Deandre Ayton is staying in Phoenix.
Just minutes after the restricted free agent reportedly signed a max offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers, the Suns matched it to retain the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reports. He’ll continue to play for the Suns on a four-year, $133 million contract.
The deal comes after the Suns declined to offer Ayton an extension on his rookie contract during the season prior to an October deadline to do so. Ayton’s pending restricted free agency remained a storyline as the Suns embarked on the NBA’s best regular season with a 64-18 record. Ayton’s emergence alongside the leadership of Chris Paul and All-NBA play of Devin Booker played a significant role in Phoenix’s regular-season success and its run to the Finals in 2021.
The Suns faltered in the 2022 postseason, falling in the second round to the Dallas Mavericks after entering the playoffs as the favorite to win the championship. Ayton played just 17 minutes in a blowout Game 7 loss to Dallas, further raising questions about his future with the team. Head coach Monty Williams called Ayton’s limited playing time an “internal” matter amid a report from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer that he’s “not particularly a favorite” of Williams.
Meanwhile, other top players from Ayton’s 2018 rookie class signed long-term deals to remain with their teams. Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all signed max extensions ahead of the deadline. Jaren Jackson Jr. agreed to a deal for less than the max to stay in Memphis.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported in May that Ayton “did not feel valued” by the Suns while Ayton’s agent Bill Duffy confirmed that he wanted a max contract. Ayton ultimately got his max deal with the Suns, but not without turmoil that could have been avoided ahead of the Suns’ postseason demise.
Ayton posted career highs last season of 17.2 points per game and 63.4% field-goal shooting while adding 10.2 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game. His return retains the core in Phoenix and will ensure barring injury that the Suns enter next season among the championship favorites.
The contract puts a kink in any plans the Suns may have had to trade for Kevin Durant after the disgruntled Brooklyn Nets star reportedly listed Phoenix as a preferred destination in his trade request. NBA rules restricted Ayton from being traded until Jan. 15 once he signed Indiana’s offer sheet. The Suns aren’t likely to be willing to meet Brooklyn’s demands with a package that doesn’t include Ayton.