Phoenix is one season removed from being two games away from winning a championship. After an embarrassing exit from this years playoffs at the hand of the Mavs, this team was going to be in a state of flux. The main issue driving this being the Suns owner Robert Sarver being notoriously cheap. Deandre Ayton’s restricted free agency stared them right in the face and they didn’t blink.
When Ayton didn’t play much in the closeout game against the Mavs it seemed like the writing was on the walls. All the good will and chemistry he built with Devin Booker and Chris Paul seemed lost. Questions about his next move started immediately. The Suns got one thing right though, in the NBA it is imperative to never lose your assets for free. You need to make moves in order to set yourself up to make future deals. If Ayton were to leave Phoenix it was going to be in a sign and trade, never just an outright walk.
When they decided to match the 4 year, $133 million dollar offer sheet that the Pacers extended Ayton they took full advantage of the situation. Ayton would have never accepted that contract from Phoenix because he wanted the full max, and the Suns had the capability of offering him more money. This is where the Sarver piece comes in, between Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges they are already paying two super max deals and one high value deal. Giving Ayton the full rookie max wasn’t going to happen. Now they can retain Ayton at a better price for the time being.
The Suns goal is still to win a championship, there is a universe where Ayton helps them do that, but if they get into the season and decide that he isn’t worth the drama, they only have to wait until January to trade him. That gives them more time to find a partner and maybe see if there is another disgruntled star looking to be moved at the deadline. You never want your hand to be forced in the offseason if you want to do a trade, rushed trades are lost trades and you see that time and time again with sign and trades in the offseason. Phoenix has saved money and kept the possibility of moving Ayton in the future.
The NBA is an asset retention league. The Suns just retained one of their best for a lower salary while still being able to move him (Potentially for Kevin Durant?) mid-season if things don’t work out. This was perfectly handled by GM James Jones considering the constraints he was given.