Deandre Ayton, Suns in stalemate over max rookie contract extension, per report

Among the many bright spots within the Phoenix Suns‘ run to the NBA Finals was the growth of 2018 No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, who showed a tremendous amount of hustle and effort on both ends of the floor. Throughout the playoffs he averaged 15.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, one block and shot an extremely efficient 65.8 percent from the field. 

Ayton, who’s eligible for a five-year, $172.5 million extension that could reach $207 million, was an essential piece in Phoenix’s playoff run a season ago, so it’s rather surprising to hear that, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Suns aren’t ponying up to give Ayton the max rookie extension that others in his draft class received this summer. 

Players like Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Michael Porter Jr. all received rookie scale extensions reaching into the $200 million mark, and Ayton feels he’s deserving of that same deal, per Wojnarowski. But apparently the Suns don’t feel the same way:

“…Sources said the talks between the Suns and Ayton’s representatives are slowed by ownership’s current assertion that Ayton doesn’t deserve to be included in that group of players.”

That’s a tough pill to swallow if you’re Ayton, especially after a playoff run he had a big hand in facilitating on a team that hadn’t been there in a decade. But when you consider that the Suns are owned by Robert Sarver, who is viewed negatively around the league, then Phoenix being reluctant to spend money on Ayton makes more sense. Sarver’s tenure as the Suns owner has been filled with ups and downs, but the lows over the years have been what’s stuck to his reputation as a team owner who makes poor transactions and draft moves. He also hasn’t paid luxury tax since the 2009-10 season.

One of the worst moves during Sarver’s tenure was allowing Joe Johnson to walk in restricted free agency after he just averaged a career high for a Suns team that was fresh off a Western Conference finals appearance in 2005. Phoenix was one of the most dominant teams in the league at that time with the core of Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire, and keeping Johnson could’ve gotten them a championship. 

Failing to build title contenders when he’s had solid players has sort of been Sarver’s calling card, and after finally getting it right this season with the trio of Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Ayton,  in addition to the coaching wizardry of Monty Williams, it would only make sense to keep that core intact for years to come. 

Yet clearly that’s not what the Suns brass is thinking at this moment, which, frankly, seems like a big misstep if it doesn’t get figured out. Entering the league, Ayton was viewed as a player who was lacking in effort on the defensive side of the ball, but during the Finals he was clearly motivated and committed in that area. 

When Ayton was tasked with guarding reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, he held him to just 48.4 percent from the field. Compare that to him shooting over 70 percent on virtually every other defender the Suns put in front of him and it’s clear to see that Ayton made an impact on Antetokounmpo when he was guarding him. 

He’s shown an ability to hold his own when he’s switched onto guards on the perimeter, and though there’s still room for growth on that end of the floor, his commitment to improving in that area of his game was on full display last season.

On offense, Ayton was the ideal pick-and-roll big man for Paul and Booker, and though he got fewer shot attempts last season, he experienced the most efficient shooting season of his career from the floor, including 40 percent from midrange. 

There’s a lot to like about Ayton’s improvement in three seasons, and the leap he took during the 2020-21 season should be enough for the Suns to commit big money to him. If the two sides don’t come to an agreement by the Oct. 18 deadline, then Ayton will head for restricted free agency next summer. Perhaps the Suns want this to serve as fuel for Ayton to get even more out of him as they try to get back to the Finals this year, and they’ll be able to match any offer he gets next summer. 

However, given Sarver’s track record for not always valuing talent when it’s time to pay them, there’s a small chance this could turn sour and Ayton could decide he no longer wants to play for the Suns. We’ll have to wait and see if the Suns ultimately cave and give Ayton the max contract he wants, or if he’ll enter the season as an impending restricted free agent with something to prove to Sarver and the rest of the front office.

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