Suns to Mull Deandre Ayton Trade With Bulls & Mavs Among Possible Suitors: Execs

Deandre Ayton (left) of the Suns and DeMar DeRozan of the Bulls. A trade involving the two is possible, execs say.

Getty Deandre Ayton (left) of the Suns and DeMar DeRozan of the Bulls. A trade involving the two is possible, execs say.

The Suns went out meekly to the Nuggets in the NBA conference semifinals on Thursday, falling behind by 30 points at halftime of a Game 6 marred by injury and an air of inevitable defeat.

One guy who did not play: center Deandre Ayton, the 24-year-old former No. 1 pick whose tenure with the team long has been on shaky ground. Ayton had bruised ribs that kept him out of the finale of a series that encapsulates his Suns career, which has been marked by fits and starts.

After a solid showing in the postseason’s opening round against the Clippers (16.8 points and 11.2 rebounds), Ayton was massively outclassed by Denver’s Nikola Jokic, averaging just 10.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in 29.6 minutes. Moreover, the series loss to the Nuggets exposed how thin the Suns are in their overall rotation, and how badly the team needs depth to support Kevin Durant, acquired from Brooklyn in a February trade, and star guard Devin Booker.

“It’s almost certain they will look into trading him. I think they feel like they can do all right with a mishmash of decent centers and changing their focus on getting better talent around those two star guys,” one NBA GM told Heavy Sports. “That’s been true for the past couple of years, really. Deandre has butted heads with Monty (Williams). But he can be a great player, still, it just needs to be somewhere else.

“It is a tough market for trading centers, though. They are about to find that out. The team that might be the most interesting getting into that mix is Chicago, and I’ve heard he’s on the list, at least. Lot still depends on the (draft) lottery.”

Bulls Could Shop DeMar DeRozan

The Bulls, of course, do have a center in place—Nikola Vucevic, who is a free agent this summer and coming off a season in which he averaged 17.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 52.4% shooting and 3.2 assists. The easy step would be to re-sign him, and considering the haul the Bulls gave Orlando to get Vucevic in 2021 (Wendell Carter Jr., a first-rounder that the Magic used on Franz Wagner and, most likely, a first-rounder this year), Chicago is reluctant to just let him walk.

But Vucevic is 32 and the Bulls do not want to make a long-term commitment. That’s easier to do with a player Ayton’s age. Chicago and Phoenix potentially could do a sign-and-trade for Vucevic, but the Suns are not prioritizing a big expenditure on a center if they move Ayton, sources told Heavy Sports.

“They need players, they need versatile guys who can do a bunch of things—more ballhandlers, more shooters, more 3-and-D guys,” one Eastern Conference executive told Heavy Sports. “They traded their young depth (Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges) to get Durant and so you got guys playing big roles there who shouldn’t be.

“So they need to shake up that roster, and that is going to mean seeing what is out there for (Ayton).”

A more likely swap for the Suns and Bulls would center on sending out Ayton for DeMar DeRozan. The Bulls have not shopped their star wing but that could be coming, considering he is 33 and heading into the final year of his contract. Chicago, according to league sources, is open to reshaping its roster with guard Zach LaVine as the clear No. 1 go-to option.

Mavericks, Blazers, Hornets Also Potential Ayton Suitors

But, as the GM said, the Suns would have problems dealing Ayton, should they take that path. For one thing, they’ll be selling low. The Williams-Ayton issues are well known, and his struggles against Denver did not help Ayton’s trade value.

For another thing, rebuilding teams that might potentially pursue a young player like Ayton (Oklahoma City, Orlando, Houston, Detroit) are mostly flush with investments they’ve made in young centers.

The Mavericks, desperate to add to a thin group around Luka Doncic, have been mentioned as a potential Ayton suitor. But sources told Heavy Sports there is not much of a match there.

“I saw a sign-and-trade with Kyrie was talked about,” the executive said. “Can you imagine going to Kevin Durant and saying, ‘Hey, we got you out of Brooklyn but we’re bringing in Kyrie!’  I think you can say KD is not crazy about the idea of Kyrie on his team again. I can’t see that at all.

“They could get something done with the Mavs, but they’d be looking at role players, like Josh Green and Tim Hardaway, maybe Reggie Bullock, too. Is that enough for Ayton, though? The guy was the No. 1 pick. But you can fill two or three roster holes, sign a big man, and give yourself a better group as a whole.”

Another possibility mentioned prominently: Portland, depending on what the Blazers wind up doing with Jusuf Nurkic, including perhaps putting him in a deal for Ayton. The Suns lack the young assets and draft picks (zero first-rounders available) to earnestly talk trade for Blazers star Damian Lillard, but they could be part of a wider deal that includes Ayton if a Lillard trade becomes a mega-swap.

“Portland is hunting for young talent, period,” one executive said.

The Hornets also garnered a mention, as the Suns have had interest in point guard Terry Rozier as a potential Paul successor. The Suns were rumored to have interest in guard Fred VanVleet, but that would require an Ayton trade and the Raptors seem to have settled on Jakob Poeltl as their center going forward.

To be sure, the Suns’ flop against the Nuggets was not all about Ayton. No one has been able to contain Jokic this season, plus the Suns had many other issues—the injury to Chris Paul, the inability to find a quality starting wing to go with Booker, and a lack of shooting and ballhandling—that limited them.

But around the league, the expectation is that the Suns will hope to address as many of those issues as they can. An Ayton trade is their primary tool to do so.

Read More