Suns

Ayton Another Sun Without a Bag?

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Deandre Ayton’s gonna get a bag…wait what?

After his best season yet — and a Dominayton postseason — Deandre Ayton’s chances of getting a max contract were high. Just 23 years old and already one of the best big men in the NBA, it felt like DA’s progress is finally showing he can be a foundational piece for years to come for the Suns. But the deadline has passed, and no deal struck.

According to 98.7 Arizona Sports reporter John Gambadoro, no deal was even offered.

DA wanted nothing but the max, five-year deal. The Suns wanted to talk a three or four-year max deal. Neither side budged and watched the deadline expire.

DA vs. The 2018 Draft Class

One factor in contract talks is DA’s draft class. He went No. 1 overall, but the other notable members of that class are making headlines.

Luka Doncic is in the discussion as one of the top-five players in the game overall in the sport, Trae Young has reached superstar status for the Atlanta Hawks, and promising players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Michael Porter Jr. have agreed to rookie max extensions with the Thunder and Nuggets respectively.

Comparing DA to these guys, it’s hard to argue he doesn’t deserve a max contract. He’s not better than Luka right now, maybe not Trae either, but DA is a more valuable player than SGA or MPJ. The advanced metrics from Stathead.com tell the tape.

Comparing those five players, DA ranks third in offensive win shares and second in defensive win shares, as well as overall win shares. Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid overall PG, Porter Jr. has elite level offense and both guys have high-ceiling potentials.

But Gilgeous-Alexander still needs work to help the Thunder compete, and Porter Jr. is injury prone and needs so much more work on his defensive game.

Yet they both got max extensions.

DA’s calling card is his defense. He’s unlocked his ability to be the anchor of a defense that can compete for championships. Compared to those other players in his class, Ayton is the best defensive player. His offense still needs work, but he has improved and just posted his most efficient season last year.

But Why No Deal? Sarver’s past coming back?

Suns owner Robert Sarver has a well-known reputation for not paying players and fracturing relationships. Most notably of past players to date was Amar’e Stoudemire.

Stoudemire was one of the league’s elite big men looking for an extension. He recalled a time Sarver called him into his office and kept it shrewd to say the least. 

Spoiler alert: the replacements of Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick and Marcin Gortat couldn’t replace Stoudemire.

Another former Suns icon Raja Bell had his own Sarver contract story. In August of 2020, Bell was a guest on the Ringer’s NBA Show Podcast. About the 15-minute mark, Bell talks about his meeting with Sarver and looking to get a contract extension:

“[Sarver] took me out to lunch, and I asked him. [Sarver] said ‘I understand you want an extension and this and that…Do you deserve an extension? Yes. Am I gonna give you an extension. No. Do you want to know why?…Because I don’t have to.”

Those decisions by Sarver have lead to a horrible reputation, missed championships and a majority of losing for the last decade.

You would think his mind would change. And those changes seem to be real with a new state-of-the-art practice facility, the Chris Paul re-signing, and the extensions for Mikal Bridges and Landry Shamet.

But with no contract for DA still, questions about Sarver being back to his old, cruel ways are back.

Do the Suns believe in DA?

Maybe the reason for no new deal is the Suns not believing Ayton is truly not a max player yet. The first couple of seasons were up and down for DA, and as a No. 1 pick, the struggles are magnified much more. It wasn’t until this past season — and especially postseason — where Ayton played like a superstar top pick should.

This could be the Suns telling Ayton to prove it with another season like the last one. If DA does that again, maybe the Suns offer Ayton a max deal next offseason. Or if a team out there offers Ayton a max in restricted free agency, the Suns won’t hesitate to match– which might also benefit the Suns because another team can’t afford as much max money.

The Suns could have Ayton on a max deal without having to pay as much.

But will the savings really be worth it? With the NBA salary cap expecting to climb even higher, signing Ayton to the rookie max deal now would still look like a sweet deal. Are the savings and flexibility worth possibly fracturing the relationship between Ayton and the franchise? And maybe even hurting the chances of getting back to the NBA Finals after it seemed the Suns never would for the past decade?

Deandre Ayton has and is taking more time to reach his full potential compared to the other headline names in his draft class. It could just be that big men in today’s game take longer to develop then guard or wing prospects. But after this season, Ayton showed on the court why he is more than capable of reaching that elite status.

Already in the discussion as one of the best big men, Ayton deserves that max contract. For whatever reason he didn’t get it this time around, it doesn’t hurt him or the team in the long run.

Follow us on Twitter @SunsLead for the latest Suns news and insight. 

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