The Phoenix Suns decided to resign Deandre Ayton by matching a four-year $133 million contract the Indiana Pacers offered him in free agency. This was a shock at first, given the history of the franchise and how cheap Robert Sarver has been known to be. But, apparently the Suns were going to match any offer given to the big man during restricted free agency.
So, why are they doing this, and what’s going on in Phoenix?
It’s a bit surprising that Phoenix decided to keep Ayton, given what’s happened over the past year. Before the 2021-22 season began, GM James Jones didn’t give Ayton a max contract extension, believing that he wasn’t a max-level player. Meanwhile, Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Michael Porter, Jr, all peers of Ayton from the same draft class, got their max extensions.
Over the course of the season, Ayton proved that he was a max player; but the season didn’t end well, as he was benched for the second half of Game Seven against the Dallas Mavericks, where the team lost 123-90. Afterwards, Head Coach Monty Williams said the reason for Ayton’s benching was “internal.”
Beginning free agency, as soon as Durant requested a trade and Phoenix was put on his favorable trade destinations list, people began scrambling to make trade ideas. However, Phoenix made it clear instantly they wouldn’t deal Devin Booker, so the ideas began to circulate around Ayton, Cameron Johnson, Mikal Bridges, and draft compensation. Unfortunately, an old rule previously unknown by most of the NBA world surfaced; you can’t have two rookie max extension players on the same team. That means Ben Simmons and Ayton couldn’t be on the Nets together, and if a KD trade were to occur, it would have to be a three-team deal, making things even more complicated.
Now, Ayton can’t be traded until after January 15th, which means the Suns either aren’t pursuing Durant, or they believe he’ll still be on the market by the trade deadline (chances are it’s the first option). So, despite the dysfunctional front office, are the Suns going to try and run it back for a few more years before Chris Paul retires?
There’s no good reason not to. In 2021, Phoenix made the Finals, and if they hadn’t choked against the Mavericks, then chances are they would’ve pushed the Warriors to six or seven games in the Western Conference Finals, a good season by all accounts. The Suns are still a contender, having the fifth best title odds in the NBA according to Vegas Insider.
While this is a good choice for the Suns, it’s one that’s unprecedented for them, as for the first time in over a decade, the Suns are over the salary cap.
According to Sportrac, the Suns have only been in the luxury tax four years since 2000; 2002, 2007, 2008, and 2009. With the exception of 2002, each of those other three years the Suns won over 50 games, meaning if they were over the luxury tax, they were competing. Some of the players on the Suns during that “Seven Seconds or Less” era included Steve Nash, Joe Johnson, Amar’e Stoudemire, Robert Horry, Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw, Grant Hill, Jason Richardson, and eventually, Shaquille O’Neal.
So, if the Suns are further over the cap then ever before, then it means that they will compete. However, knowing how cheap the team can be, part of me wonders if the Suns knew they were going to retain Ayton all along, but waited to match him in free agency to hope that no one would offer him a max contract. That way they could offer him less then he deserved and save even more cap space. While this didn’t happen, they were able to retain the 2018 number one overall pick, and secure their core for at least 1-2 more years.
So, one of two things happens from here: The Suns don’t make any other major moves and just compete; or they explode the NBA with a three-team deal moving multiple All-Stars around the league like chess pieces. Chances are, given all the evidence laid out, they’ll stick with what they have and try to run it back.
What do you think of Phoenix’s situation? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!