Heading into the NBA offseason, it was thought to be a foregone conclusion that Phoenix Suns center and former Arizona star Deandre Ayton would earn a max contract deal after helping the Suns reach the Finals for the first time in 28 years.
Instead, the Suns have left Ayton hanging by refusing to offer a max contract by Monday’s 3 p.m. MST deadline. That’s according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst, who report that Ayton is “unhappy with the franchise’s consistent stance” that the Suns don’t foresee him as a max player.
Ayton was seeking a five-year, $172.5 million max deal plus possible escalators and clearly thought he had done enough to get it.
Ayton averaged 15.8 points and 11.8 rebounds in the 2021 NBA playoffs. His performance did dip off in the Finals when he faced off against the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, but many league executives figured his overall body of work warranted a max contract.
Suns owner Robert Sarver, a UA alum, doesn’t seem to agree.
As a result, the Suns risk losing Ayton when he becomes a restricted free agent next offseason.
From ESPN’s report:
“Ayton can enter restricted free agency next summer and sign an offer sheet elsewhere that would still allow the Suns’ matching rights --- although it could be a four-year deal that includes an early termination after three years to become an unrestricted free agent. Ayton could also sign a qualifying offer to play out the 2022-2023 season and become an unrestricted free agent in 2023, which would risk the Suns losing a franchise cornerstone player for nothing.”
To make matters more interesting, the Suns signed Mikal Bridges and Landry Shamet to four-year extensions in the last 24 hours. Ayton could read that as a sign that Sarver and the Phoenix front office are willing to invest in his teammates but not him.
There will certainly be plenty of drama attached to the Ayton/Suns situation as Phoenix tries to repeat as Western Conference champions.