NBA Free Agency 2022 – What’s next for Phoenix Suns, Indiana Pacers after Deandre Ayton’s bid list?

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NBA Free Agency 2022 - What's next for Phoenix Suns, Indiana Pacers after Deandre Ayton's bid list?

What does the Phoenix Suns’ decision to hit the Indiana Pacers’ maximum offer hand for restricted free agent Deandre Ayton mean for them and the Pacers?

Shortly after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Ayton signed Indiana’s $133 million four-year deal, the Suns made the decision to pass it up without using the full two days they had at their disposal. The move keeps Ayton in Phoenix but limits the team’s ability to trade the No. 1 overall pick of 2019.

As with any free agent who gets a raise like Ayton, the Suns are barred from trading with him until Jan. 15. For the rest of the next year, Ayton must agree to any trade and not be sold to the Pacers.

Ayton’s return also pushes Phoenix well above the NBA’s luxury tax line, a rarity for a team that last paid the tax in 2008-09, according to Spotrac.com. That could mean more changes for the Suns and complicate their pursuit of a trade for Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant, who reportedly cited Phoenix as a preferred destination when requesting a trade from the Nets.

Let’s break down the full impact of Thursday’s moves for the Suns and Pacers.


The Pacers’ matching offer was the clear decision

As long as Ayton wasn’t signed, the Suns had plenty of alternatives if they didn’t want to pay him the maximum. A sign-and-trade could have sent him to multiple players to improve Phoenix’s forward depth and get a replacement down the middle on a cheaper contract. Or Ayton could have been part of a Durant deal.

Now those opportunities are off the board. Ayton cannot be traded until January 15 and cannot be sent to Indiana for a full year. He must also sign off on every trade in this range.

Still, the Suns could get Ayton to a destination he likes by the February close. That helps explain why Phoenix would be willing to match Indiana’s offer list, despite not being willing to offer Ayton a similar contract as an extension or again at the start of free agency last fall – when they declined to make him an offer, according to Wojnarowski. anything but daring him to sign an offer sheet with another team.

Back then, the Suns could hope for a few more favorable results. With so few teams with maximum cap space, Ayton might have languished in a limited free hand, choosing between a smaller deal with Phoenix and signing his $16.4 million qualifying offer for a year. Alternatively, the Suns might have found a sign-and-trade involving Ayton that they liked.

Limiting Phoenix’s options changed that decision. The Suns were no longer choosing between a sign-and-trade or Ayton at top price, but strictly between whether they wanted to keep him at that price (which is slightly cheaper than a four-year contract from Phoenix because an offer sheet would have been). is capped at a 5% annual increase, as opposed to 8%, which is a difference of about $5.5 million over the life of the deal) or let it run outright.

The matching Ayton takes the Suns deep into the luxury tax. They’re now about $16 million over the tax limit with 14 players under contract, including center jock Landale, whose contract is largely unguaranteed. Phoenix will have an opportunity to lessen that bill with mid-season moves, including a possible Ayton trade.

The tax bill could change the Suns’ thinking about a deal for Durant. With Ayton unpicked this summer, Phoenix would almost certainly send the Nets less total salary than Durant’s $44 million in 2022-23. Adding additional payslips could be untenable in this scenario.

The key to the Suns’ decision here was that other teams are clearly doing it, even if they don’t think Ayton is worth the maximum. A team fighting for the championship could not afford the talent drain that losing Ayton would mean, no matter how skeptical they are of his worth.


Pacers are turning to using the cap space for trades

Offer sheets for restricted free agents have been rare in recent years (this was the first since the Sacramento Kings declined to fulfill the Atlanta Hawks’ 2020 offer of Bogdan Bogdanovic as free agency, and Tyus Jones signed the only other in the last three summers) in part due to the way they tie a team’s cap space.

In that case, Indiana likely won’t mind getting back the $31 million Cap Room that signed Ayton until he officially passed his physical exam in Phoenix (a process the Suns can delay up to four days if they choose). can pull length). There are no other free agents left who could provide such an offer.

If they want, the Pacers could try their hand at restricted free agency again, with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton, also not under contract, with Indiana and the San Antonio Spurs being the two lone teams to break the cap space to use. However, Sexton would not fill a need for the Pacers, who have drafted wings with their last two first-round picks (Chris Duarte and Bennedict Mathurin) and also have veteran Buddy Hield in the mix.

More likely, Indiana will use its remaining cap space to earn salary through trading. Depending on what happens with Phoenix’s payroll, the two teams could eventually strike a deal to help the Suns lower their luxury tax bill by having a reserve like Torrey Craig (who was sent to Phoenix from Indiana at the trade deadline last year ) or Dario send Saric.

The Pacers could also enter the competition with San Antonio if Russell Westbrook’s $47 million salary is eventually traded into space, likely as part of a deal that brings Kyrie Irving to the Los Angeles Lakers. That would require Indiana sending a high-paying player, with Hield and starting center Myles Turner being obvious candidates.

Despite the Suns’ decision to fold, a remnant of the Ayton offer sheet will remain on the Pacers’ books. To create the necessary cap space, Indiana had to forego newcomers Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan and Nik Stauskas (acquired from the Boston Celtics in the recent Malcolm Brogdon trade) and stretch their salaries over the next three years. That leaves a small amount of dead money (a little less than $2 million) on the Pacers’ books for the next three seasons.

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