The Detroit Pistons were by many reports at the forefront of the Deandre Ayton sweepstakes ahead of Thursday’s NBA Draft.
The Phoenix Suns’ staple in the middle over the past four seasons is a restricted free agent this summer, and Detroit, the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks have been teams reportedly linked to the center.
ESPN NBA analyst Kevin Pelton included Ayton’s future on a list of the most impactful decisions of the summer, and he noted that the Pistons may have removed themselves after acquiring 2022 first-rounder Jalen Duren on draft night.
Ayton has shown more ability to stay on the court in the crucible of the playoffs than most 7-footers but his value is limited by the ease of finding contributors there. That could be reflected in free agency after the Detroit Pistons added center Jalen Duren in Thursday’s NBA draft potentially removed the most likely contender for Ayton’s services.
The Athletic’s James Edwards II reported that the Pistons are looking to build up with their young corps and add depth in free agency instead of taking a big swing, like Ayton.
Pelton placed the former No. 1 overall pick out of Arizona atop his list of restricted free agents along with wing Miles Bridges and guards Anfernee Simons and Collin Sexton.
The Suns did not work out a contract extension last offseason with Ayton, putting them in the position of matching an offer sheet, finding a sign-and-trade possibility, signing the big man to a lucrative contract or letting him walk.
Ayton was integral to Phoenix’s run to the NBA Finals in 2020-21, an accomplishment for a traditional center in the NBA today.
Ayton remains one of the NBA’s great enigmas. Is he the multitalented center who provided a matchup edge for the Suns during their 2021 Finals run, or simply a product of the favorable environment alongside Chris Paul and Devin Booker?
The answer probably lies somewhere in between.
Suns general manager James Jones said after the draft that the organization is prioritizing retaining the restricted free agent and keeping the corps that was two games from winning a title together.