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OG Anunoby is the ideal Deandre Ayton sign-and-trade target that probably won't happen

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
June 1, 2022

For about the millionth time this offseason: The Phoenix Suns’ most prudent course of action this summer is still coming to terms on a new extension with Deandre Ayton. A five-year max is probably out of the question after they failed to pony up last offseason, but if they so choose, the Suns are still in the driver’s seat to keep their restricted free agent.

Even after a Game 7 meltdown that featured a sideline blowup between Ayton and coach Monty Williams, that matters. The growing sentiment that DA is gone pales in the light of three undeniable facts:

  1. Even on a four-deal, the Suns can still offer more money than anyone else
  2. The Suns can match any offer sheet from an outside suitor
  3. The Suns won’t find a one-for-one replacement for everything Ayton does on both ends

For a team that’s in position to contend for championships now, Phoenix currently has the leverage. A second-round flameout for the greatest regular-season Suns team in franchise history was traumatizing, but there’s a case to made for not overreacting, running it back with the young core and tinkering around the margins to address the areas of weakness that came to light.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying: A Deandre Ayton sign-and-trade would be pretty close to a last resort, and even if that was the avenue both parties decided to pursue, working out the right deal is a major obstacle in its own right.

That’s important to bear in mind when the topic of OG Anunoby comes up, especially after the latest batch of NBA trade rumors.

On Tuesday, Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer expanded on Anunoby’s latest season with the Toronto Raptors, noting that Scottie Barnes’ emergence may have caused Anunoby to grow dissatisfied with his role there.

The provocative headline, “Does OG Anunoby want out of Toronto?” is slightly misleading, however. The story notes that this speculation comes from rival front offices, not from anyone within the Raptors organization. Anunoby has not spoken to the team directly about his “discontent,” and Fischer writes the whole thing could simply stem from “external interest” in acquiring his services.

It’d be easy to sever any lines trying to connect potential dots…until Fischer also mentioned Toronto’s interest in Ayton.

In terms of potential trade targets, OG Anunoby might strike the perfect balance between “ideal return” and “still actually feasible.” In our “7 Deandre Ayton sign-and-trade deals” piece from last week, there were a few pie-in-the-sky scenarios like Kevin Durant, but it’d take a lot for one of those to fall into place. As for the rest? They were realistic, understated returns, most of which didn’t necessarily make the Suns better.

The biggest obstruction to finding such a deal — which is part of the reason sign-and-trades historically don’t yield massive returns — is simple math. Due to “base-year compensation,” if Ayton were signed-and-traded on a four-year max starting at $30.5 million, his outgoing salary for the purposes of the trade would only be $15.25 million. That means the most the Suns could take back in a DA sign-and-trade without getting more players or teams involved would be just under $19.1 million, and the other team would still need to find a way to send out about $24 million for the math to work.

To that end, it’s worth noting that a Deandre Ayton sign-and-trade for OG Anunoby doesn’t work straight up. Anunoby’s $17.4 million salary for next season fits neatly under that $19.1 million threshold for Phoenix’s side of the equation, but the math fails on Toronto’s end. Ayton’s new contract would only count as $15.25 million in outgoing salary for Phoenix, but it’s still count as the full $30.5 million on the Raptors’ side.

That means more players would have to be involved, or it’d require the assistance of a third team to take some extra salary on from Toronto, most likely with some type of draft compensation attached. That third party would ideally be a team with plenty of cap space to eat the extra salary, allowing them to add a pick of some sort to their draft cache without needing to send outgoing salary in any direction.

We’ll use the Indiana Pacers in our example, but a team like the San Antonio Spurs or Detroit Pistons could work just as easily here:

In this scenario, the Pacers (or whichever third team makes sense) take on the remaining two years and $13.7 million of Khem Birch, a useful, veteran backup big who saw his minutes drop off in Toronto after a productive couple of years with the Orlando Magic.

Dalano Banton’s expiring contract is salary filler, and the Pacers get an early second-round pick for their troubles. That feels like the perfect balance for the Raptors, who don’t have to attach a first-rounder to unload the salary of a helpful backup, but are still giving Indiana enough incentive to participate with the 33rd overall pick in this year’s draft.

(NOTE: As we mentioned in our sign-and-trades piece from last week, any deal involving a 2022 NBA Draft selection, which takes place on June 23, in an Ayton sign-and-trade, which couldn’t be negotiated until July 1, would run the risk of tampering — unless the team in question later approved of the player selected with that pick. So in this case, the Pacers would need to be high on whoever Toronto took with that 33rd overall pick, or else they’d need to agree on a future first-rounder, most likely with some sort of protection attached.)

The Raptors get one of their top targets, a 23-year-old stud at a position of need, in an environment where he might be able to grow into an All-Star in the Eastern Conference.

As for the Suns? Well, they’d get a versatile, two-way force who’d make Phoenix one of the most formidable perimeter defenses in the NBA.

His increased role on offense came with a significant dip in efficiency, but Anunoby just averaged a career-high 17.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game while doubling as one of the NBA’s most imposing multi-positional defenders. He played in just 48 games due to a hip pointer and fractured finger, but he only turns 25 years old this summer, is a capable 3-point shooter and has more to offer offensively than simply being a spot-up threat.

Though his field goal percentage (48 percent to 44.3 percent) and 3-point percentage (39.8 percent to 36.3 percent) both dipped compared to the year prior, Anunoby can attack the basket with his burly, 6-foot-7 frame. Per Cleaning The Glass, he’s ranked in the 75th percentile or better in four of his five NBA seasons when it comes to getting to the rim. He had a down year in terms of finishing (64 percent), but this is coming off a career-best year in which he finished at a 69 percent clip, which ranked in the 80th percentile at his position.

Speaking of position, Anunoby could plug a number of holes no matter where the Suns chose to deploy him. Need lockdown defense at the 2 or the 3 to give Mikal Bridges a breather? No problem. How about a strong stretch-4 to ease Jae Crowder’s load at age 32? You betcha. And what about that pesky, small-ball 5 spot that Torrey Craig didn’t quite fill during the playoffs? Anunoby could potentially log some minutes there too, thanks to his 7-foot-2 wingspan.

With two years and $36 million left on his contract (plus a $19.9 million player option for 2024-25), the Suns would have at least two years to examine their new two-way wing before having to make any decisions about his future. They’d retain their financial flexibility to make a move for a superstar should one hit the trade market, and between Anunoby, Bridges, Crowder, Craig, Devin Booker and Cam Johnson, Phoenix would have a plethora of versatile, wing-heavy lineups to trot out. They’d still need to find a starting-caliber center on the trade market or using the mid-level exception, but that’d be a tantalizing young core to build around if Ayton and the Suns needed a divorce.

The problem is, there’s been zero indication the Raptors plan on trading a talented 24-year-old on a bargain contract. The speculation about OG Anunoby being unhappy with his role feels like wishful thinking on the part of rival executives, and as we’ve repeatedly mentioned with Ayton sign-and-trade scenarios, it’s probably in both sides’ interest to simply put their differences aside and hammer out a deal that’s less than the full five-year max.

Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, and sometimes it’s fun for NBA fans to, well, fan those flames. But as ideal a return as OG Anunoby would be in a potential Deandre Ayton sign-and-trade, that kind of outcome feels more like a desert mirage — something to keep a hopeful eye on, but not something to put real stock in until it proves to be more tangible.

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