Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton is expected to generate significant interest as a restricted free agent this offseason.
However, ESPN's Brian Windhorst said on the most recent episode of The Hoop Collective podcast that he's been told Ayton is expected to stay in Phoenix.
"The executives I'm talking to do not think that Ayton necessarily is gonna leave; they think that he could still be back," Windhorst said. "I wouldn't say it's like 90 percent, but they don't think that door is closed."
Ayton and the Suns failed to come to an agreement on a rookie-scale contract extension last offseason. Phoenix will have the opportunity to match any offer that comes Ayton's way, and it's unlikely the organization would let the former No. 1 pick go without getting anything back in return for him.
The Suns finished with the best record in the NBA last season at 64-18. Ayton was a big part of the team's success, averaging 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds while shooting career-highs of 63.4 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three-point range in 58 games.
Phoenix ended its season in disappointing fashion, losing to the Dallas Mavericks in seven games in the Western Conference Semifinals. Against Dallas, Ayton averaged 15.7 points and 8.1 rebounds. He curiously played just 17 minutes and scored five points in the Suns' 33-point loss in Game 7.
When asked about Ayton's lack of playing time in the blowout, Suns head coach Monty Williams said, "It's internal," and declined to elaborate further. B/R's Jake Fischer later reported there may have been some friction between Ayton and Williams throughout the season.
"The recent Williams dynamic may simply echo consistent word—dating back to the trade deadline—from league sources with knowledge of the situation that Ayton is not particularly a favorite of Phoenix's head coach," Fishcher wrote. "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."
While Ayton has yet to reach his full potential—he's never averaged over 20 points in a season—retaining him is likely Phoenix's best course of action if it wants to replicate the success of last season.