It has been almost 11 full days since the NBA’s 2022 free agent period opened, and to sunbathe Restricted Free Agent Center Deandre Ayton still has no new contract. However, it is possible that this will change soon.
Sources told The Arizona Republic’s Duane Rankin over the weekend that the pacemaker are “seriously” interested in Ayton. Indiana’s interest in the former No. 1 overall pick has been repeatedly reported in recent weeks, but it’s worth noting that the team’s interest hasn’t waned — the Pacers are one of only two teams in the NBA (along with the Spurs) to have that have cap flexibility necessary to make a meaningful offer to Ayton.
According to Marc Stein (Twitter link), there is “a lot of interest” among league insiders in Las Vegas as to whether the Pacers will move forward with what Stein describes as a “highly anticipated” offer sheet for Ayton. Appears on ESPN’s Get Up (video link) on Monday, Brian Windhorst also expressed his belief that Indiana is close to making a game for the young center.
“We think the Indiana Pacers are very close to giving Deandre Ayton an offer sheet or the execution of a sign-and-trade”, said Windhorst. “The Pacers had to do some business over the weekend and get that done Malcolm Brogdon act. That’s about to happen now, opening up enough space for the cap to get Deandre Ayton almost the max contract he’s looking for. We could already see something today with the Pacers and Ayton.”
As James Boyd of The Indianapolis Star writes, while the Pacers and Celtics announced their trade on Saturday, Brogdon technically has yet to pass his physical before the deal is officially irreversible. At that point, Indiana will have approximately $26.4 million in headroom for capitalization.
Ayton’s max salary is about $30.9 million, so Indiana would have to give up several players and trade someone to open a max salary slot. The team could also provide Ayton with an offer sheet slightly below the maximum but it’s not clear if he would be willing to sign such an offer. And of course, the lower the starting salary in a bid sheet, the more likely the Suns are to match it.
A sign-and-trade deal, with Indiana sending off a player or two, could potentially get everyone what they want — Ayton could get his max salary, the Pacers could get their man without worrying that a bid sheet is matched, and the Suns managed to avoid losing their former top pick for nothing. Myles Turner would be the most obvious trading candidate in this scenario.
However, signing Ayton and trading it with Indiana would deprive Phoenix of one of its key assets for potential Kevin Durant Trade, so the Suns will likely negotiate hard with the Pacers, knowing that if they don’t get a sign-and-trade offer they like they could just match all the offer sheet Ayton signs.
Still, it may not be an ideal result for the Suns, who are reportedly unenthusiastic about paying Ayton maximum money. Additionally, if they agreed to a bid sheet, the Suns wouldn’t be able to trade with Ayton until Jan. 15, and even then, any deal this season would require his approval.
With so many variables at play, each party involved must carefully consider their options before proceeding. But it sounds like we may take action sooner rather than later on the Ayton frontline.