Deandre Ayton called it "a blessing" to return to the Phoenix Suns on his new four-year, $133million contract extension.
Ayton, 23, averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game this past regular season, making it four consecutive seasons he has tallied at least 14.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per contest since entering the league in the 2018 NBA Draft.
The former first overall pick finished fourth in the NBA in field goal percentage (63.4 per cent), while also demonstrating he has the defensive versatility to close playoff games – a rare trait for a modern centre in the era of 'small-ball'.
Instead of paying their top pick his max contract a year early to take the pressure off – as the Dallas Mavericks did with Ayton's draft classmate Luka Doncic – the Suns decided against that route, forcing their seven-foot youngster to prove himself again a season after helping the franchise to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1993.
After waiting to see what price Ayton would command on the open market, the Suns did not hesitate to match the Indiana Pacers' max offer sheet, as it was one year and $42m less than the Suns could have offered as the team that drafted him.
PHOENIX! I grew up here, got drafted here, had my son here. We have the best fans in the world.— Deandre Ayton (@DeandreAyton) July 19, 2022
I’m ready to get back to work with my brothers. pic.twitter.com/KlCSui0M6z
Speaking to ESPN in his first interview since making his extension with Phoenix official, Ayton said while he is grateful, the process has opened his eyes to the business side of the NBA.
"This is a blessing," he said. "This contract not only has generational impact for my family, but also with the way we are able to work in the Phoenix community and home in the Bahamas.
"I've come to understand that this is a business. So, I was more anxious to know the end of the result so I could focus, move on and just get back to work. The shift in free agency brought a lot of uncertainty through the whole process.
"I got to give a lot of respect to the Pacers organisation – 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.
"I'm happy the process is over. I can put all this behind me and focus on chasing a championship this upcoming season with my brothers."
Suns general manager James Jones told ESPN that the plan was always to bring Ayton back, although he called the decision to play things out through restricted free agency "negotiations", without going into it any further.
"We wanted Deandre here," he said. "He's vital to what we do, at the core of everything that we do.
"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 [to match the Pacers' offer], 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.
"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."
Phoenix head coach Monty Williams also said he was ecstatic to have his starting center back, despite an incident in the Suns' Game 7 elimination against the Golden State Warriors where Ayton allegedly refused to re-enter the game during the blowout loss, which Williams called an "internal" matter at the time.
"James [Jones] and myself, we talk a lot and he'll let me know what's going on with the contract and ask for my opinion," Williams said.
"I try to stay out of persuading him when it comes to him making decisions, but we knew any offer that he got, we were going to match.
"I'm happy for Deandre just because I know this is what he wanted. He wants to be in that class of players that's regarded in this way. From that standpoint, I think as a competitor, that's what you want. When you see a guy working for that, that part is pretty cool."
In his first comments about the Game 7 situation, Ayton said any issues are now "in the past" and that his relationship with Williams is "calm".
When Williams was asked about the situation, he simply described it as "a bad day".
"I didn't feel like I had to say anything. I was just doing my job," he said. "We had a bad day, but we had an unbelievable season.
"Unfortunately, in sports and even in society, we focus on the one bad thing. It hurt like crazy, and it still hurts. It was embarrassing to play that way, but as the dust settles and I look at the season from a holistic perspective, I look at all the good stuff that happened."