Having established himself as one of the best centers in the NBA, Deandre Ayton has signed a four-year, $133 million maximum offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
RFA center Deandre Ayton has agreed to a four-year, $133M maximum offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers, his agents Nima Namakian (Innovate Sports) and Bill Duffy (BDA Sports + WME Sports) tell ESPN. The Phoenix Suns have 48 hours to match the largest offer sheet in NBA history.
The Phoenix Suns will have two days to decide if they want to match the offer or allow Ayton to join the Pacers.
In order to make room for Ayton, Wojnarowski noted Indiana will be making some roster moves:
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
The Pacers are waiving guard Duane Washington and waiving and stretching the three players who arrived in the Boston trade for Malcolm Brogdon: Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan and Nik Stauskas, sources tell ESPN. That'll create the cap space to sign Ayton to the max offer sheet.
Last offseason was the first time that Ayton was eligible for a rookie extension. The 23-year-old did have a $16.4 million qualifying offer remaining on his deal for the 2022-23 season if he wanted to play out the string with Phoenix and become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
No deal materialized before the Oct. 18 deadline because of differences between the two sides about Ayton's value.
Per Wojnarowski and ESPN's Brian Windhorst, Ayton wanted a five-year max that would have guaranteed him $172.5 million plus escalators.
Wojnarowski and Windhorst noted the Suns "raised the concept" of a shorter max deal in the three-to-four-year range but never formally presented an offer.
The stalemate between Ayton and the Suns came amid a series of deals for several other top players in the 2018 draft, including No. 3 pick Luka Doncic and No. 5 pick Trae Young.
Bobby Marks @BobbyMarks42
Extensions so far:<br><br>3: L. Doncic: 5/$207.1 million<br>5: T. Young: 5/$172.5 million<br>7: W.Carter Jr.: 4/$50 million<br>10: Mk.Bridges: 4/$90 million <br>11: S. Gilgeous-Alexander: 5/$172.5 million<br>14: M. Porter Jr.: 5/$172.5 million<br>27: R.Williams: 4/$48 million<br><br>Total of $913M
The Suns aren't known for being a high-spending organization, but team governor Robert Sarver stepped out of his comfort zone after a trip to the NBA Finals in 2021. Phoenix re-signed Chris Paul to a four-year deal worth up to $120 million in August.
Devin Booker previously signed a rookie max extension in 2018. The five-year, $158.2 million deal keeps him under contract to the Suns through the 2023-24 season. Mikal Bridges, who was selected in the same draft as Ayton, received a four-year, $90 million extension.
Ayton has come a long way since his rookie campaign in 2018-19. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft looked like a disappointment out of the gate despite posting a solid stat line with 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Some of the criticism in that first season was aimed at his porous defense. Selecting him at No. 1 also looked bad after Doncic and Young emerged as star players.
After some evolution in his style of play during the 2019-20 season, Ayton became a star for the Suns during their run to the NBA Finals. His scoring average was a career-low 14.4 points per game, but he was more efficient with a career-high 62.6 field-goal percentage and 65.3 true shooting percentage.
Taking on the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, Ayton's defense was instrumental in the Suns' six-game series victory. The Lakers offense averaged 42.6 points in the paint with the 23-year-old on the court compared to 58.5 when he was on the bench.
Things didn't end well for Ayton or the Suns in 2022. They lost in the Western Conference semifinals to the Dallas Mavericks, including a 123-90 defeat in Game 7.
Ayton only played 17 minutes in the final game, and head coach Monty Williams was vague on why it happened.
The evolution of Ayton's game was instrumental in the Suns' becoming one of the best teams in the Western Conference. His age and all-around skill set suggest he has only scratched the surface of his full potential.
The Pacers' moves have been all over the place of late, and it's hard to tell what the organization's plan is.
Given that the key players they have acquired dating back to the Feb. 10 trade deadline are Tyrese Haliburton and Ayton, who are both under age 24, it's safe to assume general manager Kevin Pritchard is trying to toe the line between rebuilding and being a playoff contender.
The Pacers have finished under .500 in each of the previous two seasons. Their 25-57 mark in 2021-22 was their worst since 1984-85 (22-60).
Defense was the primary issue in Indiana last season. The unit ranked 26th in points allowed per game (114.9) and 28th in rating (118.1).
Ayton has transformed himself into a good defensive center who should make for an immediate upgrade in Indiana.
He isn't a dynamic scoring option, but his ability in the pick-and-roll makes him a valuable addition for a Pacers roster in flux.
As long as Ayton's Game 7 against the Mavs was a blip on the radar rather than indicative of some larger problem, the Pacers could emerge as a borderline playoff contender with the young center as a key piece of their starting lineup.