Deandre Ayton finally has his new contract with the Phoenix Suns, who just weren’t willing to let him go for nothing.
The big man officially signed his pact with the Suns on July 18. The deal was reported by multiple outlets to be a four-year, $133 million deal, which was the offer sheet he signed with the Indiana Pacers which Phoenix quickly matched.
Athleticism reported for the first time Phoenix corresponding to the offer. ESPN first reported that Ayton was okay with the Pacers.
“Deandre is a force at both ends of the court, who has raised his game every year and will continue to do so,” Suns general manager James Jones said in a statement. “DA is so important to what we do and without him we could not have achieved our recent levels of success. We are delighted to keep Deandre at his home in the valley where he belongs.
Official ✍️ pic.twitter.com/wFFqe5WY20
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) July 19, 2022
In an interview with ESPN’s Marc J. Spears on Monday, Ayton explained how much of a learning experience being a free agent has been for him.
“It’s a blessing,” Ayton told ESPN. “This contract not only has a generational impact for my family, but also how we can work in the Phoenix community and at home in the Bahamas. These are the things we follow…
“I realized it was a business. So I was more anxious to know the end result so I could focus, move on, and get back to work. I treated everything like a business. Just continue to be professional, approach everything professionally, and don’t look too far ahead.
The move means the Suns — at least for now — are keeping their core Ayton and the All-Star backcourt of Devin Booker and Chris Paul. The trio pushed Phoenix to the 2021 NBA Finals and a franchise-record 64 wins last regular season.
The first pick in the 2018 draft, Ayton was eligible for an extension from Phoenix last summer.
That didn’t happen and he became a restricted free agent this summer, which meant Phoenix had a chance to match all the offers. Once Indiana made its move, the Suns quickly responded.
Phoenix has been linked with interest in acquiring Brooklyn star Kevin Durant this offseason, but Ayton cannot be used as trade bait due to the new deal.
The Suns’ move is a blow to the Pacers, who had been hoping to add Ayton as a centerpiece in a promising young core that includes 22-year-old point guard Tyrese Haliburton, who was acquired in a February trade from Sacramento.
Ayton – who turns 24 later this month – had a shaky start to his career but has become a vital part of the Suns’ run to the Finals. He is part of the 2018 draft class which includes Dallas’ Luka Doncic and Atlanta’s Trae Young. Both guards had more individual success, but neither made it that far in the playoffs.
The athletic 6-foot-11 Ayton is powerful at the low post and has developed a strong midrange game. He averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game last season while shooting 63.4 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from 3-point range.
Much of the criticism about Ayton is about his maturity. He was suspended 25 games without pay by the NBA in 2019 for violating the league’s anti-drug program by testing positive for a diuretic. He was also benched for part of Game 7 of the team’s second-round loss to Dallas this year after appearing to exchange words with coach Monty Williams.
In an interview with ESPN, Williams described the Game 7 ouster as a “bad day”.
“I didn’t feel like I had to say anything. I was just doing my job,” Williams said. “We had a bad day, but we had an incredible season. Unfortunately, in sport and even in society, we focus on the only bad thing. It hurt like crazy, and it still hurts. C It was embarrassing to play this way, but as the dust settles and I look at the season from a holistic perspective, I look at all the good things that have happened.
“This team is a new normal in Suns basketball and it’s part of a process. The only thing I understand is when I got there the team wasn’t making a lot of games and so nobody was talking about what was going on. And things were going on because it’s a team and you’re dealing with people. Now that you’re winning and you’re successful, we talk about it, and It’s a good thing in my opinion. You may not like what everyone is talking about, but nevertheless, we are a team that has expectations and so it goes with the territory.
Ayton is generally popular with his teammates. Booker and Paul often praised him, who did many little things to help the team win.
Even without Ayton, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard may not be done rolling and negotiating. Indiana has three potential first-round picks in next year’s draft and enough players and assets to help other teams looking for a salary cap.
The Pacers announced Thursday that they are waiving four players – Duane Washington Jr., Nik Stauskas, Malik Fitts and Juwan Morgan. They were part of the Indiana trade that sent guard Malcolm Brogdon to Boston, clearing enough space to make chasing Ayton or other players realistic.
“I have to give the Pacers organization a lot of respect,” Ayton said, per ESPN. “They were aggressive from the start and showed a lot of love. And we agreed on a max offer sheet. The Suns tied the game. Now I’m back in Phoenix as a Sun.
“I’m happy. The process is over. I’m putting it all behind me and focused on chasing a championship this season with my brothers.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.