The NBA offseason has begun in earnest, with the contours for the first of what is expected to be a handful of blockbuster trades going down on Sunday: Bradley Beal is packing up from Washington and heading to Phoenix in a deal that brings a surprisingly scant return to the Wizards (Chris Paul, who will be bought out, as well as Landry Shamet and second-round picks).
While the Suns have amassed serious star power, with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker now teamed with Beal in a trio capable of averaging more than 75 points per game on their own, the question that lingers around the team is an obvious one: What now?
The Suns have those three stars under contract, and will pay them a combined $130 million next year, $152 million in 2024-25, and $162 million in 2025-26. Cameron Payne is under a partial guarantee for next season, but figures to be back.
Other than those four, the Suns have one contract on hand: The one belonging to Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 pick in 2018 who still has three years and $102 million on his deal. While trade interest in Ayton around the league has been tepid, sources say that is mostly because he is not yet among other teams’ top priorities, a situation that is expected to change after the NBA draft and perhaps after the first wave of free agency.
“There are teams that will come calling for him,” one NBA GM said. “The Suns know that. He is on the backburner but they’re ready to move him as soon as the right thing comes along. And at this point, if they can get a couple of really solid role players, that will be the right thing for them. That might not happen until we get into Summer League, though.”
Suns Need to Land Role Players With Ayton Trade
Given the limitations of the NBA’s collective-bargaining agreement, the Suns will have scant opportunities to add quality role players to their core. That’s where trading Ayton has now become a necessity, one that could bring the Suns a measure of salary relief as well as a more varied roster.
The Bulls and Mavericks have both been included as potential destinations for Ayton, though each of those teams has other priorities. The same can be said for the Hornets, who were tabbed as a darkhorse by league execs in the chase for Ayton. The Hornets’ most pressing issue is perhaps trading away the No. 2 pick in the draft, which could net a star caliber wing (Brandon Ingram of the Pelicans has been mentioned).
It would not be until after the situation with the second pick is cleared up that Charlotte will move forward with a decision on Ayton or any other big man. The Hornets have a number of trade chips, including the expiring contract of Gordon Hayward, and perhaps one of their two promising young big men, Nick Richards or Mark Williams. Guard Terry Rozier could be available, too.
The Pacers and Trail Blazers have also had interest in Ayton, but again, he is not the priority for either team.
Indiana could be the most amenable to making a trade for Ayton quickly, with veteran center Myles Turner the chief return piece (along with some combination of shooter Buddy Hield, big man Daniel Theis or point guard T.J. McConnell).
When Ayton was a restricted free agent last summer, it was the Pacers who finally gave him a four-year, $132 million contract that the Suns matched.
Patience May Be Required on an Ayton Trade
If the Suns can’t find the right package for Ayton in the next few days, the team remains confident it will find a new home for him, and that the roster will feature at least two role players added in an Ayton deal. Ayton, remember, is only 24, and turns 25 next month.
The Phoenix trade for Beal all but guaranteed Ayton’s exit.
“They need some guys who can do things besides score, and let’s face it, Ayton does a few things pretty well but scoring is the top thing,” one Western Conference executive said. “So if Phoenix brought him back, he is the No. 4 option, he is getting maybe 10, 11 shots a game. That’s not happening. There is a good chance you will see Indiana circle back and see if they can get him now, and not give up too much to make it happen. Ayton and (Tyrese) Halliburton? That would be a really nice combo.”
But even if that doesn’t shake out, something will.
“They (the Suns) are confident they can get something done,” the exec said. “Not everybody is going to get just what they want in the next two weeks in the draft and trades and free agency, and if Deandre is not already gone, he is going to look very good to a team like Portland or Charlotte or Dallas.”