Deandre Ayton could emerge as the most important player acquired by the Portland Trail Blazers after they finally decided to trade Damian Lillard, with the organization reportedly viewing the 25-year-old as one of the top centers in the NBA.
“The view around the league is the Blazers see Ayton in the vein of a top-five center in the league, and a valuable asset particularly at his age,” wrote NBA insider Vincent Goodwill. “Brook Lopez and Nikola Vučević may beg to differ on the top-five list, and certainly Anthony Davis would if he classified himself as a center (he doesn’t).”
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Ayton failed to reach superstar status in his five seasons with the Phoenix Suns. A difficult playoff series loss to the Denver Nuggets last season had him reportedly interested in a fresh start elsewhere. He averaged 16.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in 303 regular season appearances for the Suns and helped them reach the 2021 NBA Finals.
It is thought a change of scenery might be able to unlock Ayton’s ability even further, and he will be the primary big man for the Trail Blazers as they rebuild around young guards Shaedon Sharpe and Scoot Henderson, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.
In trading its franchise player Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks, Portland also acquired Jrue Holiday, Toumani Camara, a first-round draft pick and future swap rights.
For helping facilitate the three-team deal, the Suns received Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson.
The trading of Lillard should not have been unexpected after the 33-year-old requested to be dealt almost three months ago. The fact that he landed with the Bucks drew strong reactions from around the NBA after he was long expected to wind up with his preferred destination of the Miami Heat.
The Trail Blazers showed little interest in accepting what the Heat were offering and pivoted to completing the blockbuster deal by getting a pick from the Bucks while also landing a young player it desired in Ayton.
It has been reported that Portland is looking to now flip Holiday to another team to acquire even more assets to build its young core. Based on his draft pedigree and stretches of on-court success with the Suns, Ayton could prove to be the key piece of this deal when looking at it sometime down the road.