With free agency almost here, the San Antonio Spurs will soon be able to put their cap space to good use by pursuing a big-name free agent. That obviously depends on how the weird Dejounte Murray trade rumors shake out, but if they don't move him, then there'd be several options available.
That includes Suns center Deandre Ayton, who may be the most obtainable, especially after teams such as Detroit and Portland have reportedly backed off chasing him in restricted free agency.
The Spurs, on the other hand, could possibly sign him to a max offer sheet, which the Suns probably won’t match. However, the Suns could look at signing and trading him, possibly even to their former rivals, if Ayton agrees to a deal with the Spurs.
Why? The Suns probably don’t want to lose the former number one overall pick for nothing. Also, the Spurs could be game because it would save them cap space whereas signing him would eat up most of it. With that, let's examine sign and trade options for Ayton.
When looking at options, Spurs center Jakob Poeltl seems like an obvious inclusion. He was terrific last season, though not quite as good as Ayton, so the Suns probably wouldn't take much of a step back next season with Poeltl. He will also make less than $10 million next year and shouldn't cost nearly as much to re-sign.
The next component in a possible sign and trade could be Doug McDermott. The Spurs acquired him last summer because they were in need of shooting, and he's one of the best shooters in the NBA, but his salary may be needed for the trade.
While he'd technically be there to match salaries, the Suns, like most teams, could use McDermott. Additionally, his inclusion in a sign and trade may mean a deeper team than the one that won 64 games last season.
On the other hand, the Spurs could instead trade Josh Richardson, who's slightly cheaper and more versatile. Richardson shot the lights out last season, nailing 39.1% of his threes while also playing physical defense.
As for the Suns, they could use a sign and trade as a chance to move Dario Saric, who missed all of this past season. While Saric is good, the Suns were fine without him, and players usually aren’t the same for at least a season after tearing their ACL. As a result, the Suns may want to try and swap him out.
What could an Ayton sign and trade look like?
There are several potential versions of a sign and trade between the Spurs and Suns but it will largely depend on what the Suns want to do. They could try to get as much back as possible to help them win now. Or they may try to replace Ayton, maybe get another player, and add assets while avoiding paying the luxury tax.
The simplest trade framework would see Richardson and Poeltl being swapped for Ayton, with perhaps a future second-round pick or two thrown in. That deal would give the Suns a replacement starting center as well as add a key rotation player for just $21.6 million.
Compare that to the first year’s salary of an Ayton max, which will pay him $30.5 million, and the Suns would save about $10 million. Meanwhile, the Spurs could preserve most of their cap space by offsetting two-thirds of Ayton’s salary next season.
Also, because the Suns would be left with a big hole at center without Ayton, receiving Poeltl and another rotation player may be enough to get them to agree to a trade. Even if they request picks, the Spurs have plenty of seconds to choose from. In fact, they should be willing to part with a couple of them, if necessary, especially after drafting three players in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft.
All of this could prove moot if the Spurs decide to ship Murray to the Hawks. However, they could possibly agree to a framework of a deal with the Hawks (or another team) but wait until free agency to see what Ayton does. If Ayton agrees to join the Spurs, then they may proceed with a sign and trade with the Suns.
Otherwise, the Spurs could decide to blow it up and move Murray, likely followed by McDermott and Richardson. That means a lot rides on what Ayton chooses to do, and hopefully, the Spurs make a strong pitch because he'd be an upgrade at center.
He's also nearly three years younger than Poeltl, making him a better fit with the Spurs' increasingly younger roster, and he has the potential to develop into an All-Star in San Antonio.