The Indiana Pacers wanted to add restricted free agent Deandre Ayton from the Phoenix Suns to their roster, and showed him the money to prove it. Indiana signed Ayton to a four-year offer sheet worth $133 million, which the Suns promptly matched, meaning Ayton will remain in Phoenix with a new max contract.

Center Deandre Ayton competing in the playoffs with the Phoenix Suns. (Image: Getty)

It looked like the Suns were going to let Ayton bounce. There were rumors of a sign-and-trade involving Myles Turner from the Pacers for Ayton, but that never came to fruition. The Pacers offered Ayton a max contract worth $133 million over four years, and the Suns had 48 hours to match it. If the Suns didn’t match the offer, they’d lose Ayton to the Pacers without any compensation in return.

Ayton averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game last season while shooting 63.4% from the floor. His PER rating of 21.99 was ranked #16 in the NBA. He averaged 17.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in 13 playoff games last year.

The Suns picked Ayton #1 from Arizona in the 2018 NBA Draft. He grew up in Arizona and wanted to stay in state and play for the Suns — who were bloody awful at the time — when other top prospects weren’t shy about their unwillingness to play for the worst team in the league.

Suns: Championship dreams

The Suns had a strong young core with Ayton and Devin Booker, and finally started an upward trajectory when they hired Monty Williams as their head coach and signed Chris Paul to play point guard.

The Suns were 51-21 in 2020-21 with the second-best record in the league. They secured a spot in the NBA Finals before losing to Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. Last season, the Suns had high expectations and wanted to prove their success wasn’t a fluke.

They led the NBA with 64 wins as the best team in the league. Despite holding the #1 seed in the Western Conference and home-court advantage through the entire playoffs (including the NBA Finals, if applicable), the Suns were upset in the conference semifinals by the #4 Dallas Mavericks.

The Suns completely imploded in Game 7 during a blowout at home in which they were down by as many as 46 points. Williams benched Ayton in the second half, but he was just one of the numerous problems in that rout by the Mavs. The utter collapse led to rampant speculation that Ayton was dunzo in Phoenix.

Prior to the start of last season, the Suns didn’t offer Ayton a rookie max-contract extension like several other members from his draft class earned from their teams. Word on the street was that the Suns were cheap and suffering from internal organizational dysfunction. But the basketball minds inside the organization didn’t think Ayton lived up to the hype as the #1 pick and wasn’t worth a max contract.

That’s why it looked like the Suns were going to work out a sign-and-trade to get something back in return. Now, with Ayton under contract, the team can resume its pursuit of winning a championship.

The Suns are +650 odds to win the 2023 NBA Championship.

Durant deal dunzo?

There were rumors that the Suns would send Ayton to the Brooklyn Nets in a deal for Kevin Durant. The Suns were the betting favorite to land Durant in a trade, but the Nets didn’t want Ayton.

Due to NBA rules, the Suns can’t trade Ayton prior to Jan. 15 and, if they want to trade him at all this season, they need his permission. In addition, the Suns can’t trade Ayton to the Indiana Pacers this season.

Of course, the Suns can still leverage their entire future and gut the rest of the team not named Booker or Paul to acquire Durant in a trade, but that seems unlikely. At this point, it’s up to the Miami Heat if they want to make a pitch for Durant. Otherwise, it looks like Durant is heading to Canada to play for the Toronto Raptors next season.