The Phoenix Suns have matched the Indiana Pacers’ four-year, $133 million offer sheet for restricted free agent center Deandre Ayton, paving the way for his return to the franchise, his agents Bill Duffy and Nima Namakian, at ESPN Thursday night.
The Suns had until 11:59 p.m. ET Saturday to match the biggest bid sheet in NBA history, but tied it immediately and ended the Pacers’ pursuit of Ayton.
Phoenix showed no intention of negotiating a sign-and-trade deal with Indiana before Ayton signed the sheet, sources said, signaling the Suns were likely to match the offer sheet a once it was presented to them. If the Suns didn’t match, they would have lost Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, for nothing.
The Suns can’t trade Ayton until Jan. 15 — and can’t trade him for a full year without his consent. This rules Ayton out of any possible offseason trade storyline involving Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant.
Namakian of Innovate Sports and Duffy of BDA Sports and WME had pressed 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 a maximum offer to Ayton, suggesting they did not value him as the maximum player.
The biggest offer sheet signed by a team that was unmatched was when Harrison Barnes was signed by the Dallas Mavericks for four years and $94.4 million in 2016, the same summer the former team Barnes of the Golden State Warriors signed Durant as a free agent.
Ayton had been excited about the possibility of linking up with talented young guard Tyrese Haliburton and becoming a key piece in the Pacers’ rebuild, sources told ESPN.
Indiana traded Malcolm Brogdon earlier this offseason and Domantas Sabonis last season, ushering in a new era centered around an exciting young backcourt in Haliburton, an emerging star, and rookie Bennedict Mathurin, the sixth overall draft pick of the NBA last month.
The Pacers needed to clear $4.7 million of cap space to sign Ayton on the maximum offer sheet. To do that, Indiana waived guard Duane Washington and waived and stretched the three players who arrived in the trade from Boston for Brogdon: Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan and Nik Stauskas, sources told ESPN.
Ayton, who turns 24 next week, was drafted with the first pick of the 2018 draft in Arizona, part of a star-studded draft class that also included Luka Doncic (third), Jaren Jackson Jr. (fourth), Trae Young (fifth) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (11th).
After making a first-team All-Rookie in 2019, Ayton has emerged as a quality starting center, averaging 16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds while helping anchor the Phoenix defense on his run. towards the 2021 NBA Finals – the first time the franchise had 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 percent from the field and 74.6 percent from the foul line.
After a stellar regular season, ending with the league’s best record, Phoenix’s playoffs ended in a blowout loss to the Mavericks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals – a game Ayton won. spent most of the second half watching from the bench.
When asked after the game why it 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.