Deandre Ayton is more likely to leave the Phoenix Suns than to stay with the team.
The Suns didn’t offer Ayton a max contract extension last offseason, and 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.
So how do the Suns handle this situation?
According to James L. Edwards III and John Hollinger of The Athletic, sources say 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 a 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 team acquiring Ayton would get him without the fear of a Phoenix matching offer sheet.
If the acquiring team lacks cap space, a sign-and-trade would be even more helpful.
This is why teams and players sometimes get a head start on moves like this, and that maneuvering can leak.
Ayton was the No. 1 overall pick back in 2018.
Despite having the best record in the league at 64-18, the Suns lost to Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in seven games in the Western Conference semifinals.
Doncic was the third overall pick in 2018.