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Kevin Durant, tax bill, flexibility

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Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns slam dunks against the Dallas Mavericks during the second hal...
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Deandre Ayton, who remained with the Phoenix Suns after the team equaled the Indiana Pacers’ four-year maximum offer of $133 million, is creating several ripple effects this offseason and beyond.

An important detail that surfaced after the Ayton news was that there was no player option or trading kicker on the offer list. according to Bobby Marks of ESPN. Here are some shenanigans that can be turned into contracts to make the team look less similar, as well as one of the downsides of limited leeway.

You remember how we discussed last October that the Utah Jazz lost Gordon Hayward after only three years because he signed a 3+1 offer list with a player option in his fourth year. He refused and joined the Boston Celtics.

The Suns don’t have to deal with either of those two things, and the odd salary structure loaded up front is huge. Indiana’s strange game of chicken trying to get you to sign and trade didn’t pay off (hehe, got it?).

With the arrival of Ayton, the Suns now have 14 players, which is almost $17 million over the tax threshold, and the luxury tax is about $35 million, according to Spotrac.

Signing Ayton on that offer sheet, instead of a five-year, $177 million extension he could get in the fall, would soften that bill a bit, which the Suns should take advantage of.

There are several different ways to think about it.

Perfect, First we’ll talk about Kevin Durant.

Brooklyn, by multiple reports, didn’t want Ayton. The problem, however, is that the Suns sent Ayton to the third or fourth team as part of a larger signing and trade deal that allowed them to provide Brooklyn with more assets.

It was like extra juice to make a deal on top. Now the hypothetical package is centered around Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, draft picks and at least one of Jay Crowder, Landry Shamet or Dario Saric due to their team-friendly mid-level contracts. Ayton’s return in these scenarios limited Phoenix to only two players, maybe even three, but it had to be least three now.

The problem is that a direct one-on-one deal with Durant makes it much more difficult for the Suns to rotate and their ability to rectify the situation afterwards. Arizona Sports John Gambadoro has been reporting over the past two weeks that Phoenix doesn’t want to dispose of their roster over a possible Durant trade, but that’s nearly impossible to do without other teams involved.

If it’s Bridges, Johnson, Crowder, four undefended first-round picks, and multiple trades, how will the Suns replace Bridges? Add another ball carrier? They almost ran out of resources in this layout.

So the Suns will likely again have to rely on finding a third and possibly a fourth team to either help them get paid to match Durant’s guaranteed income or meet some of those needs in the same deal.

I have my own doubts about whether Phoenix has enough funds to put forward an offer that Brooklyn will accept. Again, if Durant only wants to be at the Suns, it will be done.

The added lightness to it, and something I haven’t even discussed since Durant suggested the trade, was that Ayton and Durant played together. This softens Bridges’ downfall in the Durant trade, especially on defense.

One reason I didn’t think about it was the heights the tax bill would reach.

According to Gambadoro, the Suns are taking it easy.

And remember, this shouldn’t just be about Durant. If this lottery benefits Phoenix, it may still pursue other improvements in the trading market.

Finally, as for wanting to go broke, what about Johnson’s renewal if he’s still a member of the Suns?

Going back to who might be on the move, the Suns now have Ayton, Saric, Bismac Biyombo and Jock Landale in the center of the rotation. Phoenix must want to keep Sharik and the occasional playmaking dynamic, a fifth that was sorely lacking last season.

He also has a limited amount of trading chips and at the end of the day we’re talking about the other 14-18 minutes that Ayton doesn’t play, which Biyombo proved capable of last year.

The Suns still have a mid-tier taxpayer exemption of about $6.5 million that they can also use as free agents. The options are very limited. Dennis Schroeder is the only one that comes to my mind. Either way, the only downside is the rise in tax bills, and risking them for a player who could become a cog on the bench is well worth it. We have seen how the lack of depth harms the Sun when the light is at its brightest.

It all dragged on to the Suns front office, which certainly had several different scenarios planned.

In the meantime, we’re back to the same waiting game with Durant. All patience! Stay strong!


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