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Ayton signs Pacers’ max offer sheet, Suns instantly match keeping center in Phoenix

Suns center Deandre Ayton

DALLAS, TX - MAY 12: Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns runs onto the court prior to the game against the Dallas Mavericks during Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals on May 12 2022 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

Deandre Ayton signed the $133 max offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers on Thursday afternoon.

The Phoenix Suns instantly matched it, keeping the center in Phoenix, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This was the expected move. It does put the Suns $16.2 million into the luxury tax, something Phoenix hasn’t paid since 2010. The Suns could make trades to get below the tax line, but that could impact their depth and ability to get out of the West this season.

Ayton cannot be traded before Jan. 15, and he can veto any trade for a year. At the very least, this delays — and more than likely ends — any sign-and-trade with the Nets to bring Kevin Durant to Phoenix.

The Suns never made a max offer to Ayton and clearly didn’t value him at the max — plus Monte Williams and the coaching staff had issues with Ayton — but they couldn’t let him walk out the door for nothing, either. With Ayton, the Suns are contenders who won a league-best 64 games last season; without him they would struggle to go far in the playoffs of a very deep West next season. The Suns may still choose to move on from Ayton eventually, but a trade is more likely next offseason than at the deadline in February.

Ayton averaged 17.2 points on 63.4% shooting last season while pulling down 10.2 rebounds a game. He is a solid but inconsistent defender (the Suns’ defense was 2.3 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor), and there were games last season where he seemed disinterested. Ayton’s inconsistency continued in the playoffs.

This may not be the deal everyone wanted, but it’s the deal they will have to live with. At least for this season.