Three Deandre Ayton Trade Destinations

Deandre Ayton
Deandre Ayton / Chris Coduto/GettyImages

Over the weekend the Phoenix Suns went all-in by trading Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, and draft picks to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Bradley Beal. The deal isn't totally done yet as both parties look for a third team to take Paul's contract, but Beal will be in a Suns uniform next season. His scoring talents will make the top end of the roster quite formidable, but his utterly massive contract will make it very difficult to fill out the rest of the roster with even replacement-level players to soak up minutes. It's all fun and games when Beal, Devin Booker, and Kevin Durant are raining fire but they do have to rest eventually and all three's recent injury history suggests the Suns need to have reliable backups ready to go.

It's very hard to see how they might acquire those types of players because the Suns have exactly five players under contract for next season right now and the combined salaries of their Big 3 already push them over the salary cap. If we've learned anything from the post-Golden State superteam era it's that championship teams, no matter how many stars they have, need to run at least seven or eight deep. Top-end talent can overwhelm in the Finals but getting there requires depth. Depth the Suns cannot possibly build with 10 veteran minimum or undrafted rookie contracts.

Phoenix, however, still has one asset they can trade to bring back rotation players to build out the roster: Deandre Ayton. He averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds last season while improving his rim protection a bit. Nobody thinks Ayton is worth the $30ish million annually he's making but he's also still only 24 years-old and the physical potential is very obvious. Somebody in the NBA thinks they can turn Ayton into a dominant big man with a change of scenery, one that both sides would probably welcome given how chilly things have been over the last two years.

Should the Suns go down this route and trade Ayton for more depth, here are a few possible destinations.

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are a likely candidate to trade for Ayton on a few different fronts. They showed the most interest in Ayton last summer when he hit restricted free agency and offered him the $120 million contract the Suns matched. While Indiana has since signed Myles Turner to a contract extension and doesn't need two big center deals it seems probable they'd still be interested in Ayton for the right price. Additionally, Indy has three first-round picks in this upcoming draft, making it more enticing to part with rotation players to make room on the roster or send out one of them in return for a starting-caliber player.

If interested the Suns could swap Ayton for Turner, who is a better player, with TJ McConnell thrown in there to match salaries and back up Cameron Payne. That doesn't totally solve the depth issue, though. So if the Pacers have a deal on the table for Turner elsewhere they could trade Buddy Hield, McConnell, and Aaron Neismith for Ayton. If Phoenix wants a big man coming back they could add Daniel Theis into the deal instead of McConnell. There's a lot of flexibility here, making a deal all the more possible.

Dallas Mavericks

It might seem unlikely that the Mavs would willingly trade for Ayton after watching him get cooked by Luka Doncic in the playoffs last year. However, Dallas is constantly taking massive yet misguided home run swings so we can't count them out here. As evidenced by the Beal trade this is the last time teams can have three max contracts on the books for a full year before the new CBA effectively nixes the practice. Consequently Mark Cuban may feel the time is now to go all-in and add Ayton to the Doncic-Kyrie Irving core. That's not a real championship contender in the West but the Mavs as currently constructed are never going to get past Nikola Jokic. This may be their only chance this offseason to make a big change.

However flawed the process, though, Dallas can actually offer up a pretty good package for Ayton that would make both sides happy. The deal would look something like sending out Tim Hardaway Jr., JaVale McGee, and Reggie Bullock for Ayton. The Suns get some rotation pieces who can hold their own in the regular season and even in the postseason for certain matchups. The Mavs would miss Hardaway Jr. and Bullock to a lesser degree but certainly would not miss McGee and get to keep the No. 10 pick. Pretty solid.

Milwaukee Bucks

This is not a likely option by any stretch of the imagination but just hear me out. The Bucks need a long-term Brook Lopez replacement. Even if he re-signs in free agency this year he's 35 years-old and it's always better to move on a year early than a year late. Ayton is a worse player right now, to be sure, but is also a full decade younger and if you squint you can see the vision of Ayton as a Lopez-lite; a big body who can shoot the three at an okay clip and take the more physical assignments from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

If Milwaukee decided this was the path to take, there are two iterations of the trade. One is to convince Khris Middleton to opt out of his $40 million player option, re-sign for roughly $20 million annually, then send him and, say, Pat Connaughton out in exchange for Ayton. That's a tough deal with a lot of moving parts that hinges entirely on Middleton's cooperation and even then it's unclear how good of a deal it is for the Bucks. The other option is the one the Suns would probably prefer-- trading Connaughton, Grayson Allen, and Bobby Portis for Ayton. Neither of these are *great* deals for the Bucks but the championship core is aging around Giannis and they may feel the need to make a drastic change to the roster for the long-term health of the organization. This would certainly qualify.