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Stein: Ayton for John Collins or Myles Turner continues to circulate

Phoenix Suns could be making big moves in the next couple of weeks

Phoenix Suns v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Not sure if you’ve heard about this, but Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton is a restricted free agent starting on July 1. The Suns 24-year old starting center is not under contract to play any more games with the Suns, and will begin fielding offers from interested teams in less than two weeks. The Suns would have the right to match any offers to keep him.

His asking price from another team is a rookie-level maximum contract worth $131 million over the next four years, starting at $30.5 million next season and going up 5% per year thereafter. The Suns can offer/match that amount, or even a little more (one more year, 3% higher raises), but have been reluctant to do so.

The Suns only public reason — provided by General Manager James Jones when the extension deadline passed a year ago — to hold back on that 5-year max deal is an obscure league rule that a team can carry no more than two 5-year-rookie-max deals at a time, and they’ve already got Devin Booker on one. So, according to Jones, that 5th year on a max was a non-starter because the Suns wanted the freedom to be able add another player on the same kind of contract in the next couple of years (there are 13 such players in the NBA at this time) if the opportunity arose, to couple with Booker and Ayton.

Here are those players currently on a 5-year max extension from their rookie deal:

  1. Andrew Wiggins, expires 2023 (All-Star)
  2. Joel Embiid, exp. 2023 (All-Star, All-NBA)
  3. Karl-Anthony Towns, exp. 2024 (All-Star, All-NBA)
  4. Devin Booker, exp. 2024 (All-Star, All-NBA)
  5. Ben Simmons, exp. 2025 (All-Star, All-NBA)
  6. Jayson Tatum, exp. 2026 (All-Star, All-NBA)
  7. Bam Adebayo, exp. 2026 (All-Star, All-NBA)
  8. De’Aaron Fox, exp. 2026
  9. Donovan Mitchell, exp. 2026 (All-Star)
  10. Luka Doncic, exp. 2027 (All-Star, All-NBA)
  11. Trae Young, exp. 2027 (All-Star, All-NBA)
  12. Shae Gilgeous-Alexander, exp. 2027
  13. Michael Porter Jr., exp. 2027

Many of these players appear untouchable, but it’s quite possible that one of them could spring loose and, according to James, the Suns didn’t want their hands tied.

The quiet part, that is only talked about third- and fourth-hand, is that the Suns have other reasons not to give $30 million a year to Ayton, which would make him the second-highest paid player on the Suns and about the 35th-highest paid in the NBA. Those other “don’t quote me” reasons include Ayton’s inconsistent focus, his positional limitation as a center and his lack of ‘make something out of nothing’ skills.

So now, we have a standoff.

Ayton’s camp has reportedly been floating around an interest in playing for another team, supposedly a team that wants to pay him the most they can possibly pay and wants to feature him as something more than just a ‘big man’.

I say reportedly in a loose sense. National media news breakers have heard this rumor. Ayton’s agent has been ambivalent on the record. Back channels are certain of it, but again there’s nothing on record. Not a single quote or comment has come directly from the player or the Suns on Ayton’s likelihood of staying or leaving.

Anyway, I digress.

As it stands, Ayton’s phone is going to start ringing as early as 6:00PM on June 30. They cannot speak to Ayton or his agent prior to that date — tampering? what’s tampering? — so everyone’s in speculation mode until then.

In the meantime, it’s rumor-mania.

In the latest edition of Marc Stein’s subtsack, we get a big download of continued Deandre Ayton chatter included.

John Collins to the Suns?

Iʼve been advised that relocation for Collins this offseason is pretty much expected now.

Collins is another former his pick who wanted a max extension, but never got it and went to restricted free agency. He stayed with the Hawks, settling last summer for a 5 years for $125 million — about 20% below the max.

But the Hawks had a disappointing season, as did Collins, and now he’s right back on the trade block.

Something else to file away: I’ve likewise been apprised that Suns general manager James Jones has rated Collins highly in the past. The Hawks, remember, have been routinely mentioned as a leading potential sign-and-trade partner for Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton.

The machinations of something like this is difficult to pull off. As you know, due to the base year compensation rule, Ayton himself can only bring back to the Suns no more than $19.2 million in salary if his salary to the receiving team is $30.5 million. Collins alone makes $23.5 million next year. No one-to-one trade can happen here.

Here’s more on the Ayton trade complications with the base year compensation rule:

The Hawks pay a ton of money for salaries already, so acquiring Ayton in a sign-and-trade would put them over the tax apron and force them to dump other salaries just to execute the trade at all.

To complete a Collins-for-Ayton trade the Hawks would have to find a third team willing to take on almost $10 million in other Suns/Hawks players for FREE (ie. absorb in cap space or a trade exception, with only draft picks or cash considerations in return). The Hawks only have 9 players under contract on July 1, and only De’Andre Hunter, Onyeka Okongwu and Jalen Johnson make less than $14 million. I don’t think they want to trade any of those guys, especially for nothing in return.

I’m calling BS on an Ayton for Collins swap.

So how about this instead. Since James Jones likes Collins, a 6’10” skinny power forward, and the Hawks want to get rid of Collins and save a bit on their cap, how about the Suns work a non-Ayton trade for Collins? Most any three of Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torrey Craig, Dario Saric, Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson would aggregate nicely into a Collins trade to save the Hawks a bit of money and fill out their roster with playoff-proven vets.

Unfortunately, Cam Johnson is the only guy in that list a Hawks team would be excited to acquire.

Assuming the Suns got Collins somehow, let’s review the pros and cons.

Upside of getting Collins: he can score and he can rebound. In the right situation, he’s a 20/10 player, who can make threes and jam hard on the pick and ROLL — everything a starving Suns fan wants! He’s like Amare-lite.

Downside of getting Collins: defense (because rebounding is not defense). He can’t really play the center position defensively, and cannot play much perimeter defense either. The Suns would have to do a lot of covering for him no matter where he plays on defense.

Myles Turner to the Suns for Ayton?

Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton for a package headlined by Myles Turner? Indiana extending a significant offer sheet to Charlotte restricted free agent Miles Bridges? The Pacers are next in line after the Hawks when it comes to teams generating very interesting transactional scenarios. Most of all, of course, Indiana has been expected to trade Malcolm Brogdon essentially since the regular season ended (with Washington and New York said to be interested) and Tyrese Haliburtonʼs strong start as a Pacer.

This one actually works right out of the gate, as far as the Suns are concerned. The Pacers could send back Turner, while the Suns sign-and-trade Ayton to them. The Pacers even have a bunch of cap space to absorb the weird salary differences in acquiring $30 million while only sending out Turner’s $18 million.

So, give the rumor mill a thumbs up for at least imagining a workable trade.

Upside of getting Turner: he’s a poor man’s Rudy Gobert on rim protection. Assuming health and a competitive team around him, Turner is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate because he protects the rim/paint as well as anyone in the league not named Gobert. On the offensive end, you can imagine Chris Paul making him a good pick-and-roll target while also salivating over his compunction to throw up threes from the corner.

Downside of getting Turner: Who’s going to grab rebounds? Turner is awful at rebounding, and if you’re stuck with Crowder, Bridges and CamJ as your forwards, well the Suns are going to lose every rebound battle by 10+ per game. You thought the Pelicans playoff series was painful? Imagine that for 82 games a year, then double-bad once the playoffs start. Also, Turner is a low-percentage three point shooter, has never been great shakes at finishing in the paint and has perennial health issues — the latest being a foot injury, and you never ever want your 7-footer having foot issues. And finally, he can’t play defense against a five-out offense like the Mavs. You’d be having to sit him in the playoffs against certain teams.

So, it’s possible but I just hope this trade doesn’t happen.

How about Malcolm Brogdon to the Suns?

We all know the Suns liked Brogdon three years ago when they tried and failed to get him, and settled on Ricky Rubio instead. Brogdon was acquired by the Pacers in a sign-and-trade from the Bucks, for $85 million over four years.

Brogdon has been okay in Indiana, but not great, and now they are moving him to make more room for young Tyrese Haliburton.

Brogdon makes $22 million this year — another player out of range on an Ayton sign-and-trade scenario, though the Suns could theoretically just add in Cam Payne to get it done, since the Pacers have gobs of cap space to make it work.

I’d rather discuss Brogdon for spare parts, since he himself is now more of a third-guard than anything else. How about forget the Ayton part, and acquire Brogdon for something like Jae Crowder, Torrey Craig and Cameron Payne.

In fact, if the Suns delude themselves into thinking they should acquire 40% of the starting lineup of one of the league’s worst teams, how about Turner AND Brogdon for Ayton and half the Suns playing rotation?

Hopefully, the structure of that last sentence helps you realize this is a bad idea.

The Suns depth chart, if they acquire the two Pacers for Ayton and three other Suns (let’s pretend it’s Crowder, Payne, Shamet) would look something like...

  • Paul, Brogdon
  • Booker
  • Bridges
  • Cameron Johnson, Torrey Craig
  • Myles Turner, Dario Saric

The only other mechanisms, then, to sign 5-6 more players is a tax-payer mid-level exception ($6 million) and veteran minimums ($2 million or less). That’s it.

How bout Collins AND Turner?

Here’s another wrinkle with these rumors: what if the Suns acquired John Collins for those spare parts and then swapped Ayton for Turner.

Now you’ve got the rebound differential made up by Collins, who replaces Crowder. But the Suns would have to include more value for Collins, probably forcing the Suns to include Cameron Johnson. In this iteration it’s more like...

  • Paul, Payne
  • Booker
  • Bridges
  • John Collins, Torrey Craig
  • Myles Turner, Dario Saric

Of course, the exact included players in any of these trades would vary. I’m just guessing at who each team would want.

Still, the outcome is less depth that would have to be replaced by lower-salary players because the Suns don’t have a bunch of mechanisms for adding players outside of trades.

Is that better than the Suns current team that has Cam Johnson, Crowder and Ayton manning the ‘big man’ spots? A Collins/Turner pairing is only better if it makes the Suns a contender, and you can’t play Turner as much as Ayton against teams like the Mavericks and Clippers. Collins also cannot really play defense on the perimeter...

Plus, now the Suns are handicapped in terms of assets to get that third high-level playmaker they need come playoff time. Neither Collins nor Turner create ‘something from nothing’. So have the Suns really solved anything?

Maybe this isn’t the best route for the Suns.

Maybe, if you HAVE to trade Ayton because of relationship issues, you trade him for parts that the Nets want in a Kevin Durant trade, or that the Lakers want in a LeBron James trade...

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