By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
Deandre Ayton remains the biggest restricted free agent on the market and is just hours away from finding out whether he will have a new NBA home alongside “Buddy” Hield in Indiana or return to the Phoenix Suns.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported that Ayton and the Indiana Pacers agreed to a four-year, $133 million offer sheet - the richest in NBA history for a restricted free agent. The Suns have 48 hours to match the offer sheet and retain Ayton as a member of the franchise or allow him to leave for Indiana.
Once Ayton officially signs the offer sheet, the Suns will no longer be able to involve him in a sign and trade with Indiana.
Furthermore, if the Suns decide to match the offer sheet, they will be unable to trade Ayton until January 15, 2023 and will be unable to trade him to the Pacers for a full calendar year. Ayton would also have the right to veto any trade offers for a full year.
The Pacers, who currently have Buddy Hield on the roster, continue their attempt at a rebuild after they traded away guard Malcolm Brogdon last month and All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis last season.
In his fourth season, Ayton averaged 17.2 points on a career high 63 percent from the field and 10.2 rebounds per game in 58 appearances.
Contract negotiations between Ayton and the Suns reached an impasse last April after both sides failed to reach an agreement on a rookie contract extension.
Tensions heightened during a surprising playoff exit at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks.
Ayton appeared in only 17 minutes of the Suns’ 123-90 elimination loss to the Mavericks in game seven of the Western Conference semifinals.
The 24-year-old former no.1 overall pick was eligible for a five-year, $172.5 million extension that could have reached as much as $207 million if he reached benchmarks and incentives.
During the NBA Draft Combine in May, Ayton’s agent Bill Duffy discussed his client’s future on SiriusXM’s NBA show.
“We’re disappointed. We wanted a max contract,” Duffy said. “He went out and was a solider the whole year, played well, improved his statistics. So, we’re proud of him. A lot of guys handle things differently, but he was very mature about it. Things will work out for Deandre. He’s a valuable player. There’s other teams in the league as well. He’s a restricted free agent, so we’ll see how this process unfolds.”
Suns general manager James Jones reiterated his organisation’s desire to keep its former no.1 overall pick under contract moving forward.
“Nothing has changed on our end. We haven’t said anything different. DA remains a huge part of what we do and he’s a free agent. So we’ll talk about free agency when that time comes, but that hasn’t changed,” Jones said following last week’s NBA Draft.
“I think you hear his teammates. They echo the same sentiment that we have. This team is a really good team and we’re going to keep it together.”
Several players in Ayton’s 2018 NBA draft class have received max contract extensions, including Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks, Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Jaren Jackson Jr of the Memphis Grizzlies, Kevin Huerter of the Atlanta Hawks and Michael Porter Jr of the Denver Nuggets.