Although the Suns never offered center Deandre Ayton the five-year maximum-salary deal he originally sought, they told him throughout his free agency that they intended to match any offer sheet he signed with another team, according to Marc J. Spears of ESPN.
The Suns made good on that promise, immediately matching Ayton’s offer sheet once they received it from the Pacers. In a phone conversation with Spears, Suns general manager James Jones said the team felt it was “critical” not to waste any time making that move.
“We wanted Deandre here,” Jones said. “He’s vital to what we do, at the core of everything that we do. And throughout this whole process it was, it rang true. We wanted to keep him here, and the moment we can come to an agreement, we would. So, waiting 24 hours, 48 hours, that wasn’t something we needed to do because going into it, we knew this is where he wanted to be and where we wanted him to be.
“I’m one to just be direct. And if you’re convicted, if you know what you want to do, you do it. But if there’s any doubt from anyone that we wanted him, I think that the matching did that. It was urgent for us. It was important. It was critical for us. So, we just wanted to make sure that we handled our business quickly.”
While Jones insists that Phoenix was “where (Ayton) wanted to be,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski hears from sources that the former No. 1 overall pick was intrigued by the possibility of teaming up with Tyrese Haliburton and becoming a core player in Indiana. Speaking to Spears, Ayton indicated he was happy to be back with his former team, but also praised the club he nearly joined for how it handled the restricted free agency process.
“I got to give a lot of respect to the Pacers organization. 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,” Ayton said, adding that his new contract will have a “generational impact” on his family and on the community work he can do in Phoenix and in the Bahamas, his home country.
There was plenty of chatter earlier in the offseason about the possibility of Ayton leaving Phoenix, but the Suns never showed a willingness to discuss a sign-and-trade deal with the Pacers, despite Indiana’s interest in doing so, according to ESPN.
Ayton’s final 2021/22 appearance played a part in the speculation about his offseason departure — he logged a playoff-low 17 minutes in a blowout Game 7 loss to Dallas in the Western Conference Semifinals, and was seen jawing with head coach Monty Williams on the sidelines.
However, the two men downplayed that incident in their respective interviews with Spears. Williams referred to it as a “bad day,” while Ayton said it was “in the past,” adding that he and his coach are on good terms.
“Game 7 was an anomaly,” Ayton said. “We let that get away from us as a team. That is all in the past. We’re going to look forward. We are going to move on.”