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Reports: Suns match offer sheet immediately, and what that means for the Suns and Ayton

In the coming days, you will probably hear that the Suns never wanted to trade Ayton or lose him.

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

That didn’t take long.

The Phoenix Suns took mere seconds to match a maximum-salary offer sheet to center Deandre Ayton from the Indiana Pacers.

Ayton became a restricted free agent on July 1, 2022 and right away there were rumors of a maximum salary offer sheet coming soon from either the Indiana Pacers or the San Antonio Spurs, who were the only two teams with a reasonable ability to create $31 million in cap space for the offer.

The rumors lingered until today, July 14, when Ayton finally got the offer sheet. And within moments of receiving the signed offer sheet, the Suns matched it.

Ayton will now return to the Phoenix Suns and here are the rules:

  1. All terms outlined in the offer sheet will be matched by the Suns. This includes $133 million over the next four years. Plus, any other terms in the sheet (such as player option years, trade kickers, and up front bonuses) will have to be matched by the Suns as well.
  2. Ayton cannot be traded from the Suns until at least January 15, 2023
  3. Even then, Ayton has veto power over any trade for a full year
  4. Ayton cannot be traded to the Indiana Pacers under any circumstances for at least one full year.

Suddenly, a totally silent Suns front office passed along some messaging to the newsbreakers that makes it seem like the Suns had planned to match any offer to Ayton if one was presented.

It was fun watching local insider John Gambadoro share updates from his contacts with the Suns and the Pacers all afternoon.

Notice the timestamps on the tweets.

At this point, Gambo was sharing his belief that the Suns could potentially not match the offer because they generally do not want to pay into the luxury tax for their roster.

A few moments later, after a call from the Suns...

Then four hours after that, which was only moments after news broke that the Suns had been sent the signed offer sheet.

Suns General Manager James Jones has long held two things for the past year:

  • They did not want to sign Ayton to a designated rookie max FIVE year deal, as was demanded by his agent last summer. Jones mentioned being willing to discuss a three or four year deal, but not the five year deal. He mentioned the problems with designated rookie deals (can’t have more than two at a time, can’t have more than one who was traded), which only comes into play at the five-year-max level.
  • Always said Ayton was an important part of the team, and hoped they would find common ground on a contract.

Today, the Suns proved it by immediately matching the first offer sheet Ayton finally signed, which is only four years and therefore not a ‘designated rookie max’.

Why does that matter? Three reasons:

  1. Booker is the other designated rookie max, and will remain so for the next two years until that deal expires (at which time he becomes a designated veteran max player).
  2. Now the Suns can acquire a second designated rookie max contract WHILE keeping Ayton and Booker and any and all of his teammates
  3. Now the Suns can trade Ayton, if they still want, between six months and two years from now to a team “like” the Nets who have already acquired another designated rookie max player and/or have two of them on the team already.

You say those two would never happen, right?

Yet, that’s a HUGE holdup right now in any Nets trade of Kevin Durant, because since they already have acquired Ben Simmons’ designated rookie max extension last season, they cannot now acquire any of about 15 other really good young players like Simmons (including Booker, Bam, and Donovan Mitchell) without trading Simmons away. And no one wants Simmons right now, I’ll tell you that.

These great young players do become available. In the last year alone, both Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell are being traded while on one of these contracts.

Imagine making Ayton and Booker their designated players, and knowing that the summer of 2023 is a bust because they can’t replace the aging Chris Paul with, say, De’Aaron Fox. Or another young ‘designated’ player who might hit the trading block.

But now, because Ayton is on a four-year, they CAN do that next year when it’s time to move on from Paul. Right now, if Paul falls off dramatically, they could stretch Paul’s $15 guaranteed million over five years and move their roster in a new direction at point guard. And now, that could potentially include a designated guy.

For now, Ayton is STAYING with the Suns. Guaranteed, he will be on the Suns roster through the new year, which will be about the first 30 games of the season. At minimum. Maybe for all four years!

Be happy, Suns fans.

And no, this does NOT take them out of the running for Kevin Durant. Makes it a bit harder, but certainly doable.

The Nets are going to have a very hard time acquiring an All-Star level player in exchange for Durant because of those restrictions I mentioned above. They can’t take on Donovan Mitchell, for example. Could very well be that Mikal Bridges is the best headliner they will get from a team for whom Kevin Durant would be happy to play.

Stay tuned!