Phoenix Suns match Indiana Pacers’ 4-year, $133 million offer sheet to Deandre Ayton, agents say

The Phoenix Suns matched the Indiana Pacers’ $133 million four-year bid sheet for restricted free agent center Deandre Ayton, paving the way for his return to the franchise, his agents Bill Duffy and Nima Namakian told ESPN Thursday night.

The Suns had until 11:59 p.m. ET Saturday to match the largest bid hand in NBA history, but voted immediately, ending the Pacers’ pursuit of Ayton.

Phoenix showed no inclination to negotiate a sign-and-trade deal with Indiana before Ayton signed the sheet, sources said, signaling the Suns would likely match the offer sheet once it was presented to them. If the Suns didn’t keep up, they would have lost 2018 NBA draft pick Ayton for nothing.

The Suns can’t trade Ayton until January 15 – and they can’t trade him for a full year without his approval. This takes Ayton out of any possible off-season trade scenario involving Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant.

Innovate Sports’ Namakian and BDA Sports and WME’s Duffy had insisted to the Suns that they could find a maximum contract offer for Ayton in the market and they delivered it with the offer sheet. The Suns had never made Ayton a max offer, suggesting they didn’t value him as a max player.

The biggest offer sheet signed by a mismatched team was when Harrison Barnes was signed by the Dallas Mavericks to a four-year, $94.4 million deal in 2016, that same summer, as Barnes’ former team who have favourited the Golden State Warriors, Durant signed a free agent.

Ayton was excited at the opportunity to team up with talented young guard Tyrese Haliburton and become a centerpiece of the Pacers’ rebuild, sources told ESPN.

Trading Malcolm Brogdon earlier this offseason and Domantas Sabonis last season, Indiana transitioned into a new era centered around an exciting young backcourt from Haliburton, a rising star, and rookie Bennedict Mathurin, the sixth pick in the NBA draft last year month, turned.

The Pacers had to vacate $4.7 million in cap space to sign Ayton for the maximum offer hand. To that end, Indiana waived guard Duane Washington and waived and stretched the three players who arrived in Boston for Brogdon: Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan and Nik Stauskas, sources told ESPN.

Ayton, who turns 24 next week, was drafted from Arizona with the first pick in the 2018 draft, part of a star-studded drafting class that also includes Luka Doncic (third), Jaren Jackson Jr. (fourth), Trae Young (fifth) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11th).

After being named an All-Rookie First Team in 2019, Ayton has developed into a quality starting center, averaging 16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds, and helping anchor the Phoenix defense on their way to the 2021 NBA Finals – the first time the franchise reached the league championship round since Charles Barkley led the Suns there in 1993.

Ayton averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds last season, shooting 63.4% from the field and 74.6% from the foul line.

After an outstanding regular season that ended with the best record in the league, Phoenix’s postseason ended in a crushing loss to the Mavericks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals — a game that Ayton spent most of the second half trying to watching from the bench.

When asked after the game why that happened, Suns coach Monty Williams said, “It’s internal.” Ayton, meanwhile, declined to speak to reporters after the game.

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps and Bobby Marks contributed to this report. Phoenix Suns match Indiana Pacers’ 4-year, $133 million offer sheet to Deandre Ayton, agents say

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