NBA Rumors: Latest Buzz on Deandre Ayton Contract, 76ers' Doc Rivers and More
The NBA's conference finals are underway, with the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors notching lopsided victories in their respective series openers. While the Heat and Warriors are looking to stay the course—and the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks are hoping to rebound—the rest of the NBA is largely on to the offseason.
Monday's lottery put the 2022 draft in a somewhat clearer light. There's still no consensus top prospect, but we know the Orlando Magic own the top pick. Meanwhile, coaching searches are underway around the league, and several notable players are weighing their options on the open market.
Naturally, there is no shortage of buzz on the old rumor mill, even with meaningful basketball left to be played. Let's dive into some of the latest, beginning with one big-time player who now appears poised to cash in this summer.
Deandre Ayton Felt Undervalued in Phoenix, Eyeing Max Contract
Phoenix Suns Deandre Ayton was a big part of the team's run to the NBA Finals last season. The Arizona product averaged 14.4 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists during the 2020-21 season. Statistically, he was just as valuable this year, averaging 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists.
However, the Suns failed to reach a rookie extension with Ayton, and now there's a reasonable chance he departs as a restricted free agent or in a sign-and-trade. According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Ayton hasn't felt valued by Phoenix and is seeking a max contract.
Wojnarowski said the following on NBA Today (h/t Arthur Hill of HoopsHype).
"Deandre Ayton did not feel valued by this Phoenix organization. They were not able to come to an agreement on his rookie extension. He saw many of the top players in his class get extensions and he wanted a max deal, he would not move off that. So now he moves towards restricted free agency this summer where he'll have some more options.”
Phoenix can still match any offer that Ayton receives or orchestrate a sign-and-trade, though cap space could be a significant issue. The Suns are expected to have the fifth-highest payroll in the league, according to Spotrac.
Regardless of what transpires, Wojnarowski believes that Ayton will end up getting a max deal from someone this offseason. Phoenix, meanwhile, isn't tipping its hand about its plans for Ayton.
Doc Rivers' Future in Philadelphia Secure
Publicly, the Philadelphia 76ers have backed coach Doc Rivers since their playoff exit against Miami.
"I just think he's a great coach," 76ers president Daryl Morey said, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps. "I think [general manager] Elton [Brand] and I and him make a great team, and we're gonna see where this journey takes us."
However, there have been some rumblings that Philadelphia's public and private stances aren't one and the same.
"Everyone around the league that I've talked to said let's keep an eye on this one," Shelburne said on NBA Today.
According to Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice, the 76ers do plan to keep Rivers for the 2022-23 season:
"Reports have tumbled out in the hours since Philadelphia's Game 6 defeat billing Rivers' return as conditional, based on meetings the team might have with him and the priorities of all involved. Sources who spoke to PhillyVoice have asserted there is no such plan on the organization's part. The Sixers see Rivers as their coach moving forward, and there has been little debate about whether or not to keep him."
While the 76ers have exited in the semifinal round in each of Rivers' two seasons, moving on doesn't make a ton of sense. Rivers will likely get (at least) another full season with the current roster—including mid-season acquisition James Harden, assuming he opts in or signs an extension—to make a deeper push.
Don't expect Rivers to go anywhere, even if rumors that suggest otherwise persist.
Jalen Duren May Be Too Much of a Project for Knicks
At least the 76ers advanced to the second round of the playoffs. A year after suffering a brutal first-round exit to the Atlanta Hawks, the New York Knicks finished 37-45 and failed to even make the play-in tournament.
On Monday, New York was awarded the 11th pick in the 2022 draft.
While the Knicks weren't a playoff team this season, they appear to be eyeing prospects who can contribute right away—which may indicate their hope for a quick turnaround. The draft pool has yet to solidify, but one player who may not be on New York's radar is Memphis center Jalen Duren.
"The Knicks need a true point guard, and the draft is light in that department," Marc Berman of the New York Post wrote. "The best point guard available didn't play in college—Dyson Daniels of the G-League Ignite. Another fascinating prospect is Memphis one-and-done center Jalen Duren, but sources believe he'll be too much of a project for Thibodeau to sign off on."
If the Kicks cannot necessarily draft for need, they'll likely take the best player available at No. 11. However, Berman suggests that New York is looking for an NBA-ready prospect. Despite his intriguing size (6'11", 250 lbs), 18-year-old Duren isn't that.
In his lone season at Memphis, Duren averaged 12 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Those are solid numbers, and whichever team takes Duren may eventually have a terrific big man. However, it's likely going to take a few seasons for him to reach his NBA potential. If the Knicks aren't willing to wait, Duren may indeed be off their draft board.