One of the most important free agent dominoes fell on 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. Signing Ayton should have big ripple effects in the league, as he has often been mentioned as a possible trade chip in a Kevin Durant trade, while the Pacers are still looking for an upgrade at center.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what Ayton’s signing means for the Suns, Nets and Pacers.
Phoenix revives it…for now
Even after an ignominious Game 7 loss to the Mavericks, the Suns bring back the bulk of the roster that won 64 games in 2021-22. Phoenix’s starting five is expected to be the same for the third consecutive season with Ayton in tow, and key contributors from the bench such as Cameron Payne and Cam Johnson also stayed. On the surface, keeping the core of the franchise’s best team together is a given. As ugly as Phoenix’s Game 7 loss was, there’s enough evidence to believe this group can contend for a title in a busy West. On the pitch, Ayton fits right in with Chris Paul and Devin Booker. He’s versatile on both sides of the pitch and he’s improving as both a varied attacking scorer and a team defender. And he should continue to grow as a player as he enters his prime, especially as he plays in higher-stakes post-season games.
Financial commitment is also a good sign. With the return of Ayton, as currently constructed, the Suns will pay the luxury tax for the first time since 2009, a sign owner is ready to foot the bill needed to win a title.
Off the court, Phoenix’s extended song and dance with Ayton was awkward at best. By not extending it last season, the Suns essentially avoided giving Ayton an even higher value five-year contract per year, forcing him to find an outside offer. Was it worth the effect it had on the team chemistry? Ayton barely played in the second half of that Game 7 loss to Dallas, with Monty Williams harshly calling it an “internal” issue after the game. Although Phoenix responded to Ayton’s offer fairly quickly, it didn’t exactly make him feel wanted last year. It’s an odd tactic to employ with a former No. 1 pick who has become a key cog in a title contender, especially when he has room to grow. Relations seemed strained in Phoenix at the end of the season. Aligning everyone’s motivations before a title race will be as important to this team’s success as what happens between two baskets.
Bottom line: The Suns will have a very high floor as long as Ayton, Booker and Paul play together. But don’t be shocked if Ayton’s name pops up in trade rumors at some point during the term of this contract.
Kevin Durant’s options are dwindling
Speaking of trades, a Kevin Durant-Phoenix deal is much less likely following Ayton’s signing. Even though the Nets would have been cool with Ayton as a player — whether actual posturing or a draft pick — a signing and trade involving him made a lot of sense in Durant’s assumptions. 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 with this summer, and if he’s sent to a third team in your favorite Durant fake trade, Ayton can undo that with the flick of a finger. (I like to believe that trading is officially banned the Dikembe Mutombo way.)
Scroll to continue
It’s not impossible for the Suns to trade for Durant now, but it gets a lot trickier without being able to get Ayton involved. If the signing knocks Phoenix out of the running for Durant, KD now has one team less on its list of destinations that can possibly 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 may have implications for Kyrie Irving, which may impact what the Lakers do this summer. I was serious about it being a major domino!
With an important team stepping back in Durant’s draw, the Nets could have a bit more leverage to try to bring Durant back for another season, or create stronger offers from teams not on the roster. wishes from KD. Durant’s situation will likely continue to drag on for the foreseeable future, but his chances of landing with the Suns appear to be taking a serious hit.
Uh, so Myles Turner?
The Pacers lured Ayton for a chat near the hearth even though they were already paired with a center in Myles Turner, and now the team must once again figure out what to do about his frontcourt.
Turner has been mentioned in trade rumors for years, and yet he can’t budge. Last season, Indiana appeared to half-heartedly commit to Turner by trading Domantas Sabonis. Turner seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of a bigger role in the team, so he’s probably not thrilled that the front office tried to replace him.
Turner is entering the final year of a contract that pays him $17.5 million, and I’d be surprised if he finishes this season with Indy. The Pacers eventually moved Malcolm Brogdon for a pittance, and I could see them ending up doing the same for Turner to get at least Something in return. It’s clear that Indy doesn’t see Turner as their long-term solution at center, and now he could enter training camp as a fallback option at the position. The team will likely offer some sort of support for Turner publicly at some point following the Ayton banter. Still, it’s hard to imagine that Turner isn’t even more available than he was before this summer.
Watch the NBA Live with fuboTV: Start a 7-day trial today!
More NBA coverage: