Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton might not have met expectations for being the No. 1 pick in a 2018 NBA Draft class that included Luka Doncic and Trae Young, but he will be one of the top NBA free agents this summer.
This is a situation the Suns should have avoided. At a time when so many of Ayton’s peers from the 2018 draft class landed contract extensions, Phoenix botched the situation. While it will still hold some contractual rights with Ayton a restricted free agent this summer, other NBA teams will court the 6-foot-11 center in free agency.
Ayton is an especially intriguing option considering the landscape of talent. James Harden is staying with the Philadelphia 76ers, Bradley Beal will re-sign with the Washington Wizards and Kyrie Irving is committed to the Brooklyn Nets. It arguably makes Ayton the second-best talent who will at least explore his options this summer.
Let’s examine the best landing spots for Deandre Ayton in free agency this summer.
Deandre Ayton re-signs with the Phoenix Suns
This is by far the most likely outcome. Phoenix will extend the qualifying offer to Ayton this summer, ensuring the right to match any offer he receives from another NBA team. Given NBA rules also allow the Suns to exceed the NBA salary cap, it makes a return to Arizona a near certainty for Ayton.
There’s also no denying the fit. Ayton has blossomed alongside Chris Paul, becoming a far more efficient shooter and a more effective offensive player. While his average scoring totals are down, volume isn’t as important for the Suns.
|DeAndre Ayton stats (2018-’20)||17.0||.57||.593||.571||.126|
|DeAndre Ayton stats (2020-’22)||15.7||.63||.655||.634||.197|
This organization knows it wouldn’t have reached the NBA Finals last year without Ayton. Furthermore, he always stepped up when Paul or Devin Booker missed time with injuries. There’s also something to be said for the important message of rewarding homegrown talent with a contract they earned. If the Suns want to be perennial title contenders, Ayton is essential to that long-term plan. It all comes down to whether or not ownership will spend the money.
Detroit Pistons land co-star for Cade Cunningham
In an offseason with so few NBA teams having money to spend, the Detroit Pistons are in a fantastic spot. The franchise saw exactly what it needed to see from guard Cade Cunningham, he is everything people hoped for and more. Now, Detroit needs to dedicate this summer to build a much better team around its emerging star.
Many of the best facilitators in the NBA have a big man they can feed near the post. That’s not something Cunningham benefitted from in his rookie season. Detroit’s centers ranked 27th in Offensive Rating (21.1). 28th in Net Rating (-1.8), 29th in Effective Field Goal rating (49%) and 29th in two-point field goal rating (49.8).
Compare that to Ayton, who shot 64.2% on two-point shot attempts with a 124 Offensive Rating in his fourth NBA season. There is also still a strong belief that he’s capable of a lot more as a scorer, especially if he became the No. 2 option on a team with a guard like Cunningham.
Signing Ayton to a max offer sheet is worth the downside of having that money tied up for 48 hours. If Suns’ ownership decides it doesn’t want to go way over the luxury tax, maybe there’s a chance he gets to leave. If Ayton heads to Detroit, it would also make this team the perfect landing spot for Jabari Smith Jr.
San Antonio Spurs land Deandre Ayton
Barring stunning fortune in the NBA Draft lottery, the San Antonio Spurs likely won’t be able to land one of the high-end bigs in the 2022 draft class. It means that once again, center should be viewed as a position the front office needs to improve upon.
- Deandre Ayton stats (2021-’22): 17.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 7.3 Win Shares
It’s beyond time for San Antonio to add an impact player. There are a lot of exciting, young guards on this roster who offer promise for the future. However, the glory years of this franchise happened because they had a presence in the paint who could both defend at a high level and serve as an efficient scorer.
There used to be concerns with Ayton regarding his work ethic and effort level. That has changed in recent years, with the 26-year-old maturing and better handling the responsibilities of being an NBA player.
He can take that next step forward with the help of Gregg Popovich. This is also a system that knows how to use its bigs. In terms of what it would take to even have a shot, San Antonio would need to submit a 3+1 offer, creating a structure that at least makes Phoenix hesitate. While this might be the unlikeliest outcome to happen, Deandre Ayton would be a good fit for the Spurs and it’s worth pursuing.