There’s a chance that Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals might be the last time Deandre Ayton suits up for the Phoenix Suns.
Ayton’s contract expires at season’s end and he enters restricted free agency this offseason.
As a former No. 1 pick, Ayton has been steady as one of the best young big men in the league that is teetering on that line of whether he should be a max player or not.
And in Ayton’s final opportunity to prove his worth to the organization that drafted him, he didn’t leave the best impression. He notched only five points in 17 minutes of a 123-90 blowout loss at home. That’s not the kind of production you want to see from a guy who wants a maximum deal.
The Suns have bigger priorities than Ayton down the line. Devin Booker enters unrestricted free agency in two years, and the team just signed Mikal Bridges to a pricy deal last offseason.
To add onto the list, Phoenix and Ayton negotiated a contract extension last offseason but fell short of reaching a deal. Ayton desired a max contract, but the Suns weren’t willing to shell out all that money despite being two wins away from the championship. Now after taking a few steps back this season, the chances of the Suns giving Ayton a max are less likely.
But there are plenty of teams who could use someone like Ayton to elevate them from their current position. One of those teams is the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Blazers could have an opening at center this offseason with Jusuf Nurkic approaching unrestricted free agency. While there’s interest in having Nurkic return, Ayton is an upgrade and could work extremely well in the pick-and-roll with Damian Lillard, much like the success Ayton’s had in Phoenix with Chris Paul.
Adding Ayton, a player who’s proven to help teams win at the biggest stage, is exactly the kind of move the Blazers need to make in order to retool. And offering Ayton enough money for the Suns to not match is a move worth considering.
While it might shake up the current configuration of the team, Ayton is a player not quite considered to be a star yet, but could blossom into that with the right situation.
There’s risk with giving someone a boatload of money despite not making any All-Star appearances and being so young. But that’s also the reward if he’s developed properly.
There’s likely a dozen or so teams that fit with signing Ayton, so the Blazers will have to be aggressive in their pursuit.