How Deandre Ayton’s return to Suns impacts NBA offseason
One of the most important free-agent dominoes fell Thursday when the Suns retained Deandre Ayton, matching the four-year, $133 million offer sheet the center signed with the Pacers.
Ayton, who turns 24 on July 23, was a restricted free agent after failing to sign an extension with Phoenix last summer. He averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game for the Suns last season, helping the team finish the regular season with the best record in the NBA. Ayton’s signing should have some significant ripple effects around the league, as he was frequently mentioned as a possible trade chip in a Kevin Durant trade, while the Pacers are still searching for an upgrade at center.
Here’s a quick breakdown on what the Ayton signing means for the Suns, net and Pacers.
Phoenix Is Running it Back… for Now
Even after an ignominious Game 7 defeat against the Mavericks, the Suns are bringing back most of the roster that won 64 games in 2021–22. Phoenix’s starting five should be the same for the third straight season with Ayton in tow, and key bench contributors such as Cameron Payne and Cam Johnson have stuck around as well. On the surface, keeping the core of the franchise’s best team together is a no-brainer. As ugly as Phoenix’s Game 7 loss was, there’s enough evidence to believe this group can compete for a title in a loaded West. On the court, Ayton is a perfect fit with Chris Paul and Devin Booker. He’s versatile on both ends of the floor, and he’s improving as both a varied offensive scorer and team defender. And he should continue to grow as a player as he enters his prime, particularly as he plays in more high-stakes postseason games.
The financial commitment is a good sign as well. With Ayton back, as presently constructed the Suns will be paying the luxury tax for the first time since 2009, a sign ownership is willing to foot the bill necessary to win a title.
Off the court, Phoenix’s extended song and dance with Ayton was awkward at best. By not extending him last season, the Suns essentially avoided giving Ayton a five-year contract worth even more annually, forcing him to find an outside offer. Was that worth whatever effect it had on the team’s chemistry? Ayton hardly played in the second half of that Game 7 loss to Dallas, with Monty Williams sternly calling it an “internal” issue after the game. Though Phoenix rather quickly matched Ayton’s offer, it hasn’t exactly made him feel wanted the past year. It’s an odd tactic to employ with a former No. 1 pick who has become a key cog of a title contender, especially when he has room to grow. Relationships seemed strained in Phoenix by the end of the season. Aligning everyone’s motivations ahead of a title chase will be as tantamount to this team’s success as what’s happening in between two baskets.
Bottom line: The Suns are going to have a really high floor as long as Ayton, Booker and Paul are playing together. But don’t be shocked if Ayton’s name pops up in trade rumors at some point during the life of this contract.
Kevin Durant’s Options Are Dwindling
Speaking of trades, a Kevin Durant-to-Phoenix deal is a lot less likely in the aftermath of the Ayton signing. Even if the Nets were reportedly cool on Ayton as a player—whether that’s real or draft-pick posturing—a sign-and-trade involving him made a lot of sense in Durant hypotheticals. Because the Suns matched an offer sheet for Ayton, he can’t be traded until Jan. 15 at the earliest, and he can veto any trade in the first year of his deal. That means he can’t be dealt this summer, and if he gets shipped to some third team in your favorite Durant fake trade, Ayton can nix that with a wave of a finger. (I like to believe trades are officially vetoed Dikembe Mutombo style.)
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It’s not impossible for the Suns to trade for Durant now, but it becomes much trickier without being able to involve Ayton. If the signing takes Phoenix out of the running for Durant, now KD has one fewer team on his list of destinations that can feasibly acquire him. Maybe that helps a team like the Heat. Or maybe it emboldens a small-market team like the Grizzlies. Or maybe it convinces the Nets to bring Durant back, which maybe has implications for Kyrie Irving, which maybe has an impact on what the Lakers do this summer. I was serious about this being a major domino!
With an important team taking a step back in the Durant sweepstakes, the Nets may have a little more leverage in trying to bring Durant back for another season, or for creating stronger bids from teams not on KD’s wishlist. The Durant situation will likely continue to drag out for the foreseeable future, but his chances of landing with the Suns have appeared to take a serious hit.
Uh, so Myles Turner?
The Pacers pulled Ayton for a chat by the firepit even though they were already coupled up with a center in Myles Turner, and now the team again has to figure out what to do about its frontcourt.
Turner has been mentioned in trade rumors for years, and yet can’t get moved. Last season, Indiana seemed to make a half-hearted commitment of sorts to Turner by trading Domantas Sabonis. Turner appeared excited at the prospect of a larger role with the team, so he’s probably not ecstatic the front office tried to replace him.
Turner is entering the final year of a deal that pays him $17.5 million, and I would be surprised if he finished this season with Indy. The Pacers ultimately moved Malcolm Brogdon for a pittance, and I could see them eventually doing the same for Turner to get at least something in return. It’s clear Indy doesn’t see Turner as its long-term solution at center, and now he could enter training camp as its fallback option at the position. The team will probably offer some kind of support for Turner publicly at some point in the wake of the Ayton dalliance. Still, it’s hard to imagine Turner is not somehow even more available than he was before this summer.
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