Suns Send Deandre Ayton to Blazers in Blockbuster Damian Lillard Deal

Deandre Ayton defends Damian Lillard.

Getty Deandre Ayton defends Damian Lillard.

One question surrounding the Phoenix Suns heading into the 2024 season was the future of their starting center, Deandre Ayton. After a tumultuous last two seasons in Phoenix and the recent additions of Bradley Beal and Kevin Durant, some began questioning his fit on their roster.

On September 27, the Suns offloaded their former top pick in a three-team deal that also sent All-Star guard Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks.

“The Portland Trail Blazers are trading guard Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks as part of a three-team deal that also includes the Phoenix Suns, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Wednesday,” ESPN reported.

“Portland will receive Jrue Holiday, Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, Milwaukee’s 2029 unprotected first-round draft pick, and unprotected Milwaukee swap rights in 2028 and 2030, sources told Wojnarowski. The Suns will receive Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Nassir Little, and Keon Johnson, sources told Wojnarowski.”

Deandre Ayton Had Sour Exit From Phoenix

Ayton’s tenure in Phoenix began unraveling when a rift grew between him and former head coach Monty Williams. Things came to a head during Game 7 of the 2022 Western Conference semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks. Ayton and Williams got into a high-profile altercation on the Suns’ bench, and he eventually was benched for the majority of a win-or-go-home game that ended in a blowout.

Ayton’s spat with Williams and the Suns came at a less-than-ideal time. Heading into the 2022 offseason, he was scheduled to be a restricted free agent, meaning he would be allowed to seek offers, but the Suns would have an opportunity to match it. Despite the public spat and embarrassing blowout in the 2022 playoffs, the Suns did match a four-year, $133 million offer Ayton received from the Indiana Pacers.

The tension between Ayton and Williams never cooled. After acquiring Durant in February, his number of touches decreased, and he was noticeably dejected about it, at times seeming disengaged completely. That carried over into the postseason, and as a result, Williams would often bench Ayton for undrafted center Jock Landale.

When Suns new head coach Frank Vogel got hired this offseason, he spoke glowingly of Ayton’s potential, and some thought this season could be a career rebirth for the starting center. But after just four seasons, the Ayton era is over in Phoenix.

Giannis Questioned Bucks’ Future Before Lillard Deal

Per Tania Ganguli of the New York Times, ahead of the 2023-24 season, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible to sign an extension of close to $173 million. But in August, the Bucks star told the Times reporter that remaining in Milwaukee is not a sure thing for him.

“The real question’s not going to be this year — numbers-wise, it doesn’t make sense,” Antetokounmpo said of the potential extension. “But next year, next summer, it would make more sense for both parties. Even then, I don’t know.”

The Bucks star also added that all parties would need to be on one accord for him to agree. Or he could elect to test free agency in 2026.

“I would not be the best version of myself if I didn’t know that everybody’s on the same page,” he added.

“Everybody’s going for a championship, everybody’s going to sacrifice time away from their family like I do. And if I don’t feel that, I’m not signing.”

With the addition of another star in Lillard, it’s possible Giannis could have a change of heart.

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