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Report: Deandre Ayton likely to leave Suns

Suns center Deandre Ayton

DALLAS, TX - MAY 12: Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns runs onto the court prior to the game against the Dallas Mavericks during Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals on May 12 2022 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

The Suns didn’t offer Deandre Ayton a max contract extension last offseason. They don’t want to offer him a $30 million salary this summer.

But he could draw a max offer sheet in restricted free agency. Keeping Ayton is Phoenix’s most direct path to a player anywhere near his caliber. Capped out, the Suns would be limited to about the mid-level exception for an outside free agent barring other major moves. In championship contention with an aging Chris Paul, this is not the time to take a step back.

How will Phoenix handle this dilemma?

James L. Edwards III and John Hollinger of The Athletic:

sources tell The Athletic that it’s “more likely than not” that Ayton plays somewhere other than Phoenix next season.

The way free agency takes off well before it officially opens, this could be more than mere speculation.

A sign-and-trade might be the solution for everyone involved. The Suns would get return for their talented 23-year-old. Ayton would get to a team willing to pay him and, therefore, more likely to give him a larger offensive role. The acquiring team would get Ayton without fearing Phoenix matching an offer sheet. If the acquiring team lacks cap space, a sign-and-trade would be even more helpful to that team.

It’s a lot to sort out.

Which is why teams and players sometimes get a head start on moves like this – and that maneuvering can leak.