‘s long-term, maximum-salary contract on their books is considered a positive for the Suns, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic (Twitter link). Rankin adds that new Phoenix center Jusuf Nurkic is viewed as a good team player who buys into his role, is loved by teammates, and can help the Suns with his passing.
  • Shortly after the news of Lillard’s trade to Milwaukee broke, Heat star Jimmy Butler took to Instagram to send a message to the league, as ClutchPoints relays (Twitter video link). “Yo NBA, man, y’all need to look into the Bucks for tampering,” Butler said. “Y’all do. I’m just going to put that out there. Y’all didn’t hear it from me, but I heard it through somebody, y’all look at them for tampering.”
  • The Bucks‘ and Suns‘ championship betting odds both increased as a result of today’s trade news, per Alex Kennedy of (Twitter link). Kennedy says that one sportsbook has moved Milwaukee from +700 to +370 and Phoenix from +800 to +600.
  • As Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report observes (via Twitter), Lillard’s move to Milwaukee will reunite him with his former coach. The Bucks hired Terry Stotts this offseason as Adrian Griffin‘s lead assistant. Stotts was Portland’s head coach from 2012-21.

Western Notes: Westbrook, Ryan, Pelicans, Ayton, Mavs

Russell Westbrook fit in even better than expected down the stretch with the Clippers last season, according to Law Murray of The Athletic, who notes that the veteran point guard was an effective change-of-pace option for a slow team and showed a willingness to work off the ball more than he has in the past.

With Westbrook returning to the Clippers after re-signing as a free agent, Murray explores whether the former MVP can have the same sort of impact in 2023/24 and what the team’s contingency options look like if Westbrook isn’t as effective or gets injured.

Terance Mann and Bones Hyland look like the best in-house alternatives at the point if the Clippers are unable to trade for James Harden or another veteran. However, the team still wants to see more aggression out of Mann as a play-maker and creator, while Hyland is an undersized defender, Murray writes.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • Although Matt Ryan is signing a new two-way contract with the Timberwolves, he’s not necessarily guaranteed to keep that roster spot into the regular season, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, who reports (via Twitter) that Ryan will compete for a two-way spot with Minnesota’s other camp invitees. Krawczynski adds (via Twitter) that the sharpshooter worked out for the Pelicans last week before agreeing to re-sign with the Wolves.
  • Following up on the recent Deandre Ayton trade rumors, Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports puts together 10 hypothetical multi-team deals that send Ayton to the Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard to a third team, and other assets to the Suns.
  • Mavericks director of player health and performance Casey Smith, who has been on the team’s bench for the last two decades, will have his role adjusted this season, according to Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter link). Smith won’t travel with the Mavs on a regular basis or be on their bench, MacMahon says.

Raptors Considered Legitimate Suitor For Damian Lillard

The Heat have long been viewed as the frontrunner to land Damian Lillard, in large part because Miami is his preferred destination.

However, outside of the Heat, the Raptors are one of the top contenders – “if not the most viable threat” – to trade for the Trail Blazers star, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. Fischer draws a comparison to the Donovan Mitchell deal last year, when the Knicks were long viewed as the favorite to land the All-NBA guard but the Cavaliers surprisingly traded for him instead.

A couple different reporters have cited the Raptors as a possible Lillard suitor, and Fischer suggests their interest is more than just cursory. Still, despite being involved in plenty of rumors over the past year, Toronto’s lack of actual moves has created skepticism around the league that the team will actually acquire Lillard, Fischer writes.

As for what Toronto would give up, OG Anunoby is a name worth watching, according to Fischer, but it’s unclear where the defensive stalwart would eventually land in a potential deal. Sources tell Fischer that Scottie Barnes is off limits and Pascal Siakam is unlikely to be involved, but first-rounder Gradey Dick could be included.

The Trail Blazers are focused on finding the “greatest possible return” for Lillard, sources tell Fischer, and have “strongly considered” the possibility of acquiring Suns center Deandre Ayton as part of a multi-team framework. Ayton’s potential involvement was first reported by John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 on Thursday night.

The Bulls are also interested in Lillard, Fischer confirms, but teams around the league — including Portland — aren’t excited about acquiring Zach LaVine, who has been available for a few months now, as Fischer has reported multiple times.

Trade Rumors: Future Trade Candidates, Hield, Ayton, Brogdon

As teams besides the Heat consider how aggressively to pursue Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, one factor they’re weighing is whether it makes more sense to preserve their assets in the hopes of landing an even more valuable star in the near future, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said this week during an appearance on NBA Today (YouTube link).

“There could be some massive talents available for trades next season. Maybe at the trade deadline, maybe next year,” Wojnarowski said. “So you have teams weighing the assets they might use to trade for Damian Lillard vs. who could be available to them that they don’t want to be out of the game for. Some younger, first team All-NBA type players who may be in that marketplace.”

While Wojnarowski didn’t name any specific players, his ESPN colleague Zach Lowe followed up on Woj’s point by directly mentioning Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and obliquely referencing Sixers center Joel Embiid as well.

“Look, not to put it too baldly, but Giannis’ recent comments have changed the landscape of the league, at least a little bit, and have had teams at least have the meeting of, ‘Wait a second, do we need to keep our powder dry if we think we have a one percent, two percent, five percent (chance to acquire him)?'” Lowe said.

“And by the way, the Bucks may not have to trade Giannis at all. They may win the title this year, everything’s fine, he signs an extension. But those comments, along with everything going on in Philly, have at least forced you to have the meeting of, ‘Do we need to keep our powder dry?'”

Here are a few more trade-related notes and rumors:

  • The Mavericks, Sixers, Bucks are among the teams to watch as the Pacers seek a trade partner for sharpshooter Buddy Hield, Shams Charania of The Athletic said in an appearance on The Rally (Twitter video link). “Those are the types of teams that could definitely use a shooter like Buddy Hield,” Charania said. “And I think they’ve had a level of interest in him over the last several months.”
  • With Deandre Ayton‘s name once again popping up in trade rumors, Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports cites a source who says the Mavericks made an “underwhelming” offer for the Suns center over the summer. Bourguet adds that Phoenix fielded inquiries on Ayton on draft night in June, but the offers at that time weren’t compelling, with one source even describing them as “trash.”
  • While Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe acknowledges that the Malcolm Brogdon situation in Boston “feels slightly off,” he hasn’t gotten any recent indications that the Celtics are considering trading Brogdon any more than they’re considering moving any other player.

Suns To Explore Deandre Ayton, Jusuf Nurkic Swap?

Deandre Ayton‘s name hasn’t come up in rumored trade discussions nearly as much this summer as it did a year ago. In June, John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM reported that Ayton was “very unlikely” to be traded.

However, in a Twitter thread posted on Thursday (Twitter link), Gambadoro writes that while Phoenix hasn’t been actively seeking trades for Ayton, if Jusuf Nurkic were to be on the table as an available trade option, he’d be surprised if the Suns didn’t look into making such a swap.

Gambadoro goes on to tweet that such a move would be contingent on Damian Lillard being traded out of Portland, which Gambadoro expects will happen “very soon.” The Trail Blazers have shown no interest in trading for Ayton, Gambadoro writes, but that could change if or when Lillard is on the move.

On paper, such a trade would be surprising. While Ayton’s youth and upside could be appealing to the Trail Blazers, which Gambadoro notes, Nurkic is arguably a downgrade from Ayton. It would be peculiar for Phoenix, who is looking to contend in 2023/24, to soften its rotation, especially so close to the start of the season.

It’s also unclear how such a move would take place. A straight one-for-one deal for the two players is impossible, considering Ayton’s $32.5MM salary in ’23/24 and Nurkic’s $16.9MM salary. Because Portland is currently below the luxury tax but above the cap, they could not take in Ayton’s salary as is. The Suns and the Trail Blazers would need to salary match in a hypothetical trade. While a framework involving Nurkic, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson, for example, works, it would push the Blazers over the luxury tax, complicating matters.

It’s also important to note that the Suns and Trail Blazers cannot trade any of the free agents they signed this offseason until at least three months after they signed or December 15, whichever is later. Players like Keita Bates-Diop and Eric Gordon, for instance, are not eligible to be traded until December 15. Another list of players, such as Matisse Thybulle and Jerami Grant, are ineligible to be traded until January 15.

In a separate piece, Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports wrote that the Suns are a “dark horse team” to help facilitate a potential Lillard trade. According to Bourguet, talks around the league for Lillard are heating up, which matches Gambadoro’s reporting, with teams like Miami, Philadelphia, Chicago and Toronto among the most active potential suitors.

Bourguet also addresses the difficulty in matching salaries between the two teams, but perhaps a multi-team trade involving Lillard is how Nurkic ends up in Phoenix and Ayton ends up in Portland.

For what it’s worth, Rose Garden Report’s Sean Highkin tweets that while he can’t speak to whether any deal is imminent, Portland has wanted to upgrade the center spot and had interest in Ayton in the past.

Ayton holds career averages of 16.7 points and 10.4 rebounds, though his play in the postseason this year fell short of that mark, as he averaged 13.4 PPG and 9.7 RPG. Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, is still just 25 years old.

Nurkic, on the other hand, is 29 and averaged 13.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game last season. While their production isn’t necessarily far apart, Nurkic’s leg injury in 2019 seems to still be affecting his athleticism. Gambadoro reasons that even after the injury, Nurkic is a better defender than Ayton and could make more sense in head coach Frank Vogel‘s system.

Regardless of whether Nurkic winds up being moved for Ayton, his situation in Portland is certainly one to monitor. It’s possible Nurkic is included in a potential Lillard package, but if he’s not, it would be surprising if the Trail Blazers kept him around much longer than this season given their apparent commitment to a youth movement.