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Trail Blazers May Become Suitors for Free Agent Deandre Ayton

Adrian Wojnarowski mentions Portland among other teams with means to acquire the Phoenix center.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton may not return to the Phoenix Suns next season, according to a report and analysis from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Appearing on ESPN’s NBA Today show, Wojnarowski reminded viewers that Ayton “did not feel valued” in Phoenix at the start of the season. He also speculated that Ayton would receive a maximum-level offer from other NBA teams, which the Suns may not be interested in matching.

The 6’11 center averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds in 29.5 minutes per game for the Suns this season, appearing in 58 games during the regular season. He shot 63.4% from the field and 36.8% from the three-point arc, though the latter stat was earned on limited attempts. His shooting and scoring numbers stayed even through 13 games in the 2022 NBA Playoffs, though his rebounds ebbed slightly to 8.9 per game. Phoenix lost in seven games to the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of their playoffs stand.

Having just completed his fourth year with the Suns, Ayton will become a restricted free agent this July. The Suns will have the right to match any offer he receives from a rival franchise.

Here is the transcript of Wojnarowski’s comments:

Going into the season, Deandre Ayton did not feel valued by this Phoenix organization. They were not able to come to an agreement on his rookie extension. He saw all the other players in his class, or many of the top players, get extensions. He wanted a max deal. He would not move off that. So now he moves towards restricted free agency this summer, where now he’ll have some more options. But ultimately, Phoenix can still match an offer out there and keep him if he signs an offer sheet with another team...

You’re going to look at the teams with cap space. A team like, for example, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Portland. Teams who could create enough cap space to go out and sign him. But also the discussions of a sign-and-trade, meaning teams who maybe don’t have the cap space. And if Phoenix decides they want to get assets back for Deandre Ayton—they don’t want to match an offer sheet and either decide to pay him that max or allow him to just leave for nothing, which I think is what they won’t do—there will be a lot of conversations around the league. Deandre Ayton is going to get a max contract in the marketplace somewhere. Phoenix really has to look at the allocation financially, of how they want to distribute salaries, money. That’s what this is.

The relationship with Monty Williams had been one of the real benefits. I think their ability to work together and build a relationship, it’ll be interesting to see how the season ending impacts this. But it’s going to be one of THE stories of this offseason, because Deandre Ayton, there are a lot of teams lining up to figure out, “How can we acquire him?”

Wojnarowski mentioned the Trail Blazers as a team with potential to clear cap space to make an offer to Ayton. They will not have room available at the start of free agency. In order to generate enough clearance to make Ayton a maximum offer, projected at a $30.5 million starting salary, the Blazers would need to renounce rights to their incumbent free agents and/or rid themselves of non-guaranteed contracts. The names involved include Jusuf Nurkic, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Joe Ingles, and Eric Bledsoe.

Alternately, the Blazers could explore sign-and-trade possibilities, retaining their own players, then moving assets to Phoenix after the Suns re-sign Ayton.

Jeremy Brener asked readers if they would be interested in Ayton in a well-timed post earlier today.