By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
Centre Deandre Ayton, who was embroiled in contract talks with the Phoenix Suns and a heated clash with former head coach Monty Williams, has been traded to Portland, becoming the second Bahamian to play for the Trail Blazers.
The move came yesterday in a blockbuster three-team deal in the National Basketball Association that was centred around the Milwaukee Bucks acquiring guard Damian Lillard from the Trail Blazers.
The deal also sent Jrue Holiday from the Bucks to Portland, Jusuf Nurkic from the Blazers to the Suns and Toumani Camara from the Suns to the Trail Blazers. However, all three cannot be finalised until NBA attorneys review the terms and approve the deal.
The 25-year-old Ayton was hoping to team up with Eric Gordon, whom he played with for the Bahamas men’s national basketball team in the Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament in August where they advanced to the Qualifying Tournament next year heading into the Olympics in Paris, France.
But, according to reports, the Trail Blazers always had interest in the former No. 1 overall pick in the past and were linked to him again within the last week until the deal came through yesterday. Efforts to contact Ayton for comments were unsuccessful.
Ayton, the number one pick in the NBA draft in 2018, had an up-and-down five-year stint in Phoenix that included some tension with coach Williams, but he still managed to average a double-double for five straight seasons, including 18.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in 30.4 minutes per game across 67 contests last season.
But with the acquisition of Bradley Beal to join the duo of Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, there were some concerns as to how the Suns would have utilised Ayton, who is more of a traditional centre who plays on the inside.
After the departure of coach Williams, Ayton signed a four-year/ $132,929,128 contract with Phoenix, including $132,929,128 guaranteed, and an annual average salary of $33,232,282.
This season, he’s set to earn a base salary of $32,459,438, while carrying a cap hit of $32,459,438 and a dead cap value of $32,459,438.
While attending the Jeff Rodgers Summer Basketball Camp in Nassau, Ayton was spotted by an NBA scout who took him to the United States where he played for Balboa School In California.
He transferred to Hillcrest Prep Academy in Phoenix where he played out his final two years of high school. He then went on to play his freshman year for the Arizona Wildcats before he entered the NBA draft.
After spending the past seasons in Pheonix, Ayton now follows retired centre Mychal ‘Sweet Bells’ Thompson at Portland.
Thompson, the first Bahamian born player to play in the NBA, was selected as the first overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft as the first foreign-born player to be selected first.
During his eight years where he started at both power forward and centre positions with the Trail Blazers, Thompson was named to the 1978 All-Rookie team, and had arguably his statistically best season in 1981-82 where he averaged 20.8 points and 11.7 rebounds per game.
In the 1987 off-season, Thompson was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for centre/forward Steve Johnson.
But after he only played half a season with the Spurs, Thompson was traded again on February 1987 to the Los Angeles Lakers for centre/forward Frank Brickowski and centre Petur Guomundsson plus a 1987 first-round draft pick and their 1990 second-round draft choice, along with an undisclosed amount of cash. Thompson was acquired as a back-up centre and power forward for coach Pat Riley’s Lakers team that had four players who were overall #1 selections in the NBA draft, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1969), Magic Johnson (1979), and James Worthy (1982).
The trade proved valuable to the 1986-87 Lakers, who went on to defeat Boston for the 1987 NBA title.
Thompson thrived as Abdul-Jabbar’s backup. In game six of the 1987 NBA Finals, he had 15 points and nine rebounds and played 37 minutes as the Lakers won the series.
The Lakers won another title in 1988, beating the Detroit Pistons, and reached the Finals in 1989, falling to Detroit, and again, in 1991.
He retired later that year.
Thompson, 68, is now a commentator for the Lakers and one of his sons, Klay Thompson, is a superstar for the Golden State Warriors, who won four NBA titles in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2022.