Don’t think for a moment that the Pacers simply wanted to take on the role of spoiler when they presented Suns slotman DeAndre Ayton with a maximum contract offer last week. They were dead serious in their intent to spread the welcome mat for the 2018 first overall draft pick; they even waived three players and expressed willingness to use the stretch provision to spread the effects of their planned acquisition over three seasons. As far as they were concerned, he figured to be the anchor of their efforts to be relevant anew.
It was a reasonable gambit, to be sure. The Pacers hoped the Suns would not match the offer sheet given the prospect of welcoming Kevin Durant to the fold; doing so would most certainly derail negotiations with the Nets. Moreover, they knew ties were already strained, and not just because head coach Monty Williams benched Ayton throughout the second half of a disappointing showing in Game Seven of the 2022 Western Conference semifinals.
As things turned out, the Suns wasted no time matching the Pacers’ offer — perhaps to Ayton’s chagrin. He had already been looking forward to playing with promising point guard Tyrese Haliburton and rookie Benedict Mathurin, recently named the Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year. And he most certainly wasn’t happy that his employers refused to extend him a max contract, instead daring him to get one in free agency.
In view of the setback, the Pacers must now survey the scene prior to formulating their next steps. The same goes for Ayton, who now returns to an environment of fractured relationships. Make no mistake, though; they will recover and thrive. They know the game, and they’ve played it to the hilt.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.