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Detroit Pistons reportedly could pursue DeAndre Ayton in free agency

Matt Johnson
Detroit Pistons, Deandre Ayton
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Pistons walked away from the 2021 offseason feeling elated after winning the NBA Draft lottery and landing Cade Cunningham. With the franchise point guard in place, the Pistons could have even bigger plans this summer.

Detroit will be one of the few teams in a great position to spend this offseason, projected to have $30-plus million in cap space. While the pool of NBA free agents isn’t overloaded with cornerstone talent, pending restricted free-agent center Deandre Ayton could be targeted by multiple clubs.

Michael Scotto of Hoops Hype mentioned this week that the Pistons could be one of the teams who make a run at Ayton.

  • Deandre Ayton stats (2021-’22): 17.3 ppg, 10 rpg, 64.4 FG%

Landing Ayton will certainly prove difficult, given the Phoenix Suns can match any offer he receives. However, Detroit’s ability to offer the max contract might give them a chance at another fantastic offseason.

Why Deandre Ayton is a great target for the Detroit Pistons

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Orlando Magic
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Ayton hasn’t matched the production of fellow draftees Luka Doncic and Trae Young. However, the 23-year-old center. However, he is steadily developing and can be a core piece of a championship contender.

During Phoenix’s playoff run this past season, Ayton averaged 15.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. Shooting 65.8% from the field and protecting the rim, he started putting all the physical tools together that made him worth the top pick.

In a move that draw plenty of criticism, the Suns opted not to sign him to a max contract extension last offseason. While they will have a chance to match any offer he receives, there are no guarantees that is done by a franchise with a history of watching its spending.

Ayton would provide Cunningham with a strong option to feed in the paint. Ayton is shooting a career-high 65.2% from inside two-point range this year, becoming a more efficient scorer. He turned it up in March with Chris Paul sidelined, averaging 19.9 points per game on 54.6% shooting from the field.

The 6-foot-11 big ranks 20th in the NBA in Win Shares (6.9) and his Win Shares per 48 minutes (.216) ranks 11th in the league. While he’s not an elite defender, his well-rounded game would fill massive needs in the Pistons’ lineup.

How would a DeAndre Ayton signing impact the Detroit Pistons draft strategy?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round Greenville - Miami vs Auburn
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

There is a scenario for the Detroit Pistons offseason to work out perfectly. Looking at the 2022 NBA Draft class, Auburn forward Jabari Smith stands out as the ideal fit for this team.

Related: 50 Top NBA players of 2022 – Giannis leads the charge as Anthony Edwards, Joel Embiid rise the ranks

Smith, even at 6-foot-10, might be one of the top perimeter shooters in his draft class. He averaged 2.3 three-pointers made per game as a freshman, hitting 42% from beyond the arc.

Detroit needs a spot-up shooter who can drill jumpers from the corner or hit turnaround shots from outside the post. Smith is the complementary player who can play alongside Ayton, creating a two-headed attack with size and athleticism that is hard for opponents to match.

It’s also the ideal scenario for Cunningham. He can average 20-plus points each game and find ways to win. However, he loves getting others involved and there needs to be a diverse cast of shooters and impact players around him.

If the Pistons could find a way to finish the offseason with Smith and Ayton coming together on a Cunningham-led team, a return to the playoffs will happen immediately. It might take Phoenix declining to match the max offer and Detroit landing a top-three pick, but wilder things happen every year.