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NBA - US Sports: Has Deandre Ayton made the right decision to stay with Phoenix?

Deandre Ayton agreed a four-year maximum contract with Phoenix Suns earlier this month worth $133million, ending any speculation over his future.

Phoenix could have offered Ayton a five-year deal, paying $179.6m on 1st July, but instead they risked allowing him to become a restricted free agent.

The center was unhappy that the Suns didn't move to tie him down when he became eligible for a new contract and voiced his displeasure at various stages last season, when it became increasingly clear the organization were willing to let him become a restricted free agent, although he continued to perform on court.

Indiana Pacers made a move as they submitted an offer and Ayton then accepted their four-year, $133m max offer sheet, on 12th July - making it the largest offer sheet in NBA history.

The Suns then instantly matched that offer to secure Ayton's services for four more seasons.

Could Deandre Ayton have left Phoenix Suns?

As a restricted free agent, Phoenix always knew they had the advantage in any deal for Ayton, but he could have attempted to force a move away.

When a player becomes a restricted free agent they are able to talk to other teams and agree a deal elsewhere - but their original team can retain them if they match that offer.

That is exactly what Phoenix opted to do, and general manager James Jones stressed they team always wanted to retain the player they selected with the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

"We wanted Deandre here," Jones told ESPN. "He's vital to what we do, at the core of everything that we do."

He added: "If there's any doubt from anyone that we wanted him, I think that the matching (as soon as Indiana made an offer) did that. It was urgent for us. It was important. It was critical for us."

What next for Deandre Ayton and Phoenix Suns?

The free agency process hasn't necessarily been easy for Ayton and there are reports that he would have welcomed a move to Indiana, where he would have been a key component of their ongoing rebuild and would have had the chance to link up with talented young guard Tyrese Haliburton.

However, Phoenix are a team who should be able to mount another serious championship bid next season - while the Pacers may need a few more recruits to be genuine competitors - and Ayton has stressed he is delighted to have extended his stay with the Arizona outfit.

"I'm happy," he said. "The process is over. I put all this behind me and focus on chasing a championship this upcoming season with my brothers."

The Suns reached the Finals Series in 2021, but were beaten in six games by Milwaukee Bucks.

Last season, they claimed top seed in the Western Conference as they ended the campaign with a league-best 64-18 overall record, setting a franchise record for most wins in a single season with their previous best being 62.

However, the Suns fell short in the playoffs and, after beating a short-handed New Orleans Pelicans side 4-2 in the first round, they lost in seven games to Dallas Mavericks in the Conference semifinals as they blew a 2-0 series lead.

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Can Deandre Ayton improve further?

Ayton is a towering center with a listed height of 6' 11" and he has been compared to the likes of the retired greats Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.

Despite his size, Ayton is also incredibly mobile, allowing him to defend effectively against smaller players, but his progress has perhaps been a little slower than some of the other members of the 2018 draft.

The Bahamian is yet to receive an All-Star selection, while Luka Doncic and Trae Young - the third and fifth picks respectively in 2018 - have both played in the mid-season showpiece, but if he continues to improve he should be involved in the not-too-distant future.

Ayton managed to impress last season despite the fact there was speculation over his future throughout the campaign and now he is tied down to the Suns, he will be able to put his full focus on helping the team challenge for a championship.

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