The Suns have taken their first step to prepare for their main target, Deandre Ayton, to enter the free agency, which officially opens Thursday at 3 p.m., according to a report Tuesday from Kevin Smith of Spotrac†
The team has submitted a qualifying offer of $16.4 million to make Ayton a restricted free agent, Smith reported.
As one of the market’s top running free agentsthe tender will allow the Suns to match any offer their starting center receives from other teams.
If Ayton signs the qualifying offer from the Suns, he could become an unrestricted free agent after the 2022-23 season and sign with another team without Phoenix having the right to match offers from elsewhere.
Ayton is at the end of his four-year rookie contract. He was the Suns’ first-ever #1 overall pick in 2018.
Ayton was didn’t offer a rookie max contract at the start of last season like several of his draft class peersincluding Denver Nuggets’ Michael Porter Jr., the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young and and Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic.
After negotiations for Ayton to potentially fail the Suns’ second assigned rookie max extension alongside Devin Booker early last regular season, General Manager James Jones repeatedly told the media that they would resolve the issue after the season. when the free desk approaches.
They can match offers for up to four years for $131 millionand can pay him more than any other team by giving him a four-year deal of $136 million or $177 million for five years.
Free players can negotiate contracts during the NBA’s annual moratorium on player moves beginning July 1. This is when contracts cannot be signed and transactions cannot be made official.
All moves reported during the moratorium can become official after the final 2022-23 season cap and deluxe tax numbers of the league.
In addition, the Suns could choose to sign Ayton and trade them to get some players back, which could prevent him from walking to another team and leaving Phoenix with nothing in its place.
Ayton has averaged a double-double throughout his NBA career since his one-time in Arizona.
He has emerged as one of the league’s top centers, averaging 16.3 points on 60% shooting, 74.6% on free throws, 10.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.7 block.
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Last season, when the Suns set a franchise record of 64 regular season wins, Ayton set a team’s second-best 17.2 points with an average score of 10.2 rebounds and his 63.4% shooting score led the way. fourth place in the competition.
In 2021, Ayton helped the Suns make their first appearance in the final in 28 years. He produced 15.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 22 playoff games and shot 65.8%, the highest field goal percentage in a single postseason.
During the 2022 playoffs, Ayton was the Suns’ second leading scorer (17.9 points) and top rebounder (8.9), shooting 64%.
“Deandre had a great season, a very productive season,” Jones told reporters on May 18, three days after the Suns’ playoffs ended by Dallas. “I think across the board, if you look at what he did, he improved. That’s a testament to him and the hard work. That’s what you expect from a player of his caliber.”
Read more: Should Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton Stay Together or Break Up?
After much speculation and chatter about Ayton’s future, Jones appeared to bolster that stance after last week’s draft.
In Game 7 loss to Dallas, Ayton produced his season-low 5 points (2-for-5 shooting), four rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes before being benched by Suns coach Monty Williams at 8:26 in the third quarter. Ayton and Williams had a bitter argument when Ayton returned to the bench, which Williams referred to as “it’s internal” when asked by The Republic that Ayton not return to play in that game.
“Nothing has changed on our side,” Jones said after Thursday’s draft. “We haven’t said anything else. DA continues to be a big 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. I think you hear his teammates reflecting them same sentiment as us. This team is a very good team and we are going to keep it together.”
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Suns offers a qualifying offer to Ayton to prepare for a free agency