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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Could ‘highly motivated’ Suns just let Ayton walk away to Detroit?

The closer we get to the NBA Draft this week, and then free agency and trade season next week, the more fire comes out of the smoke.

The Phoenix Suns are apparently ready to move on from restricted free agent Deandre Ayton as he continues to demand the maximum possible salary ($30.5 million next year; $130+ million over four years) on his next contract.

And the Detroit Pistons have suddenly cleared up almost $50 million in cap room to spend on free agents next week. They’ve been interested in Ayton for months, according to insiders, and now they’ve got the financial freedom to simply sign him outright.

Jame Edwards III wrote about the Pistons’ interest today for TheAthletic.com

This deal opens up Ay-Ton of cap space for the Pistons. (See what I did there?) Prior to the trade, Detroit entered the season with roughly $30 million in cap space at its disposal, which was among the league leaders. After the trade, the Pistons have roughly $43 million at their disposal. Per sources, Detroit is heavily expected to pursue Phoenix Suns big man and 2018 No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton in the open market. The Pistons may also look to the trade block to make use of that cap space if Ayton stays put in Phoenix or lands elsewhere.

However, the Suns won’t just let their starting center walk away for nothing. The way the Suns already spent money on other players, they are over the salary cap and approaching the luxury tax even before considering Ayton’s contract.

If they let him leave to an offer sheet, his salary slot would simply disappear.

By being over the cap, the Suns will have the exact same free agent spending limits with or without Ayton on the team. The Suns can only use the taxpayer mid-level exception (about $6 million), the bi-annual exception (about $3 million) and minimum-salary contracts (about $2 million). That’s no way to replace a starting center who made $12 million last year and is worth at or near $30 million in today’s NBA economy.

Because his salary slot would disappear, it’s not in the Suns best interest to simply let Ayton walk away to a team willing to give him the contract he wants. And because he is a restricted free agent, they don’t have to. They can match the offer sheet and keep Ayton under those contract terms. Meanwhile, Detroit’s money would be tied up in the offer sheet for the most crucial days of roster building, potentially ruining their summer spending plans.

If the Suns match an offer sheet with an intent to eventually trade him later, they cannot trade Ayton until December 15 at the earliest (two months into next season) and cannot trade him to the offering team for at least a year. Any luxury tax bill created by keeping Ayton is not calculated until the end of next season, so the Suns would have all that time to manage their books without losing Ayton for nothing.

The Suns need to find a trade partner to bring back the best possible package, whenever that happens.

I’ve already broken down, ad nauseam, the difficulties in a sign-and-trade because of the Base Year Compensation rule, but something is better than nothing if the Suns really do want to move on from the oft-cruising Ayton.

On ESPN yesterday, insider Adrian Wojnarowski said he hears the Phoenix Suns are “very motivated” to find a sign-and-trade partner for Deandre Ayton this summer.

“They do not value him on a max contract,” Woj said on the show.

The Detroit Pistons just traded veteran forward Jerami Grant to Portland for cap space that opens up nearly $50 million to spend in free agency on players to add to the Pistons young core. That’s plenty of money for Ayton.

But because the Suns can just match an offer sheet, the Pistons are unlikely to go to that route. They are better off negotiating a sign-and-trade with Phoenix, or going in another direction entirely. A trade with the Pistons would be fairly easy to pull off, as long as the Suns don’t require much in return (because the Pistons don’t have much to send back).

Since the Pistons only ‘win now’ veterans are no better than what the Suns already have, I’d guess the Suns would focus on youth.

We can assume the Suns would ask for 23-year old Saddiq Bey in any trade. The 6’7” small forward blossomed last year, averaging 16.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists for the woeful Pistons. He is not an efficient shooter (39/34/82 splits) but had 10 games in which he made 5 or more three-pointers including a crazy 10 for 14 performance on March 17 against the Magic.

The other young players on the Pistons include Marvin Bagley III, Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and whoever they take today in the NBA Draft with the 5th overall pick.

If the Suns go this route — accepting a sign-and-trade of Ayton for youth and/or picks from the lowly Pistons — then you know they really really didn’t want Ayton back and no one else was making any better offers.

Remember that whatever youth the Suns get back can be re-packaged later this summer in other trades to reshape the roster in the wake of the loss of Ayton.

Ayton did not participate in JaVale McGee’s charity softball event yesterday. Many of his teammates did, great Suns beat reporter Kellan Olson of arizonasports.com made the trek to Chase Field to get some quotes from players on the situation.

Cameron Johnson: “Obviously, that’s our guy and we love having him around but the future will play out how it plays out. I wish I had more of a say in what happens. We all wish we could just puppet master everything sometimes. We’ll see in a couple of weeks, couple days what happens.”

Chris Paul: “Control what you can control. It’s summertime. It’s a good problem to have, if it is a problem.”

Mikal Bridges refers to Ayton as his best friend, but knows it’s a business. “When we talk and hang out, it’s just about life and just chilling, geeking around. We don’t really talk about none of that’s stuff. We just kind of talk about life and have fun.”

“Obviously, I got no control,” Bridges said. “Just watch and see what happens and hoping he stays.”

Stay tuned, Suns fans.

Whatever happens with Ayton, today’s draft may end up being a part of it (in terms of a player being drafted today only to be traded to the Suns in a few weeks).

Keep an eye on whatever James Jones does today. He’s done something on every Draft day of his tenure, but this is the first one he approaches without a single pick already in his pocket.

The Suns previously traded their first round pick (Chris Paul trade) and second round pick (Torrey Craig trade).

Reportedly, they are looking to get back into the draft either through trade or purchase of pick.

“The draft is one of many channels where we can acquire talent,” Jones said to ESPN recently. “It’s the one we glorify. It’s the one that comes with the excitement. And it comes with an advantage — the ability to get productive players on low salaries, and under contractual control for multiple years. But it’s just one vehicle for acquisition. You can only devote so many resources to it, and there’s a different value proposition here.”

If Ayton leaves this summer, the Suns won’t have any players under the age of 25 on the roster unless they acquire some either through the draft or trade.

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