Deandre Ayton finally has his new deal from the Phoenix Suns, who simply weren’t willing to let him get away for nothing.
The big man officially inked 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 that Phoenix quickly matched.
The Athletic first reported Phoenix matching the offer. ESPN first reported that Ayton had agreed with the Pacers.
“Deandre is a force on both ends of the floor, who has elevated 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 reached our recent levels of success. We are excited to keep Deandre at 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 express how the experience of being a free agent was a learning experience for him.
“This is a blessing,” Ayton told ESPN. “This contract not only has generational impact for my family, but also with the way we are able to work in the Phoenix community and home in the Bahamas. That is the things that we go by …
“I’ve come to understand that this is a business. So, I was more anxious to know the end of the result so I could focus, move on and just get back to work. I just treated everything like a business. Just keep being professional, approach everything with professionalism and not looking too deep into it.”
The move means the Suns — at least for now — keep their nucleus of Ayton and the All-Star backcourt of Devin Booker and Chris Paul. The trio pushed Phoenix to the NBA Finals in 2021 and a franchise-record 64 wins during the most recent regular season.
The No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, Ayton was eligible to get an extension from Phoenix last summer.
That didn’t happen, and he became a restricted free agent this summer — meaning Phoenix had the chance to match any offers. Once Indiana made its move, the Suns countered quickly.
Phoenix has been linked to interest in acquiring Brooklyn star Kevin Durant during the offseason, but Ayton can’t be used as trade bait because of the new deal.
The Suns’ move is a blow to the Pacers, who were hoping to add Ayton as a pivotal piece in a promising young core that includes 22-year-old point guard Tyrese Haliburton, who was acquired in a February trade with Sacramento.
Ayton — who turns 24 later this month — had a shaky start to his career but became a critical component in the Suns’ run to the Finals. He’s part of the 2018 draft class that includes Dallas’ Luka Doncic and Atlanta’s Trae Young. The two guards have had more individual success, but neither has made it as far in the playoffs.
The athletic 6-foot-11 Ayton is powerful in the low post and has developed a strong mid-range game. He averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game last season while shooting 63.4% from the field and 36.8% on 3-pointers.
Much of the criticism about Ayton has been 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 that 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 unbelievable season. Unfortunately, in sports and even in society, we focus on the one bad thing. It hurt like crazy, and it still hurts. It was embarrassing to play that way, but as the dust settles and I look at the season from a holistic perspective, I look at all the good stuff that happened.
“This team is a new standard in Suns basketball and it’s part of a process. The one thing I understand is when I first got there, the team wasn’t winning many games and so nobody was talking about anything that was going on. And there was stuff going on because it’s a team and you’re dealing with people. Now that you’re winning and having some success, things are talked about, and that’s a good thing in my opinion. You may not like what everybody talking about, but nonetheless, we’re a team that has expectations and so it just goes with the territory.”
Ayton is generally popular with his teammates. Booker and Paul often praised him, who did a lot of the little things to help the team win.
Even without Ayton, Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard may not be done wheeling-and-dealing. 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 dump.
The Pacers announced Thursday that they waived four players — Duane Washington Jr., Nik Stauskas, Malik Fitts, and Juwan Morgan. They were part of Indiana’s trade that sent guard Malcolm Brogdon to Boston, clearing enough cap space to make the pursuit of Ayton or other players realistic.
“I got to give a lot of respect to the Pacers organization,” Ayton said, per ESPN. “They were aggressive from the start and showing a lot of love. And we agreed to a max offer sheet. The Suns matched. Now, I’m back in Phoenix as a Sun.
“I’m happy. The process is over. I put all this behind me and focus on chasing a championship this upcoming season with my brothers.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.