Deandre Ayton signs max offer sheet from Indiana Pacers, per report
Phoenix Suns restricted free agent Deandre Ayton signed a maximum offer sheet that extends four years and is worth $133 million with the Indiana Pacers on Thursday, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Suns, however, are expected to match the offer sheet once it is signed, according to Wojnarowski.
Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro adds the Suns are willing to do whatever it takes to win, including paying a luxury tax of up to $100 million.
Phoenix has a choice of whether to match it or let the 2018 No. 1 overall pick walk, losing an asset for nothing in return.
Once Ayton signs the offer sheet, sign-and-trade deals centered around him are not allowed.
If the Suns decide to match the offer sheet and retain the center, Ayton has the power of veto on any trade for a full year. The earliest the Suns could trade Ayton would be Jan. 15.
The Suns surprised many around the league by not coming to terms on a max contract extension with the 2018 NBA Draft’s first overall pick last summer.
Now, they will aim for a reset around franchise star Devin Booker and fellow All-Star Chris Paul.
Ayton, far from the only reason Phoenix fell in the conference semifinals to the Dallas Mavericks, had an inconsistent playoff run and was benched by head coach Monty Williams in the Game 7 blowout loss that ended the team’s season.
According to Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro and others, the Suns at the very least listened to a proposal centered around then-Indiana Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis and Ayton before the February trade deadline. That trade did not materialize, and Sabonis was instead dealt to the Sacramento Kings.
Still, Ayton, who turns 24 this month, was a key factor all year.
He averaged 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game this regular season, shooting a career-high 64.3% despite expanding his offensive repertoire in short-roll situations and with midrange jumpers. That happened after he put the contract stalemate aside.
A week before the deadline passed without an extension last offseason, Ayton called the negotiations disappointing.
“I love Phoenix but I’m really disappointed that we haven’t really gotten a deal done yet,” he said. “We were two wins from a championship and I just really want to be respected, to be honest. Be respected like my peers are being respected by their teams.”
A five-year max extension for Ayton would have started in the $172.5 million range and amounted to up to $207 million with incentives. That or a shorter deal was still on the table this summer.
According to Wojnarowski, Ayton’s camp believed before this past season he was worth the max. The assumption that a max deal would be completed before an Oct. 18, 2021, deadline was held by “executives league-wide.”
Four players drafted from the No. 1 pick’s 2018 class agreed to max deals before the 2021-22 season: Denver’s Michael Porter Jr., Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Atlanta’s Trae Young and Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Ayton averaged 14.4 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.2 blocks per game in 2020-21 before Phoenix’s NBA Finals run. His play directly translated to the Suns’ success in the regular season and playoffs.
Any disagreement in Ayton’s value could be found in the leap he made from an impactful yet inconsistent regular season compared to a bullying 22-game playoff run.
Ayton’s playoff averages were up to 15.8 points, 11.8 rebounds plus over a block and assist a game. He shot 65.8% from the field.
The impact in Phoenix’s run to the NBA Finals went beyond those figures, as he was the primary defender on Los Angeles Lakers All-Star big man Anthony Davis, league MVP Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets and eventual Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in three of the four playoff series.
Ayton’s bullying of the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Finals — he averaged 17.8 points, 13.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks — was highlighted by his Valley-oop dunk near the buzzer in Game 2 of that series.
The success under the bright lights of the postseason did not transition to this past season.
Ayton averaged 17.9 points and 8.9 rebounds in 13 playoff games, shooting 64%, but he suffered from his well-known bouts of inconsistency on the defensive end at points in series against the New Orleans Pelicans and Mavericks.
There were rumblings Phoenix wanted to move on from Ayton beyond the failed-to-non-existent negotiations on an extension before the 2021-22 season.