EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Deandre Ayton ripple effects for Suns: Kevin Durant, tax bill, flexibility

Jul 15, 2022, 4:24 PM

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns slam dunks against the Dallas Mavericks during the second hal...

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns slam dunks against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of Game Two of the Western Conference Second Round NBA Playoffs at Footprint Center on May 04, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Mavericks 129-109.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Deandre Ayton remaining a member of the Phoenix Suns after the team matched the Indiana Pacers’ four-year maximum offer sheet of $133 million creates a few ripple effects for this offseason and beyond.

A crucial detail to emerge after the Ayton news was that the offer sheet did not include a player option or trade kicker, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. These are some the shenanigans that can be twisted into contracts in order to make a team less likely to match, and also one of the shortcomings of restricted free agency.

You’ll remember how we discussed last October that the Utah Jazz lost Gordon Hayward after just three years because he signed a 3+1 offer sheet with a player option in the fourth year. He declined it and joined the Boston Celtics.

The Suns not having to deal with either of those two things or odd, frontloaded salary structure is huge. Indiana’s weird game of chicken trying to force a sign-and-trade did not pay off (heh, get it?).

Ayton’s arrival put the Suns at 14 rostered players and above the tax line by nearly $17 million for a luxury tax bill of roughly $35 million, per Spotrac.

The signing of Ayton on that offer sheet instead of the five-year, $177 million extension he could have received in the fall cushions a bit of that bill, which the Suns should take advantage of.

There are a couple of different ways to think about that.

Fine, we will talk about Kevin Durant first.

Brooklyn, according to multiple reports, did not want Ayton. The problem, however, is that the Suns sending Ayton to a third or fourth team as a part of a larger deal with a sign-and-trade allowed them to provide Brooklyn with more assets.

That felt like the extra juice to get a deal over the top. Now, the hypothetical package is centered around Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, draft picks and at least one of Jae Crowder, Landry Shamet or Dario Saric because of their mid-level, team-friendly contracts. Ayton’s return in these scenarios limited Phoenix to only giving up two players, maybe even three, but it would have to be at least three now.

The issue there is a direct 1-to-1 Durant deal significantly handicaps the Suns’ rotation and their ability to patch it up afterward. Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro has been reporting the last two weeks that Phoenix does not want to gut its roster in a potential Durant trade but that’s almost impossible to execute without more teams getting involved.

If it’s Bridges, Johnson, Crowder, four unprotected first-round picks and some swaps, how do the Suns replace Bridges? Add another ball-handler? They are just about out of resources in that layout.

So, the Suns will likely once again need to rely on finding a third and possibly fourth team to either help them get the salary to match a warranted Durant return or fill some of those needs in the same deal.

I have my own reservations about if Phoenix has enough to field an offer that Brooklyn would accept. Then again, if Durant wants to only be on the Suns, it’ll get done.

The added ease in this, and something I didn’t even discuss since Durant’s trade request, was Ayton and Durant playing together. That cushions the drop-off of Bridges’ departure in a Durant trade, particularly on defense.

Part of why I hadn’t considered it was the heights the tax bill would reach.

The Suns are chill with that, per Gambadoro.

And remember, this doesn’t just have to be about Durant. If that sweepstakes goes south for Phoenix, it can still pursue other upgrades on the trade market.

Lastly, on the willing to splurge front, how about that Johnson extension if he’s still a member of the Suns?

To go back to who could be on the move, the Suns’ center rotation is now Ayton, Saric, Bismack Biyombo and Jock Landale. Phoenix should want to hold onto Saric and the occasional dynamic of a playmaking, stretch five that was dearly missed last season.

It also has limited trade chips, and at the end of the day, we’re talking about the other 14-18 minutes Ayton isn’t playing that Biyombo proved capable of last year.

The Suns still have their tax-payer midlevel exception of about $6.5 million to use in free agency as well. Options are very limited. Dennis Schroder is the only one that pops out to me. Regardless, the only downside is the tax bill going up, and risking it on a player that could be a cog on the bench is worth it. We’ve seen how much a lack of depth hurts the Suns once the lights get the brightest.

All of this is lingering for a Suns front office that certainly has planned out a couple of different scenarios.

For now, we’re back to the same waiting game with Durant. Patience, everyone! Stay strong!

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Deandre Ayton ripple effects for Suns: Kevin Durant, tax bill, flexibility