The Phoenix Suns wasted no time and within a few hours matched the four-year, $133 million offer sheet that the Indiana Pacers furbished to their starting center DeAndre Ayton.
It was the right move for Phoenix to make, but ultimately it was an unavoidable situation borne out of the stinginess of their controversial owner Robert Sarver. The Suns had a chance to extend Ayton’s rookie deal a year ago when he first became eligible, yet they chose to play hardball instead and refused to give him the maximum contract that he desired.
While it may have been the prudent move to make in terms of finances, it inevitably gave way to tension between the team and Ayton whose dissatisfaction was well-documented throughout this past season.
Their reluctance to give him his extension led to needless drama and was an unnecessary distraction throughout this past campaign where Ayton averaged 17.2 points on 63.4% field goal shooting and 10.2 rebounds per game.
Though these numbers were on par with his career norms, he only managed to play in 58 games due to various ailments which hindered his momentum. He was unable to take the leap to stardom in his fourth season that many expected from the former first overall pick.
Despite the lack of progress, the offer sheet from the Pacers and the subsequent move by Phoenix to match was the right move to make. Ayton’s soft touch and mobility as a 6’11 center is invaluable in the modern NBA and he is not an easy asset to replace.
Ayton proved his worth in 2021 when the Suns made it all the way to the NBA Finals as he was tasked with guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo. Although they ultimately fell short, he was rather competent against the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and still has the potential for much more growth as he is still only 23 years old.
Together with Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges, Ayton was expected to help carry the Suns throughout the remainder of this decade. Unfortunately, the drama surrounding this situation has put that vision under much uncertainty and it is likely that Phoenix will try to trade him away as soon as he is eligible one year from now.
Underneath all of this drama, the Pacers’ move to sign Ayton to an offer sheet also jeopardized the Suns’ chances of making a move for the Brooklyn Nets’ disgruntled superstar and 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant.
Any trade package for Durant would have had to be centered around Ayton, arguably their most valuable trade asset besides Booker, but that is no longer a possibility given the restrictions surrounding this extension.
Moving forward, all of this tension may turn out to be what is best for this Phoenix franchise in the long run. If they can regain Ayton’s trust and unbridled commitment, they can continue to build around their promising young trio and continue to battle on top of the Western Conference even after their veteran leader Chris Paul decides to hang up his sneakers. This is a big if, yet it is one that is worth exerting every ounce of effort on given the upside of this scenario.
A disaster has been averted in the interim, though the Suns will have to reassess whether winning an NBA title is truly their priority or if they would rather remain frugal and without a championship of their own.