The Phoenix Suns are "increasingly expected to engage in serious sign-and-trade talks" regarding star center Deandre Ayton, according to NBA insider Marc Stein.
Stein listed the San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, Portland Trail Blazers, Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks as possible candidates to land Ayton. He added more teams could enter the mix if Phoenix signals it's ready to move on from the 2018 No. 1 overall pick.
Especially in retrospect, it was telling when the Suns didn't table a max offer to Ayton when he became extension-eligible last summer. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported last October that Suns ownership didn't feel Ayton was on the same level as others from the 2018 draft class who received max contracts.
Still, fences could've been mended if Ayton had a big year and reinforced his value to Phoenix on the court.
Not only did that not happen, but the fallout from the team's conference semifinals exit may have removed any chance of the 6'11" big man sticking around. The situation is not entirely dissimilar to how Ben Simmons' relationship with the Philadelphia 76ers deteriorated following the 2021 playoffs.
Suns head coach Monty Williams played Ayton for just over 17 minutes in Phoenix's season-ending defeat to the Dallas Mavericks, and his comments after the series did little to lower the temperature.
Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer provided more context when he reported in May that Williams "has purportedly griped about Ayton's waning focus, which some people contacted by B/R said has often been reflected by the ebbs of his playing time."
Wojnarowski reported May 16 that Ayton "is gonna get a max contract in the marketplace somewhere," so he might wind up a winner despite how everything has unfolded.
Because Ayton is only eligible for restricted free agency, the Suns maintain some leverage when it comes to a sign-and-trade. Maybe they can flip him for a proven veteran such as Detroit Pistons forward Jerami Grant.
This certainly isn't how Phoenix will have expected things to shake out four years after making Ayton the top pick in the draft, but the franchise can still make the most out of a difficult predicament.