David Brandt
Sports Reporter based in Phoenix
davidbrandtAPdbrandt@ap.org

Suns match Pacers’ offer for Ayton, keeping nucleus intact

July 15, 2022 GMT
FILE - Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game on March 24, 2022, in Denver. The Indiana Pacers have signed restricted free agent Deandre Ayton to a four-year, $133 million offer sheet Thursday, July 14, 2022. Phoenix now has two days to match the offer — or lose the center it selected with the top overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
FILE - Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game on March 24, 2022, in Denver. The Indiana Pacers have signed restricted free agent Deandre Ayton to a four-year, $133 million offer sheet Thursday, July 14, 2022. Phoenix now has two days to match the offer — or lose the center it selected with the top overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
FILE - Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game on March 24, 2022, in Denver. The Indiana Pacers have signed restricted free agent Deandre Ayton to a four-year, $133 million offer sheet Thursday, July 14, 2022. Phoenix now has two days to match the offer — or lose the center it selected with the top overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
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FILE - Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game on March 24, 2022, in Denver. The Indiana Pacers have signed restricted free agent Deandre Ayton to a four-year, $133 million offer sheet Thursday, July 14, 2022. Phoenix now has two days to match the offer — or lose the center it selected with the top overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
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FILE - Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game on March 24, 2022, in Denver. The Indiana Pacers have signed restricted free agent Deandre Ayton to a four-year, $133 million offer sheet Thursday, July 14, 2022. Phoenix now has two days to match the offer — or lose the center it selected with the top overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — Deandre Ayton finally has his new deal from the Phoenix Suns, who simply weren’t willing to let him get away for nothing.

A person with knowledge of the situation said the Suns quickly decided to match a $133 million, four-year offer sheet that Ayton agreed to 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.

The Athletic first reported Phoenix matching the offer. ESPN first reported that Ayton had agreed with the Pacers.

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.

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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.

Still, he is generally popular with his teammates. Booker and Paul often praised Ayton, 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.

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AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.

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