Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Deandre Ayton is staying in Phoenix… for now, plus why UNC is losing a top recruit

Happy Friday, all! Hope you’re doing well.

I realize you may be reading this while watching The Open Championship or at least keeping up with our live leaderboard. After a tough opening-round 78, Tiger Woods’ struggles have continued and it looks like he is in serious dangerous of missing the cut. Meanwhile, Cameron Young shot an 8-under 64 to take the Day 1 lead, and Rory McIlroy — who tees off at 9:59 a.m. — was second through 18 holes at 6 under. As of Friday morning, Dustin Johnson is atop the leaderboard.

As for the rest of the sports world, let’s get right to it.


Good morning to everyone but especially to…

DEANDRE AYTON

Deandre Ayton is getting paid the really big bucks. Ayton, a restricted free agent, signed a record 4-year, $133-million offer sheet from the Pacers yesterday, but the Suns, Ayton’s original team, immediately matched that, keeping him in Phoenix… for now.

  • Ayton cannot be traded until Jan. 15, 2023 at the earliest and cannot be traded to the Pacers at all this upcoming season. He can also veto any trade for a year.
  • Ayton sought a 5-year, $172-million extension last year, but the Suns refused to offer it (more on that in a bit).
  • At 23, he is one of just six players to average at least 10 points and 10 rebounds each of the last four seasons, joining, among others, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid.

In addition to getting a big contract, Ayton could conceivably hit free agency again at 27, still right in his prime. And if he is truly too fed up with Phoenix to stay (I promise, more on that in a bit!), he could find a new home within the next several months.

Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for…

THE PHOENIX SUNS…

Last offseason, the Suns — fresh off their first NBA Finals appearance in nearly 30 years — could have given Deandre Ayton a max contract. They decided not to. Two months ago, the Suns — fresh off the best regular-season record in the NBA — shockingly collapsed in the second round against the Mavericks, with Ayton spending much of the second half of Game 7 on the bench.

Head coach Monty Williams cited “internal” reasons. Ayton didn’t speak to the media. According to reports, Ayton “did not feel valued” by the franchise after the contract negotiations. And now we’re here. The Suns had to match the Pacers’ offer sheet — and sign him to the type of deal they declined to do last summer — simply to avoid losing him for absolutely nothing. It never should have gotten this far. 

The Suns’ title window is right now, and now Ayton’s usefulness as trade bait for the ultimate prize this offseason has evaporated, notes NBA expert Sam Quinn.

  • Quinn: “Those restrictions complicate Phoenix’s pursuit of Kevin Durant significantly. Now that Ayton is off of the table, for the time being, the Suns are effectively locked out of the bidding until January unless they can convince the Nets to take a package without him. If the Nets decide they have to trade him during the offseason, the Suns are simply out of luck. Their prize for likely missing out on Durant? A hefty luxury tax bill, as the Suns are now roughly $15 million above the tax line.”

Things could still work out in Phoenix. Ayton could move past the negotiations and be a part of another very good Suns team. But that’s far from a guarantee.

… AND ALSO NOT SUCH A GOOD MORNING FOR THE NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

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First there were whispers. Then rumors. Then reports. And then, yesterday, the No. 1 basketball recruit in the 2023 class, GG Jackson, de-committed from North Carolina.

  • Per 247Sports’ Travis Branham, Jackson is expected to reclassify to 2022 and join South Carolina.
  • That would, in theory, make him eligible for the 2023 draft as a 19-year-old at least a year removed from high school.
  • Jackson previously called UNC his “personal dream school” and was the program’s second-best recruit in the 247Sports era behind Harrison Barnes.

Not so honorable mention

  • The Yankees are rethinking their pursuit of Andrew Benintendi after it was revealed he is unvaccinated against COVID-19.

USWNT cruises into Concacaf W Championship final with win over Costa Rica ⚽

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The US women’s national team is into the final of the Concacaf W Championship after a straightforward 3-0 win over Costa Rica

  • After missing many great chances early, the USWNT got on the board with Emily Sonnett‘s tap-in late in the first half.
  • Mallory Pugh doubled the lead shortly before halftime with a wonderful left-footed strike off a terrific Rose Lavelle assist. Ashley Sanchez finished the scoring late.

The USWNT will face Canada in the final Monday night. While the USWNT has already qualified for the 2023 World Cup, a spot in the 2024 Olympics and 2024 W Gold Cup will be on the line.

MLB Mock Draft: Orioles have plenty of options at No. 1 ⚾

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The MLB Draft begins Sunday, and that means it’s time for one final mock draft from our MLB expert Mike Axisa.

The Orioles hold the first pick, and with no consensus top option, a dark horse could emerge. Such as:

  • Axisa: 2B Termarr Johnson has a lot of fans in the industry and is regarded as the best pure hitter in the draft class, college or high school. If he’s not the No. 1 pick, there’s a chance Johnson falls to the No. 6 pick or even later. In that case taking an underslot deal at No. 1 will be more financially lucrative than a slot deal at No. 6 or later, plus Johnson would get to say he is the No. 1 pick in the country. For the O’s, cutting a deal with Johnson at No. 1 would allow them to spend big on later picks (Nos. 33, 42, and 67) and add multiple top talents to their farm system.”

Here’s the rest of the mock top five:

  • 2. Diamondbacks: OF Druw Jones
  • 3. Rangers: SS Jackson Holliday
  • 4. Pirates: 3B Cam Collier
  • 5. Nationals: OF Elijah Green

The most intriguing name in the draft, though, may be Kumar Rocker. The former Vanderbilt ace went 10th overall to the Mets last year, but New York never offered him a contract after reviewing his medical information. Rocker spent the last few months dominating for the Tri-City ValleyCats of the Frontier League (you can read more about his journey here) and, if Mike’s mock proves correct, he will hear his name called in the first round again Sunday.

Also be sure to check out MLB insider R.J. Anderson’s top 30 prospect rankings for more insight on this year’s early draftees.

NHL free agency grades: Evaluating all the biggest moves so far 🏒

Johnny Gaudreau Getty Calgary Flames

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NHL free agency has been quite busy in the opening days with big names finding new homes, and our NHL experts Chris Bengel and Austin Nivison are here to grade the biggest acquisitions.

There was no bigger star on the market than Johnny Gaudreau, who ended up in Columbus. It was a good — if a bit confusing — move.

  • Nivison: I’m still flabbergasted by this one. … In terms of value, the Blue Jackets did very well here with a seven year contract worth $68.25 million. By contrast, the Calgary Flames reportedly offered Gaudreau an eight-year deal worth $84 million. This was an impressive move by Columbus, and the team will get better immediately. However, I’m confused with the direction of the team. Coming off an 81-point season in which they missed the playoffs by 19 points, the Blue Jackets are still a long way from being a contender… Grade: A

You can see grades for all the major signings here.

What we’re watching this weekend 📺

 The Open Championship all weekend. Here’s how you can, too.

We’re also watching the NWSL on Paramount+.

And also…

Friday

🏀 Lynx at Fever, 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network

Saturday

Tigers at Guardians, 4:10 p.m. on FS1

Red Sox at Yankees or Brewers at Giants, 7:15 p.m. on FOX

🏀 Sky at Wings, 8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network

Sunday

🏀 Aces at Sun, 1 p.m. on ABC

🏀 Fever at Storm, 6 p.m. on CBS Sports Network

MLB Draft, 7 p.m. on ESPN

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