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For the last two weeks, Deandre Ayton has been in the NBA version of purgatory, stuck as a restricted free agent on a market where few teams had cap space to make him an offer and fewer had motivation to extend an offer sheet his way. With Kevin Durant’s trade request further adding to the drama of this summer and having teams even more wary of tying up cap space with an offer sheet, Ayton (along with Collin Sexton) found himself in no-man’s land.
On Thursday, Ayton finally found a suitor in the form of the Indiana Pacers, who cleared enough space with the Malcolm Brogdon trade and a few smaller waivers to extend him a 4-year, $133 million max offer. After failing to reach a sign-and-trade with the Suns over the course of Thursday afternoon, Ayton put pen to paper on that deal and it became a waiting game to see if Phoenix would indeed match as they had insisted they would for weeks.
Sure enough, less than 20 minutes after word broke that Ayton had signed the offer sheet, the Suns matched and retained the former No. 1 overall pick.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) July 15, 2022
As soon as the Suns received the four-year, $133M offer sheet, the franchise matched it. Deandre Ayton returns to Phoenix and can't be traded without his consent for a full year. https://t.co/dBXGN3qbCK
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 15, 2022
The Suns couldn’t let Ayton walk, as that would’ve severely damaged their chances of contending again next season, but given how damaged the player-team relationship seems to be after last year, it’ll be interesting to see how Ayton reacts to being back in Phoenix. The Suns had made clear they didn’t value him as a max player and the way the season ended, with Ayton benched in a blowout loss to the Mavs in Game 7 of the second round, there’s clearly some issues that need to be resolved between he and coach Monty Williams.
Still, the Suns are better with Ayton than without him, and they will at minimum go into this season with mostly the same team that earned the 1-seed last year before falling apart in the final five games of the second round. As Woj notes, Ayton cannot be traded until January 15 and will have veto power on any trade in the next year, meaning if the Suns want to move him in the first year of his new deal, they’ll have to do so with his consent — and he now is guaranteed not to be part of a Kevin Durant trade prior to the season starting.
As for Indiana, they now have to deal with the fallout from failing to land Ayton, as Myles Turner (who has long been considered available in trade talks) surely won’t be thrilled about the Pacers pursuit of another center.