Deandre Ayton, Pacers agree to four-year, $133 million offer; The suns have 48 hours to align

Deandre Ayton and the Indiana Pacers agreed to terms on a four-year, $133 million max offer. his agent told ESPN, which was later confirmed by Bill Reiter of CBS Sports. The Phoenix Suns, Ayton’s original team, will have 48 hours to decide if they wish to honor the offer from the time he signs it. Since that clock doesn’t start until midnight, the Suns and Pacers still have several hours to try to reach a sign and trade before he signs the deal.

The Suns have been hesitant to give Ayton a max contract in the past. He wanted one after helping lead the Suns to the 2021 NBA Finals, but Phoenix reportedly didn’t believe he was worth such a hefty contract. Now, if Ayton signs the paper, the decision is out of their hands. They can either match the offer sheet and keep Ayton at that price, or they can lose him for nothing. Those are the only two options after he signed on the dotted line. Once that clock starts, they can no longer negotiate a sign-and-trade with Indiana, and perhaps more importantly, they can no longer throw Ayton as a sign-and-trade asset into the Kevin Durant negotiations.

Now, if Phoenix wants to trade Ayton instead of losing him for nothing, they’ll have to wait until January 15, 2023, and even then there are some complications they’ll have to overcome. When a restricted free agent’s offer sheet is matched, that player receives veto rights over any trade for one year and cannot be traded to the team that signed him to that offer sheet until one year has passed. That means the Pacers will be off the table as a trade partner for Ayton for the foreseeable future.

Given how long they’ve been linked to Ayton, their willingness to sign him to an offer sheet therefore suggests some degree of confidence that Phoenix will decide not to match. Teams often decline sign-and-trade offers as an attempt to try to scare teams away from their restricted free agents. Atlanta reportedly offered draft picks to Sacramento for Bogdan Bogdanovic in the 2020 offseason, and the Kings declined, but still refused to match the offer the Hawks signed him to. Such is the nature of limited freedom of action, where bluffing and leverage are critical.

The Pacers reportedly discussed a possible trade for Ayton at the deadline, and with Domantas Sabonis now in Sacramento and Myles Turner expiring, Indiana needed a long-term solution at center. Ayton, a former No. 1 pick who grew into one of the best all-around centers in basketball, certainly fits the bill. He averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game for the Suns, and with less scoring around him in Indiana, he would have a chance to improve his scoring even more.

Unless Phoenix can pull an enticing sign-and-trade out of their hat in the next few hours, that outcome is exactly what the Suns wanted to avoid. Their goal this offseason is to bring in Kevin Durant. Ayton signing an offer sheet with Indiana makes that goal significantly less realistic. With the Suns likely off the table for now, Durant may have to keep an open mind about destinations if he has his heart set on a trade.

Even without Durant, it’s a blow for Phoenix. The Suns have made it clear they don’t consider Ayton a max player. Absent a sign-and-trade, their options now are to sign him to a contract they feel he doesn’t deserve or lose a former No. 1 overall pick just four years into his career.

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