Deandre Ayton looked like he was aiming for a max contract when he became a central part of Phoenix’s 2020-21 Finals team. He was up for a rookie extension on the heels of that run, but the Suns opted not to give it to him. It made waves about Ayton’s long-term future in Phoenix.
This season has become something of an extended audition for maximum money. He is a restricted free agent this summer. The Suns would have the right to match any offer he receives, but it doesn’t appear that Phoenix is interested in retaining Ayton at that kind of price. According to Athleticsit’s more likely than not that Ayton will play elsewhere next season.
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It’s fair to wonder if it’s just the Suns who are cheap or if they know something we don’t. As Athletic’s report notes, there has been talk of Ayton not getting enough sleep because he’s been up all day playing video games. As childish as it sounds, it speaks to the commitment of a 24-year-old you’re considering paying not too far south of $200 million.
Beyond the commitment questions, there’s a straightforward but difficult basketball question the Suns and other teams need to answer: Is Ayton really a max player? Is a center not named Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid, for that matter, a worthy max player? We continue to see these great men sidelined, if not eliminated from the field entirely, in the playoffs. But we have also seen teams win with size. Offensive rebounds still rock games. Ayton was amazing in the playoffs last year.
Based on that, he probably wants a bigger attacking role than he typically fills in the shadows of Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The Athletic report mentions the Pistons as a potential landing spot for Ayton.
The Suns would likely try to negotiate a sign and trade if they want to get out of the Ayton business, so they don’t lose him for nothing. He’s the guy they drafted out of Luka Doncic, after all. Letting him walk about four years without showing anything for passing on a generational superstar would be a disaster.
Speaking of that 2018 draft, Ayton saw a number of his classmates sign big rookie extensions. Doncic and Trae Young got over $200 million; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Michael Porter Jr. over $170 million (Porter is guaranteed $145 million). Jaren Jackson Jr. got $105 million.
Ayton is surely looking at these offers and thinks he deserves the same kind of reward. We’ll see if anyone else agrees, but it doesn’t look like it will be the Suns.