PHOENIX (AP) — Deandre Ayton finally has his new contract with the Phoenix Suns, who just weren’t willing to let him go for nothing.
A person with knowledge of the situation said the Suns quickly decided to match a four-year, $133 million offer Ayton accepted Thursday with the Indiana Pacers. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Suns had not publicly announced the decision.
Athleticism first reported that Phoenix matched the offer. ESPN first reported that Ayton was okay with the Pacers.
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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, meaning 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.
Still, he’s generally popular with his teammates. Booker and Paul often praised Ayton, who did a lot of 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.
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AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.