Kevin Durant, tax assessment, flexibility


Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns slam dunks against the Dallas Mavericks during the second hal...

Deandre Ayton, who remains a member of the Phoenix Suns after the team hit the Indiana Pacers’ four-year maximum bid of $133 million, is creating some ripple effects for this offseason and beyond.

A crucial detail that came to light after the Ayton news was that the offer sheet did not include any player option or trade kicker, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. These are some of the gimmicks that can be twisted into contracts to make a team less likely to fit together, and also one of the shortcomings of limited free agency.

You’ll remember how we talked last October about the Utah Jazz losing Gordon Hayward after just three years because he signed a 3+1 bid sheet with a player option in his fourth year. He declined and joined the Boston Celtics.

That the Suns don’t have to deal with either of those things or a weird, preferential salary structure is huge. Indiana’s weird chicken game trying to force a sign-and-trade didn’t pay off (heh, got it?).

Ayton’s arrival put the Suns down to 14 players and above the nearly $17 million tax limit for a luxury tax bill of around $35 million per Spotrac.

Signing Ayton on that bid sheet in lieu of the $177 million five-year extension he could have received in the fall puts a damper on some of that bill, which the Suns should capitalize on.

There are a few different ways to think about it.

Fine, We’re going to talk about Kevin Durant first.

Brooklyn didn’t want Ayton, according to multiple reports. The problem, however, is that the Suns, sending Ayton to a third or fourth team as part of a larger sign-and-trade deal allowed them to endow Brooklyn with more assets.

That felt like the extra juice to score an over the top deal. Now the hypothetical pack centers on Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, draft picks and at least one of Jae Crowder, Landry Shamet or Dario Saric due to their mid-level team-friendly contracts. Ayton’s return in these scenarios limited Phoenix to only giving up two players, maybe even three, but it had to be at least now three.

The problem there is a direct 1-for-1 deal with Durant, which severely hinders the Suns’ rotation and their ability to fix them afterwards. Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro has reported for the past two weeks that Phoenix doesn’t want to gouge its roster in a possible Durant trade, but that’s almost impossible without more teams getting involved.

If it’s Bridges, Johnson, Crowder, four unprotected first-round picks and some swaps, how do the Suns replace Bridges? Add another ball handler? You have almost no resources left in this layout.

So the Suns will likely again have to rely on finding a third and possibly fourth team to either help them get the salary that matches a guaranteed Durant return or fill some of those needs in the same deal.

I have my own concerns about whether Phoenix has enough to make an offer that Brooklyn would accept. On the other hand, if Durant just wants to be on the Suns, it’ll get done.

The added ease of doing this, and something I haven’t even talked about since Durant’s trade request, was that Ayton and Durant played together. That cushions the pullback from Bridge’s exit in a Durant trade, particularly on defense.

One of the reasons I hadn’t thought of it was the heights the tax bill would reach.

The suns are so cool, per Gambadoro.

And remember, it doesn’t have to be just about Durant. If this sweepstakes goes down for Phoenix, it can still chase other upgrades in the trade market.

Finally, on the front line ready to splurge, how about this Johnson extension while he’s still a member of the Suns?

Coming back to who might be on the move, the Suns’ center rotation is now Ayton, Saric, Bismack Biyombo and Jock Landale. Phoenix should want to hold on to Saric and the occasional momentum of a playmaker, stretch five that was sorely missed last season.

It also has limited trading chips, and at the end of the day we’re talking about the other 14-18 minutes Ayton doesn’t play that Biyombo has proven over the last year.

The Suns still have their mid-level taxpayer exemption of about $6.5 million, which they can also use in free hands. Options are very limited. Dennis Schroder is the only one that catches my eye. Regardless, the only downside is that the tax bill increases, and it’s worth risking for a player who could be a cog on the bench. We’ve seen how much a lack of depth hurts the suns when the lights are at their brightest.

All of this remains for a Suns front office, which certainly has a few different scenarios planned.

Right now we’re back at the same waiting game with Durant. Patience everyone! Stand firm!

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