What would it even take?
Most of the discourse surrounding the Bulls’ offseason has involved Zach LaVine, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. There has also been some discussion of prospects with the NBA Draft Combine starting on May 16.
But the majority of suggestions have come in the form of trade suggestions, again, often involving LaVine.
This puts Ayton, a restricted free agent this summer, in a uniquely complicated situation.
Proposal and Warning
Ayton’s restricted status, in addition to the Bulls’ financial situation, means the only way Chicago could land him would be through a sign-and-trade. That has been a common theme among the proposals for them this offseason.
Most scenarios have involved LaVine with the Bulls taking back a package to soften the blow of losing their two-time All-Star.
Will DeWitt of the “CHGO Bulls” podcast proposed another route suggesting Nikola Vucevic, Coby White, plus picks while adding that base-year compensation complicates the deal. Still, that is a package that would entice him.
But there was also a consensus among the panel that Ayton was a talented player that could do more with his defense being a point of contention for host Dave Watson.
“Ayton’s amazing. He’s got a touch around the basket I honestly haven’t seen from a center in years…the issue with me here is he doesn’t have a real high motor…They say Vooch can’t play defense. Well, Ayton’s not a defensive stalwart either.”
Matt Peck took it a step further.
“It’s always been a, ‘meh’, with Deandre Ayton. And he hasn’t really done anything to change that, in my opinion, with the eye test since he’s come into the NBA…I don’t know why Bulls fans are freaking out about Ayton leaving Phoenix and if we can be the team to get him.”
Ayton vs. Vooch
17.2 points on a career-high 65.6% true shooting with 10.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists for the Suns in the regular season. He added a career-high 4.3 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass.
His defense was still a negative, as noted by the CHGO hosts. But he also posted a career-high 108.1 defensive rating.
The Western Conference Semifinals saw Ayton close out the series with a 5-point, four rebound performance in 17 minutes in Game 7. He only failed to score double-digits in one other game this postseason, a nine-point outing in Game 2 of this same series.
Phoenix won that game, though, despite Ayton seeing just 18 minutes in the contest.
He averaged 19.9 points on 67.4% true shooting with 9.9 rebounds in the Suns’ other 11 playoff games. His 0.0 net rating was seventh on the Suns in the postseason, per NBA.com.
Compare that to Vucevic’s 19.4 points on 52% true shooting with 12.4 boards in five playoff games while his minus-10.5 net rating was the fifth-best on the team this postseason.
After being eliminated, Suns head coach Monty Williams would only say “it’s internal” when asked about his young center and the two have not spoken since, per Arizona Central’s Duane Rankin. But Fox Sports 1’s Skip Bayless reported on “Undisputed” that he received a text from rapper Lil Wayne saying Williams accused Ayton of “quitting” on the team during Game 7.
Falling Out in PHX
Ayton’s contract and role have been a source of frustration for him. Ownership has been reluctant to commit to him long-term despite his draft classmates inking new deals as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski updated on May 16.
NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson wrote in March that Ayton would be on the Bulls’ list of targets should his restricted free agency get messy.
There is still over a month until the legal tampering can begin. And the Suns could take DeWitt’s line of thinking that one game should not sink four years of growth over one game. As Wojnarowski pointed out, Ayton’s relationship with Williams was a point of strength.
This would not be along the lines of continuity that Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas wants.
But there are worse risks to take than Ayton who will turn just 24 years old on July 23 if the two teams could figure a way to make the financials work.