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What’s the holdup on Ayton and Indiana?

Every day, there’s another delay on Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton getting a max offer sheet from the Pacers

Phoenix Suns v Indiana Pacers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

We have heard for days — months, even — that the Indiana Pacers want to acquire Phoenix Suns restricted free agent center Deandre Ayton with a maximum salary offer, either via an offer sheet or sign-and-trade with the Suns.

Every day the rumor builds steam, fueled by declarations that the Pacers have all the cap space they need to make a max offer sheet to Ayton and force the Suns to make a final decision on Ayton.

First, it was supposed to come on July 1, when the free agency flood gates opened.

Then, it was supposed to come on July 6, when the league year officially started and the Suns would only have 48 hours to make a decision on whether to match the Pacers’ offer.

Then, it was supposed to come on July 9, when the cap-space-freeing Malcolm Brogdon trade could be finalized.

Now, it’s supposed to be today, July 11, when Brogdon finally passes his physical for the Celtics.

What the heck? Why all the delays?

I’ve long wondered why the Pacers are waiting for all that cap space, if the Suns and Pacers are going to agree to a sign-and-trade anyway? Agreeing to a sign-and-trade means you only need the cap space for the difference in salaries. Didn’t the Pacers always have $13+ million in space for the difference between Ayton’s $31 million and Tuner’s $18 million?

Apparently, the answer was somewhere in between.

To even create enough space for the $13 million Ayton-to-Turner salary difference before the Brogdon trade, the Pacers would have had to cut a guy or two that they didn’t want to cut (or, alternately, renounce cap holds or non-guaranteed contracts). Now that the Brogdon can be finalized, the Pacers have a lot more flexibility to create the necessary $13 million or so to complete the trade.

Another consideration is keeping an upper hand in negotiations with the Suns. If the Suns knew the Pacers were not able to create the whole $31 million in space for an offer sheet, that’s just another piece of leverage in the Suns favor. The Suns asking price for Ayton in a sign-and-trade to a team with no leverage could be sky-high.

Assuming Brogdon passes his physical with the Celtics, the Pacers will finally have both the easy cap space for a sign-and-trade and a practical* ability to create a whole $31 million in space to threaten the Suns with a true offer that would force the Suns either keep Ayton at max salary or let him go for nothing.

*Even after the Brogdon trade, the Pacers will still need to create about another million in space for the whole $31 million. If you see a Pacers transaction today — cutting or trading a player — this might be to create that last $1 million in cap space for the offer.

Either way, the Pacers will now have the ability to go back to the Suns with more leverage in trade negotiations.

Right now, the Suns have all the leverage. Not only do the Pacers not even have the cap space to make an outright offer, but the Suns can just tell the Pacers they will match it anyway (there’s no downside to this threat if the offer can’t even be made!). So, in sign-and-trade negotiations, the Suns could be asking for the moon. If Gobert got a handful of players and five draft picks, why not Turner plus 2-3 draft picks for Ayton? Or why not ask for Chris Duarte to be thrown into the deal too?

But once the Pacers really CAN put the full offer sheet on the table, suddenly the Suns bluff has been called. The Suns would have to put their money where their mouth is. Keep him at max, or lose him for nothing. Pay the luxury tax, get stuck with an untradable Ayton for 6+ months, or regress as a team.

On the other side, almost certainly, the Pacers don’t want to have to issue a full offer sheet. Once that’s done, and Ayton signs it, the Suns have all the power to match it and keep Ayton. The Pacers will have done a ton of work and gotten nothing to show for it. The only other free agent out there worth a bunch of cap space now is Collin Sexton, who’s also a RFA.

At that point, the Pacers would probably just punt the season and use their cap space for asset-collection — getting good future draft picks for taking on bad contracts. Quite a drop-off from the potentiality of having a great young foundation in an Ayton-Haliburton combo.

Let’s see how it shakes out.

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