This past season, after losing in the NBA Finals the previous summer, the Phoenix Suns looked headed towards possibly winning the franchise’s first-ever world championship.
They won a league-high 64 games in the regular season, but they fell apart in the second round of the playoffs, losing in seven games to the less-talented Dallas Mavericks after taking a 2-0 series lead.
Phoenix lost Game 7 at home, 123-90, one of the most shocking Game 7 upsets in NBA history.
It looked like it was going to get even worse for the Suns, as center Deandre Ayton was headed towards free agency and reportedly looking for a max contract.
But on Thursday, Suns fans got good news when, after the Indiana Pacers gave Ayton an offer sheet worth $133 million over four years, they matched the offer, therefore keeping him in the fold.
The Phoenix Suns have matched Deandre Ayton's four-year, $133M offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers, his agents told @wojespn.
Ayton can't be traded without his consent for a full year. pic.twitter.com/ZXm57dkjqz
— ESPN (@espn) July 15, 2022
It is a big victory for a Suns team that is hoping to squeeze one more year of title contention out of an aging and perhaps slowly declining Chris Paul.
The Suns Couldn’t Afford To Lose Ayton
Yes, Ayton has never made an All-Star team, and while his career averages of 16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds are very solid, they aren’t mighty impressive.
But he is arguably the third-best or third-most important player on the Suns roster.
Ayton is an effective pick-and-roll center, and he is one of Paul’s favorite targets when he springs open in the paint.
Such offensive action gets him plenty of easy baskets while allowing the Suns to be an efficient team on that end of the floor.
In the 2021-22 season, they finished fourth in offensive efficiency, as Ayton made 79.3 percent of his shots from within three feet of the hoop.
That figure also allowed Phoenix to be fourth in points in the paint during the regular season.
If it were to lose Ayton, it would’ve been forced to become much more perimeter-oriented, which would hurt come playoff time when teams have more time to make defensive adjustments over the course of a series.
The Suns were 13th in defensive rebounding percentage in 2022, and Ayton leaving would’ve greatly hurt them on the boards, as he was one of only two players on the team to average over six rebounds per game.
The Possible Downside Of Matching The Offer Sheet
The Suns have been rumored to be in the market for Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant over the past couple of weeks, and matching Ayton will presumably take them out of the running for the two-time NBA Finals MVP.
The reason is that Ayton cannot be traded for the next several months, and after that, he cannot be traded without his permission until this time next year.
Hypothetically, Phoenix could offer several role players whose salaries would match that of Durant’s, but it’s doubtful the Nets would go for such an offer unless perhaps Phoenix throws in a boatload of future first-round draft picks.
The Suns still have the assets to make a Kevin Durant trade happen, even with Deandre Ayton’s new max salary potentially on the roster.
A package centered around Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, expiring salaries and all of their future draft picks is enough to make it work legally.
— Evan Sidery (@esidery) July 14, 2022
That means the Suns will likely go to war with the roster they have right now.
However, if it wasn’t good enough to win it all a few months ago, why would it be good enough next spring and summer when Paul will turn 37 and possibly take half a step or even a full step back?