Ayton, who was a restricted free agent last offseason, ended up returning to the Suns despite signing an offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers. Phoenix ended up matching the offer sheet, inking Ayton to a four-year deal worth nearly $133 million.
However, the Suns came up short in the 2022-23 season, getting knocked out by the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs despite trading for Kevin Durant prior to the trade deadline.
An ankle injury suffered by Durant in the regular season didn’t allow the team to gel much prior to the playoffs, and Phoenix then lost point guard Chris Paul to a groin injury during the Nuggets series.
Still, the goal for the Suns has to be to win a title, and it doesn’t seem like Ayton is a perfect fit in those plans. Phoenix fired head coach Monty Williams, who had clashed with Ayton, after the team lost to Denver.
According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Williams isn’t the only person in the Suns organization that has had an issue with Ayton.
"The organizational discontent, impatience, eye rolling with Ayton…go way beyond Monty Williams. There’s a lot of people in that organization that are tired of Deandre Ayton" – Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post a few days ago.
— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) May 19, 2023
The Suns appear to be willing to restructure their roster this offseason, and they’re exploring multiple options with Paul, whose future with the team is up in the air.
With that in mind, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Ayton is moved, and the Suns and Pacers were reportedly close to orchestrating a sign-and-trade deal for Ayton last offseason before the Suns ultimately retained the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Here’s what a hypothetical Ayton trade could look like between the Suns and Pacers this coming offseason:
Suns receive: Myles Turner, Buddy Hield
Pacers receive: Deandre Ayton, Landry Shamet, 2023 second-round pick, 2025 second-round pick
Why the Suns should make this trade
For the Suns, everything has to be about trying to win an NBA title.
The team lost a ton of depth in the Durant trade, and it showed in the playoffs when Paul went down. The team needed Durant and Devin Booker to put together huge performances simply to just stay in games against the Nuggets.
By moving Ayton, the Suns have a chance to replenish some of the depth they need on the roster, and they allow him to get a fresh start where he wouldn’t be the third option (at best) on offense.
Turner and Hield both could be moved by Indiana, as Turner has been on the trade block for what seems like several seasons.
An elite shot-blocker, Turner (career 35.3 percent shooter from 3) can stretch the floor way more than Ayton, and he isn’t nearly as ball dominant on offense. The added spacing would give Durant and Booker more room to operate in isolations on offense.
It’s no secret that Ayton was dominated by Nikola Jokic in the playoffs this season. There is no stopping the two-time MVP, but Turner is a much better defender that has averaged over two blocks per game in five straight seasons, leading the league in blocks per game twice.
Having an anchor like Turner on defense would go a long way for the Suns with the team lacking a true shot-blocking presence on the roster outside of veteran Bismack Biyombo, who is set to become a free agent this offseason.
Hield would also be a great addition, as he’s undoubtedly one of the better shooters in the NBA. Hield would get a ton of good looks playing with the likes of Paul, Durant and Booker. He’s certainly a trade candidate, as he’s entering the final season of his contract.
At the end of their 2022-23 campaign, the Pacers moved Hield to the bench to get better looks at younger players.
Both Hield and Turner may not fit the timeline of Indiana’s rebuild around Tyrese Haliburton, but they both could help the Suns win right now.
Hield is a massive upgrade as an off-ball scorer and shooter compared to Torrey Craig, Shamet, Josh Okogie and others the Suns used in their playoff run this season.
Why the Pacers should make this trade
Indiana clearly liked Ayton enough to offer him a max deal last offseason, and it’s likely the team is still interested in him going forward.
The former top pick averaged 18.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in the 2022-23 season, and he’d likely be the No. 2 option behind Haliburton if the deal happened.
The Pacers would be getting a player that better fits the timeline of their rebuild while also netting some draft capital in two second-round picks. There might be concern that the draft compensation may not be enough, but the Pacers aren’t exactly sacrificing a star in this deal either.
One can make the argument that Ayton is the best player in this deal, and he almost certainly has the most upside going forward.
Ayton needs a fresh start after a couple tumultuous seasons in Phoenix, and playing with a great passer like Haliburton is a great way to help him reach the next level as an offensive player.
The Pacers gave Turner a contract extension during the 2022-23 season, but it’s possible the team just wanted to be able to move him in the offseason rather than have to orchestrate a sign-and-trade deal since he would have been an unrestricted free agent.
Losing Hield isn’t as important as it may seem, as it’s unlikely the rebuilding Pacers would want to commit significant money to him beyond next season. Plus, this deal would net them a serviceable wing in Shamet to help mitigate the loss.
Ultimately, these two teams have different goals in the 2023-24 season. A deal where Ayton heads to Indiana gives the Suns a better chance to contend for a title with Durant on the roster while the Pacers get a young running mate for Haliburton.
This swap could easily end up being a win-win for both sides.