Reports this week continued to suggest that the suns and Deandre Ayton may be headed for divorce, with a sign-and-swap agreement seen as the most likely outcome. However, it’s still unclear which teams will be Ayton’s top contenders in restricted free agency.
Prior to last week’s draft, the Pistons were seen as a strong candidate to make a play for Ayton, but they landed Jalen Duren on draft night and pledged to use most of their available cap to account for salary dumps, reducing the likelihood of them making serious play for the former No. 1 overall pick.
In the latest episode of his Hoop Collective podcast, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said to “keep an eye on Indiana,” noting that the Pacers talked to Phoenix about a possible deal with Ayton before the February deadline (hats off to Bleacher Report’s Timothy Rapp).
Indiana would make sense as a landing spot for Ayton if the team traded the starting center Myles Turner. The Pacers have some cap flexibility and wouldn’t be as crippled by the base-year pay rule affecting Ayton as some of his other suitors might be.
Because of the base year pay rule, Ayton’s incoming salary from a new team perspective will count in full (on a max salary contract, that would be around $31 million), so that from the Suns’ perspective, the outgoing salary would only be half that amount (about $15.5 million).
This will make salary matching very difficult in some cases, but not for the Pacers, who have the cap flexibility to accommodate Ayton’s new contract while sending less than the $24-25m+ who would be needed to meet matching requirements.
Here are some additional rumors about possible landing spots for Ayton:
- The timber wolves, who are reportedly looking for a rim protection center, are “another team to watch” for Ayton, Windhorst said during the aforementioned episode of his Hoop Collective podcast. Wolves will be past the cap and will need to complete a sign-and-trade deal. It is unknown if they have the necessary parts for such a move.
- The Nets like Ayton, according to SI.com’s Chris Mannix, who suggests Brooklyn could put together a package centered on Joe Harris. However, that would be extremely difficult, as acquiring a player via sign-and-trade would cap the Nets, who plan to significantly exceed the tax. It’s hard to see how they could make such a gesture without walking away Kyrie Irving Where Ben Simmons.
- The raptors were mentioned as a possible suitor for Ayton, but Sportsnet.ca’s Michael Grange (Twitter link) doesn’t believe there was any talk of Toronto acquiring the big man.
- John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 (Twitter link) suggests that the impending possibility of a Rudy Gobert trade could affect Ayton’s market, since some of the teams in the market for an impact center prefer the Jazz star in Ayton.