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Ayton for OG Anunoby rumor makes a whole lotta sense

If both players truly want out, could Suns and Raptors trade them for each other? Jake Fischer of B/R says they are interested.

Toronto Raptors take on the Phoenix Suns Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Just three weeks from the NBA draft and four weeks from NBA musical chairs crazy season where 100+ players switch teams and 60+ more lose their jobs entirely, we have encountered ‘connect the dots’ season where insiders and outsiders all try to predict what big trades will go down in early July.

A lot of smoke and even a bit of fire is coming from the Phoenix Suns, who have a deep desire to continue contending for championships while dealing with the contract situation of a highly talented but somewhat unhappy Deandre Ayton approaching restricted free agency.

A year ago, the agile 7-foot Ayton was the ‘do whatever you need’ anchor of a surprising Suns team, providing elite rebounding, interior defense and inside scoring with a respectable dash of perimeter skills on both ends. Late in the Western Conference playoff bracket, All-NBA guard Chris Paul said Ayton was probably the MVP of the team to that point. Paul had already missed or been injured for half the run, and Booker was suffering the impacts of playing through a broken nose, yet the Suns were cruising to their first Finals in 28 years.

But this year was quite different. The chemistry was off. And, while Ayton’s numbers were similar, he was clearly more productive on outside-the-paint scoring and less productive everywhere else while he struggled to accept the ‘take our leftovers’ offensive role he’d embraced the year before. He began the season saying he hated the ‘big man’ role, and ended the year being benched for not wanting to check back into a blowout Game 7 loss. In the past, I’ve called this the ‘disease of me’ that often happens with young players after a year of unexpected success.

In Ayton’s case, this shift in mentality coincides with — but is not necessarily correlated to — the refusal by the Suns last summer to give him the full five-year maximum contract extension he really wanted. The Suns had their reasons and stood their ground, and ultimately never even negotiated with Ayton’s agent because of that desire for a ‘designated rookie max’ extension.

The reason I say ‘not necessarily’ correlated with the failed contract negotiations is because I’ve seen players get that coveted contract and come back a different, lesser player for getting ‘happy on the farm’. There’s a possibility we’d have seen the same Ayton this year with or without that contract.

I’ve been on the record for four years defending Ayton as a great core piece and difference-maker of a championship team, and last year I was rewarded for that belief. But this year, those skeptics are the ones proven correct, and all the worst fears about Ayton came true in these playoffs where he played less focused and less impactful, ultimately making no difference in the final games of the Dallas series.

Ayton now enters this summer as a restricted free agent, able to solicit up-to-four-year offers from other teams but has lost that ability to get the five-year guarantee. And, the Suns can still match and keep him.

But the Suns can also sign-and-trade him, receiving assets back that can be used to bolster the remaining roster or improve on the team overall.

I outlined the problems with a direct sign-and-trade of Ayton for a highly-paid star, due to the base-year-compensation rule, but the clear workaround if the Suns really can get that superstar is to line up that trade in advance using non-Ayton players, including some/all of those acquired in the Ayton sign-and-trade, and only then agree to the Ayton deal. No point in acquiring players a, b and c from team X for Ayton if the superstar’s team doesn’t want them.

Bottom line on an Ayton sign-and-trade: the Suns can only take back player(s) who count for half of Ayton’s salary, while the receiving team has to count 100% of his salary.

The Suns may be targeting the best possible player(s) in return for Ayton that can be sent back via sign-and-trade.

Add the Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby to the list of players it would be nice to acquire.

Well-connected NBA insider Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report (a must follow on twitter at @JakeLFischer) shared a big rumors dump this morning.

In that rumor-dump, he mentions Toronto could be willing to trade one of their top six players to get a starting center, and that OG Anunoby, who makes about $18 million, might be the one they are willing to trade for a good enough center.

Dots desperate to be connected!

Jake did not, however, mention anything in that article about Ayton being a target of Toronto’s.

So I reached out to Jake and asked specifically if Toronto might be interested in acquiring Ayton as that guy.

Guess what?

Jake replied with, yes! The Raptors have included Ayton as one of those targets. He backed it up with a later tweet.

Fischer is very well connected. If there’s Ay-ton of smoke, maybe there’s Ay-ton of fire.

So now you’re asking, who the heck is OG Anunoby, and why would the Suns want to trade for him?

First off, Anunoby is not as good a player as Ayton but he’s still young and has a high ceiling.

Anunoby just last year began a 4-year, $72 million contract extension, which averages $18 million per year. Anunoby has three years left on the deal.

The 24-year old is a big wing who is just as long as Mikal Bridges, yet thicker and more able to play the power forward position at times.

He’s basically a huge upgrade over Jae Crowder. Just as big, almost a decade younger, scores 17 points per game, makes 36% of 6.6 three point attempts per game, averages 5.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game. He missed some time this past year or would have been a strong candidate for first-team All-Defense like Mikal did.

Like, yeah. That would be a good return for DA if you think the Suns don’t need a great center to win a championship.

The Suns and Raptors would have to include a third team to make it work, where the Suns would get OG, Raps would get Ayton, and Raptors send out another $10 million or so in salary to a third team that can simply absorb the contract with cap space or a traded-player exception.

Let’s pretend it can happen.

If the Suns swap out DA for OG, they would be a lot more versatile with some of the best two way swing forwards in the league.

The Suns would then have Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Crowder AND Anunoby for a switch-heavy lineup that could defend small teams like crazy.

At center, the Suns could more often go small, and when they want to be bigger they’ve got a year of Dario Saric left and probably their choice of JaVale McGee or Bismack Biyombo. And maybe even Frank Kaminsky comes back too.

Guess what else opens up?


Now, suddenly the Suns get keep two or three of Bridges/CamJ/Crowder/OG after sending out good players for a top-10 or Top-5 player in the league. OG/Bridges would be a good headliner, along with draft capital, players and expiring contracts, if the Nets/Lakers are put over a barrel and forced to trade their top-10 player this offseason.


Would you effectively trade Ayton for OG Anunoby?

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