A few months ago, the Phoenix Suns looked like a team that might lay claim to being the best in the West for years to come, wrapping up a dominant 64-win regular season that was the best in the NBA by eight games a year after making it to the Finals.
However, a second round collapse against Dallas that ended with one of the most embarrassing Game 7 performances in history led to plenty of questions about their future, most notably that of young star center Deandre Ayton. After not getting offered the max extension he felt he deserved last summer, Ayton had a terrific regular season, but was benched in that Game 7 amid rumors there was a bit of a dust-up on the sidelines between he and coach Monty Williams, with their reportedly strained relationship becoming a topic of conversation in the weeks following.
As the playoffs wore on, it became the expectation that Ayton was not going to be back in Phoenix next season, despite being a restricted free agent, and the question was more where would he go and would the Suns get anything of value back in a potential sign-and-trade. However, when free agency opened, Ayton found himself without a market, the latest restricted free agent left high and dry as teams refused to tie up cap space on an offer sheet the Suns may match — particularly while Kevin Durant trade rumors swirled.
Two weeks later, however, there’s finally movement on the Ayton front, as there was a growing expectation that Indiana would be bringing an offer sheet to Ayton. Not only did that end up happening, but as it turns out, the offer sheet Ayton signed is the largest in NBA history, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
RFA center Deandre Ayton has agreed to a four-year, $133M maximum offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers, his agents Nima Namakian (Innovate Sports) and Bill Duffy (BDA Sports + WME Sports) tell ESPN. The Phoenix Suns have 48 hours to match the largest offer sheet in NBA history.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 14, 2022
Last season, Ayton started all 58 games in which he appeared. The big man scored 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds in 29.5 minutes per game while shooting a career-best 63.4 percent from the field. If the Suns do not match this offer sheet, he’ll join a Pacers team with Myles Turner still in the frontcourt despite being in trade rumors yet again, creating an interesting pairing of bigs, with Tyrese Haliburton now the clear leading man in the backcourt after the Pacers dealt Malcolm Brogdon to Boston.
There is still time for a sign-and-trade to be worked out, as the clock doesn’t start until midnight on a signed offer sheet, meaning the Suns have just over eight hours to work out a deal if they don’t want to match Ayton, but also don’t want to see him walk for nothing.
Woj says Ayton has not signed the offer sheet and an S&T is still possible, trying to figure out if he's banging on a desk to make his points pic.twitter.com/dyhyRdwl2q
— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) July 14, 2022
Because the clock to match doesn’t start until midnight, both sides still have time work out a sign-and-trade before the offer sheet is officially signed. https://t.co/fFKwY4FAuG
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) July 14, 2022
What makes this situation all the more difficult for Phoenix is that if they match Ayton, he cannot be traded until January (and would have veto power over a trade after he becomes eligible), meaning any potential for Ayton to end up in a KD trade is now out the window.
UPDATE: The star center put pen to paper on that offer sheet just after 11 p.m. ET, putting the Suns on the clock to match, with Phoenix having until Saturday to make that official decision.
ESPN Sources: Restricted free agent C Deandre Ayton has signed the four-year, $133M offer sheet with the Pacers and now the Suns are on the clock to match it. Expectation remains that the Suns will do so and retain Ayton, but they could take the process through Saturday night.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 15, 2022
Shortly after, the Suns chose to match the offer sheet, bringing Ayton back to Phoenix where he can’t be traded until January 15 and must sign off on any deal that happens during the 2022-23 league yar.