Who can sign or trade Suns C?

Deandre Ayton entered restricted free agency in search of a max contract and has questions about the possibility of his return to the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns must weigh whether to re-sign Ayton or match another team’s offer to keep them in a championship window that could quickly close as Chris Paul ages and other contracts swell.

In the most plausible way of thinking, keeping Ayton would keep the Suns in that window more than letting him go. Getting him out will undoubtedly require a serious roster shuffling.

But what if it did happen?

The Pistons, Pacers, Magic and Spurs are among the teams that have or come close to having the cap space to add Ayton to free agency.

Those teams, along with the Portland Trail Blazers and Charlotte Hornets, have been linked to Ayton by other NBA executives who believe certain roster holes and relatively open finances make them a Sun-chasing target. Restrict free agency candidates.

While the Suns could match any offer, they could move on from Ayton while making a return with a sign-and-trade.

Most transactions in Phoenix will be restricted.

Because of the NBA’s base-year compensation rules, any sign-and-trade that puts the team that accepts Ayton over the salary cap will only be allowed to get salary back, as if Ayton’s contract was a 50% deal for his new first-year amount. Under standard trade rules, the Suns could take 125% of the outgoing contract plus $100,000 for a $19 million return salary.

Including more Suns players — or more teams — could help come back to the Suns for a trade with more money (i.e. better players).

In short: Ayton is quite possibly the best player in any sign-and-trade.

Taking into account what other NBA executives think reports — Jack Fischer of Bleacher Report covering the rumors about Ayton’s market — here’s a list of teams that could really pursue Ayton. Beyond that, here are my thoughts on parts of the Suns that might be of interest.

Toronto Raptors

(AP Photo/Scott Odette)

An intriguing comeback: OG Anunoby ($17.4 million)

Fischer reported Tuesday that Toronto may be considering a trade for one of the league’s most physical giant wings, adding that the Raptors are eyeing the starting center then use tweet Show the team doesn’t mind acquiring Ayton.

The match against Anunoby is more realistic than Suns fans’ dreams of acquiring All-Star forward Pascal Siakam, who will make $35.5 million next year.

The 24-year-old Anunoby is averaging 17.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists. He’s shot 37 percent from 3-point range in five NBA seasons, and even if Jack Crowder is on the roster, he could be an immediate starting power forward.

Other players Phoenix could consider on Toronto’s roster include shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. ($17.3 million), power forward Khem Birch ($6.7 million) and power forward Precious Achiuwa ($2.8 million).

Indiana Pacers

(AP Photo/Darren Cummings)

An intriguing comeback: Miles Turner ($17.5 million due)

We’re including the Pacers because they reportedly negotiated an Ayton-Domantas Sabonis exchange in February before the trade deadline. Arizona Sports John Gambadoro.

Turner will be a more traditional defensive center who may work harder than Ayton at dealing with perimeter threats, but as a shot-blocker he’s more of a rim threat (2.3 blocks per game for his career) . Offensively, he’s added more spacing, but he hasn’t shot more than 34 percent from 3-point range over the past two years.

If the Suns want a hard reset on their backup guard, point guard TJ McConnell ($8.1 million) could be a sweet spot.

Detroit Pistons

(AP Photo/Nick Kamit)

An intriguing comeback: Jerami Grant ($21 million due)

Grant is probably the best player we’ll mention as a realistic candidate in this exercise.

Booker’s Team USA teammates have struggled with efficiency over the past two years, and Detroit is the No. 1 option, but could see a bump in the All-Star backcourt. The 28-year-old is averaging 19.2 points on 36 percent three-point shooting while also bringing some playmaking elements.

Center Isaiah Stewart will become a restricted free agent next year if Grant isn’t in the trade, but because he’s on a rookie contract, there are funding issues with such a deal.

Atlanta Hawks

(AP Photo/Michael Wick)

An intriguing comeback: Clint Capela ($18.2 million due)

It’s a logical guess that the Hawks would send Capela’s expiring deal in such a trade. He averaged 11.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game last year and has been a productive rim protector and rim protector at age 28.

Atlanta has other interesting pieces that might interest the Suns. The Hawks could unlock Kevin Huerter by trading veteran combo guard Bogdan Bogdanovich, who is a clear upgrade for Phoenix behind Devin Booker and Paul. If Capela is denied, it would be worth pulling young shot-blocking big man Okongwu out of the trade.

Atalanta, though, may be most willing to waive Devin Booker’s father’s expiring $21 million contract with former Milan Olympia teammate Danilo Gallinari. Reading that, we said the Suns probably shouldn’t have accepted that contract.

Portland Trail Blazers

(AP Photo/Matt York)

An intriguing comeback: Josh Hart ($13 million), Justice Winslow ($4.1 million due)

Sorry, no Damian Lillard’s dream here. Portland’s roster includes two team-oriented players, Hart and Winslow, but other trade chips aren’t attractive. Winslow, now 26, has struggled with injuries despite entering the league with defense, playmaking and shooting potential. He missed the third of more than half a season in his seven-year career.

Nassir Little is still 22 and may have more upside, but that’s another player on a rookie trade.

What could be more impossible than trading Lillard? Eric Bledsoe ends the season in Portland and will actually be a major upgrade in supporting Paul (again) and playing alongside Booker (again). Did he forget he didn’t want to be here?

San Antonio Spurs

(AP Photo/Nick Wagner)

An intriguing comeback: Jakob Poeltl ($9.4 million due)

A center-for-center change would make Phoenix a starter, who showed last year how he can score efficiently (62 percent from the field), excel on offense (2.8 assists), and protect the rim in the right spot (1.7 secondary cap). However, he failed the “can’t play this center off the court” test.

Otherwise, the Spurs do have interesting young cores in power forward Keldon Johnson (Booker’s other Team USA teammate) and swingman Devin Wasser. That’s why they’re in such a good position when it comes to cap space.

Also, Josh Richardson ($12.2 million) is a veteran contributor who has played for a lot of teams but can defend, shoot and pass correctly.

Charlotte Hornets

(AP Photo/Rusty Jones)

An intriguing comeback: Terry Rozier ($21.5 million)

If you recall, Terry Rozier was the No. 1 target in free agency as the Suns desperately sought help from point guards in 2019. Before Michael Jordan apparently convinced him not to take it, Phoenix offered him a deal.

Rozier would be all the strength you need to take some of the workload off Paul, and could end up being a reasonable alternative since he’s on a long-term contract.

Charlotte, however, clearly valued Rozier by extending him by four years last summer. It will only trade Rozier if it believes it can develop more scoring pop from its existing team that started with James Booknett.

More reasonable deals include center Mason Plumlee ($8.5 million expiring) and power forward PJ Washington ($5.8 million expiring soon, restricted free agency expiring).

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