While Deandre Ayton has been viewed as a potential trade chip in Kevin Durant talks, the restricted free-agent center has reportedly been exploring his options elsewhere.
ESPN's Brian Windhorst said on the Hoop Collective podcast (44:50 mark) that Ayton has taken meetings with teams that "are not involved in potential Durant negotiations." It's unclear whether any of those teams have made formal contract offers.
The Indiana Pacers were mentioned as a potential suitor that could theoretically carve out a max or near-max contract without having to involve the Suns. The Pacers' level of interest in using their cap space to sign Ayton was not established, but Windhorst mentioned a potential sign-and-trade with Myles Turner going to Phoenix.
Ayton's future is currently stuck in limbo given the lack of cap space available around the league and his status as a restricted free agent.
If the ultimate goal is to force the Suns' hand, Ayton could sign a below-market offer sheet and essentially force his way back into the fold. Phoenix would not be able to use Ayton in a sign-and-trade if he inks an offer sheet.
However, that would be a move made more out of pettiness than long-term financial planning. Ayton stands to receive a maximum or near-max contract once the dust settles, either in a deal to return to Phoenix or as part of a sign-and-trade for a star.
The relationship between Ayton and the Suns has strained over their lack of urgency to lock him up long term, but it behooves both sides to work together. Phoenix is not going to lose a key piece of its rotation without replacing him with at least equal value, and Ayton's path to financial rewards is best paved through patience.
Don't expect the situation to be resolved until Durant's next team is decided.