The San Antonio Spurs are expected to have significant cap space this summer, enough to sign a player to a max contract. Deandre Ayton could be that player, and he may be gettable after a falling out between the former number one overall pick and the Phoenix Suns.
It's been two mind-bogglingly bad decisions for the Suns, who snapped a 10-year streak of missing the playoffs just last season. That was with the help of Ayton, who has since become one of the best centers in the NBA, even helping the team win a franchise-record 64 games.
Their ineptitude could benefit the Spurs, who may sign him to an offer sheet this summer, potentially dealing a blow to their former rival. Of course, the team already has a starting center in Jakob Poeltl, an above-average one at that, but with Ayton, he'd become expendable and a valuable trade asset.
Examining trade options for Poeltl
The Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Hornets, and Chicago Bulls were among several teams interested in Poeltl leading up to the trade deadline. If Ayton is signed, then those three teams could renew their efforts to acquire Poeltl but will have to meet the Spurs' asking price.
The Bulls and Spurs have already discussed a trade involving Poeltl, with the Spurs rejecting a deal, but one is still possible. However, the Bulls can't actually move any of their future first-round picks, which limits their tradeable assets.
They do have former fourth overall pick Patrick Williams and whoever they select with the 18th pick in the 2022 NBA Draft available to trade. That said, the Bulls may be unwilling to move Williams, which would make a Poeltl deal unlikely to happen. The Spurs also have a reason not to deal him to the Bulls, considering San Antonio owns their 2025 first-rounder and it could end up being a lottery pick.
The Raptors would make for a better trade partner, considering that they have all of their first rounders available to trade. Poeltl started his career in Toronto before being traded to the Spurs. Now the Raptors may want him back, and if he is willing to return, the Spurs would probably try to accommodate him.
While the Raptors only have a few players under contract for next season and most are probably off-limits, there is a trade that could work. A 2023 first-round pick, a 2025 first-round pick swap, and Khem Birch might be enough to get a deal done.
Meanwhile, the Hornets still have PJ Washington and Kai Jones, who they offered in a deal for Poeltl. The trade ultimately fell through after the Hornets declined to include a first-round pick, but the deal could be revisited because of the assets.
Washington would give the Spurs a nice upgrade at power forward while Jones is a young athletic center who could emerge as a good backup. As for the pick, the teams could split the difference with the Hornets, agreeing to a 2027 first-round pick swap. As a result, the Hornets could have the most assets to offer the Spurs in a trade for Poeltl.
Ultimately, the Spurs have a real chance of signing Ayton to a max offer sheet in restricted free agency and the Suns aren't likely to match. If the Spurs do and the Suns don't, then the 23-year-old Ayton could provide the team with a long-term upgrade at center and make current starter Poeltl expendable.
Trading Poeltl could help the team out in the long run, allowing the Spurs to build around Dejounte Murray and Ayton going forward.