It has been nearly 11 full days since the NBA’s 2022 free agent period opened, and Suns restricted free agent center Deandre Ayton still doesn’t have a new deal in place. However, it’s possible that will change soon.
Sources told Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic over the weekend that the Pacers are “seriously” interested in Ayton. Indiana’s interest in the former No. 1 overall pick has been reported repeatedly in recent weeks, but it’s notable that the team’s interest hasn’t waned — the Pacers are one of just two teams in the NBA (along with the Spurs) that have the cap flexibility necessary to make Ayton a significant offer.
According to Marc Stein (Twitter link), there’s “great interest” among league insiders in Las Vegas about whether the Pacers will move forward with what Stein refers to as a “widely anticipated” offer sheet for Ayton. Appearing on ESPN’s Get Up (video link) on Monday, Brian Windhorst also expressed a belief that Indiana is on the verge of making a play for the young center.
“We believe that the Indiana Pacers are very close to giving Deandre Ayton an offer sheet or executing a sign-and-trade,” Windhorst said. “The Pacers had to do some business over the weekend and complete the Malcolm Brogdon trade. That is now on the verge of happening and that is opening enough cap space to almost give Deandre Ayton the max contract he is looking for. We could see something with the Pacers and Ayton as early as today.”
As James Boyd of The Indianapolis Star writes, while the Pacers and Celtics announced their trade on Saturday, Brogdon still technically has to pass his physical before the deal is officially irreversible. At that point, Indiana will have approximately $26.4MM in cap room.
Ayton’s maximum salary is about $30.9MM, so Indiana would have to waive-and-stretch multiple players or trade someone to open up a max-salary slot. The team could also present Ayton with an offer sheet that’s a little below the max, but it’s not clear whether he’d be willing to sign such an offer. And of course, the lower the starting salary in an offer sheet, the more likely the Suns are to match it.
A sign-and-trade deal in which Indiana sends out a player or two could potentially get everyone what they want — Ayton could get his max salary, the Pacers could get their man without having to worry about an offer sheet being matched, and the Suns could avoid losing their former top pick for nothing. Myles Turner would be the most obvious trade candidate in that scenario.
However, signing-and-trading Ayton to Indiana would deprive Phoenix of one of its top assets for a potential Kevin Durant trade, so the Suns will likely drive a hard bargain with the Pacers, knowing that if they don’t get a sign-and-trade offer they like, they could simply match any offer sheet Ayton signs.
Still, that may not be an ideal outcome for the Suns, who reportedly aren’t enthusiastic about paying Ayton max money. Additionally, if they were to match an offer sheet, the Suns wouldn’t be able to trade Ayton until January 15, and even then, any deal this season would require his consent.
With so many variables in play, every involved party will have to weigh its options carefully before moving forward. But it sounds like we could get action on the Ayton front sooner rather than later.