It's been a rough week for San Antonio Spurs fans hoping to nab a high-profile free agent this summer.
First, Bleacher Report released intel about the Chicago Bulls being heavily favored to retain Zach LaVine. On Thursday, Jake Fischer revealed that the Spurs aren't on his list of realistic landing spots for perhaps their most prized free agent target, Deandre Ayton.
Besides the Phoenix Suns, Fischer lists the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, and Toronto Raptors as the most realistic landing spots for the 23-year-old. He also adds there has been speculation about a swap centered around Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner.
Noticeably absent from the list are two teams that can offer Ayton a max offer sheet without a trade being needed -- the Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers. The Pistons, meanwhile, appear to be the only team still in the mix that could sign Ayton to an offer sheet without some pre-emptive moves.
What this seems to confirm is that Phoenix is determined not to let Ayton go for nothing, so a sign-and-trade scenario is likely the favored outcome with him, even if it results in a lesser return than expected.
With all that said, let's take a quick look at where each of the named teams stands as of Thursday evening.
The Atlanta Hawks would have to make moves to create cap space to sign Ayton to a max offer sheet. Otherwise, they'd have to look at a sign-and-trade opportunity for his services.
There have been many rumblings about the Hawks wanting to upgrade their frontcourt by any means necessary, with an emphasis on Ayton potentially being their number one target. If there's a way they can get him, it'd likely take a trade with Phoenix to get there.
As previously mentioned, the Pistons have enough money to afford to sign Ayton to a max offer of $30.5 million as currently constructed. I wouldn't count on that happening, however, as it would mean Deandre wouldn't be willing to work with the Suns to work out a sign-and-trade so they could get some value back.
That same principle would apply to a potential offer sheet with the Spurs as well -- which is why their odds of poaching him seem to be decreasing.
The Indiana Pacers are in the same boat as the Atlanta Hawks in that they'd have to do some cap gymnastics before being able to sign Ayton to an offer sheet. Fischer's report is the first time I've seen them mentioned as a landing spot for him, with Myles Turner being talked about in league circles as a trade option.
Toronto couldn't afford Ayton without clearing up some cap space either. Their name still being included is a bit of a surprise, but if they do have a shot, it would likely be via a trade. Our colleague at Raptors Rapture wrote last month how he believes a Deandre Ayton signing would be a longshot.
While the outlook isn't good for Spurs fans right now, we must remember there was a time just weeks ago that Ayton returning to Phoenix almost seemed like a certainty. Circumstances change every day in the league, so this storyline isn't quite over just yet.