Should the Portland Trail Blazers pursue Deandre Ayton in trades or free agency?

As has been notated ad nauseam, Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkić is a free agent this offseason. Reportedly, the Blazers are interested in Phoenix center Deandre Ayton who will enter restricted free agency this summer after the Suns failed to extend his contract, but they do retain the rights to match any offer he receives from other teams.

Ayton, 23, was the first pick overall in the 2018 NBA Draft. Since coming into the league, he has put up 16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. His best scoring season was in 2019-2020 in which he averaged 18.2. It also marked his greatest rebounding year, as the former Arizona Wildcat grabbed 11.5 boards a night. Last season, he tallied 17.2 and 10.2 rebounds. In Ayton’s first four seasons, he has not won a major award and has yet to make an All-Star team. He was on the NBA All-Rookie First Team his rookie season.

Jusuf Nurkic, Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, free agency

Jusuf Nurkic, Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, free agency (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Portland Trail Blazers should shy away from Deandre Ayton

Ayton’s numbers may sound very intriguing, however, he has not played more than 71 games in his career. The same year he put up his best numbers, he would miss 44 games, 25 of which were from a suspension handed down by the NBA for violating the terms of the NBA/NBA PA’s (Players Association) Anti-Drug Program for testing positive for a diuretic.

“Deandre has expressed his deepest remorse.  While he is suspended we remain committed to his growth and development on and off the court. His actions are not taken lightly, and we are committed to ensuring that Deandre understands the profound impact it has had on the team, organization, and Suns community.” Suns General Manager James Jones via David Brandt of the Associated Press in 2019.

He is also likely going to cost a lot. The 6’11” center is not a favorite of Suns Coach Monty Williams either according to Bleacher Reports Jake Fischer:

“Ayton is expected to command a maximum salary, sources said, but there is skepticism among league executives the Suns would match such a lucrative offer.
The recent Williams dynamic may simply echo consistent word—dating back to the trade deadline—from league sources with knowledge of the situation that Ayton is not particularly a favorite of Phoenix’s head coach. Williams has purportedly griped about Ayton’s waning focus, which some people contacted by B/R said has often been reflected by the ebbs of his playing time.

There’s a stronger sense among league figures that Phoenix brass simply does not view Ayton, or any center, as a player worth greater than $30 million annually.”

So maybe the Blazers need to focus on resigning Nurkić at the five position and focus their resources elsewhere. Brooklyn center Andre Drummond is a free agent this summer as well and made just $2,401,537 this past season. He would make a decent backup to a re-signed Nurk and should command decent minutes with his stellar rebounding ability and size.

Whoever Portland signs as the starting center is likely to get a decent payday, but Ayton’s price tag is simply too lofty for his production.