NBA - US Sports: What next for Ayton and Suns?
The dust is now beginning to settle on another NBA season, but there are plenty of questions that still need answering over the summer.
Perhaps one of the biggest talking points surrounds the future of centre Deandre Ayton at the Phoenix Suns following an underwhelming end to the season for both parties.
The Suns are 9.50 to land a first NBA Championship next season, but those odds are likely to change depending on whether they do allow one of their key stars to leave during the offseason.
What: 2022/23 NBA Championship
When: October 2022 - April 2023 (Regular Season)
How to watch: Sky Sports
Odds: GS Warriors 7.00, BOS Celtics 5.50, BKN Nets 17.00, LA Clippers 8.00, MIL Bucks 7.50
It started as a match made in heaven
After an impressive college career with the Arizona Wildcats, Ayton was chosen by the Suns as the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
Ayton was joining a team that hadn't reached the postseason in the best part of a decade and after two seasons of missing out on the playoffs, he was able to play a key role in the Suns' revival during the 2020/21 campaign.
Under the guide of Monty Williams, the Suns landed their first Western Conference title in 28 years, but they were denied a first-ever NBA Championship after suffering a 4-2 series loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals.
Despite missing out on the big prize, Ayton's stock had risen considerably, but the cracks have seemingly started to form between team and player ever since.
No new deal at Phoenix
Following their run to the NBA Finals, where Ayton played a big part, the Suns opted against offering their centre a max contract extension last summer.
Ayton was able to put that to one side and again impressed during the 2021/22 regular season, averaging 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, while he shot a career-high 63.4% from the field.
However, he was still unable to agree a deal with the Suns and things began to unravel on the court during the playoffs, as Phoenix, who were the top seeds in the West, suffered a 4-3 series loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the Conference semi-finals.
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Ayton was benched for most of the second half of Game Seven of that series and it now appears his future lies elsewhere, unless the Suns do come in with a max contract extension that would be worth a reported $177m across five years.
The most likely solution is Ayton pens a sign-and-trade deal that would allow him to move on and free up money for the Suns to strengthen their own roster.
Where could Ayton end up?
At just 23 years of age, Ayton is not likely to be short of offers, with several NBA teams having already been linked, including the Portland Trail Blazers, who are priced at 81.00 to land the Championship next season.
After missing out on the playoffs last term, the Trail Blazers are looking to reshape their roster around key player and six-time NBA All-Star Damian Lillard.
Lillard is reportedly interested in playing alongside Ayton, although there are believed to be concerns within the Trail Blazers' camp regarding the potential new arrival's defensive capabilities.
The Atlanta Hawks are also said to be considering a move for Ayton, as they eye a second young talent to play alongside two-time NBA All-Star Trae Young.
Nate McMillan's team were beaten in the first round of the playoffs by Miami Heat last season, but are 51.00 to land the NBA Championship in 2023.
The Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons and the Charlotte Hornets are among the other teams said to be considering Ayton, although don't be surprised if that list grows further over the coming weeks.
Ayton is certainly a player that has proven his abilities in the NBA and has a bright future ahead of him, whether that is with the Phoenix Suns or another franchise still remains to be seen.
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