Many doubted the Suns would keep Deandre Ayton in restricted free agency. The Pacers certainly did. They waived and stretched three players (and maybe traded Malcolm Brogdon in part) to clear cap space to sign Ayton to a max offer sheet.
Phoenix nearly immediately matched.
Apparently that would’ve been completely expected if you took the Suns at their (previously unrevealed) word.
Phoenix general manager James Jones said he told Ayton through the entire free agency process that he planned to re-sign him, including during a videoconference on July 1.
Jones noted “negotiation” as the reason the Suns didn’t offer a maximum contract to Ayton.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a team using the leverage of restricted free agency over a player. The Suns knew they’d always be able to keep Ayton – ideally for cheaper. But if it cost this much, so be it.
However, after Phoenix didn’t offer him a max extension before last season, Ayton had focus issues throughout the year, boiling over in the Suns’ season-ending Game 7 loss to the Mavericks. It’s fair to question whether Ayton’s problems would’ve still existed – or even been worse – with a max extension. But he was bothered by not getting the extension.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, there’s still “some mending that has to go on” between Ayton and the Suns. Phoenix quickly matching the offer sheet didn’t solve everything.
At least both Ayton and the Suns are saying all the right things now. Spears’ article includes plenty of positive quotes from Ayton and Jones. That isn’t nothing. No matter how they actual feel, the people involved being content enough to say niceties is something.
Bigger tests will come later. Ayton can be traded Jan. 15. He holds the right to block a trade for a year. Few are convinced Phoenix values Ayton at a max salary as much as matching was about maintaining an asset.
But for now, everyone at least wants to give the impression of harmony in Phoenix.