Deandre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns may be headed toward a rockier relationship, seeing as he still hasn’t received an extension from the 2021 NBA Finalists. Kellan Olson from Empire of the Suns shared that Ayton is unhappy with the situation, but will continue to handle things professionally.
Ayton was a key contributor on the Suns team that made the 2021 NBA Finals, with regular season averages of 14.4 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.4 APG and 1.2 BPG with only 1.5 turnovers per contest. He also shot 62.6% from the field and 76.9% from the free throw line. He produced well in the playoffs, too, increasing his scoring to 15.8 PPG and upping his rebounding to 11.8 RPG while improving his field goal percentage to 65.8%.
He was also part of an iconic Suns moment in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. With only 0.2 seconds left on the clock, Ayton completed a perfectly drawn up play from Monty Williams and slammed the ball home – creating an enduring memory for Suns fans.
Ayton is a player who’s bought into Chris Paul’s leadership, and into the Suns’ style of play. That winning play against the Clippers showed how well he can work with his other teammates, because often lost in that memory is how Devin Booker unselfishly played the decoy and set a screen that opened up the lane for Ayton’s cut for the alley-oop. Plays like that don’t happen when teammates don’t trust each other.
In terms of feeling like he wants respect, you can see why Ayton has a case. A bunch of his contemporaries have gotten max contracts, and none of them made the NBA Finals. Yes, players like Luka Doncic and Trae Young are bigger names and certainly have a larger overall impact on their team, but that’s also because they arguably have weaker supporting casts. Shae-Gilgeous Alexander barely even suited up last year as the Oklahoma City Thunder decided to shut him down and tank to add to their bottomless well of high draft picks.
When you take a look at the money that Devin Booker and Chris Paul are paid, it’s also evident why Ayton would want money. Booker is currently on a deal with $158.2 million guaranteed, while Paul signed an extension this summer that’s worth up to $120 million with $75 million guaranteed. That contract runs out when Chris Paul is 39.
Ayton’s been relatively healthy, too. Last season, he played in 69 out of 72 regular season games, and in all 22 of the Suns’ playoff contests. He only played in 38 games in 2019-20, but he was also hit with a 25-game suspension that season. The Suns played a total of 73 games including the bubble, where they went 8-0, so Ayton actually played in 38 out of the 48 games he was available in. He similarly missed 11 games in the 2018-19 season, playing in 71 out of 82 contests.
I personally feel that the Suns are taking an unnecessary risk. Even if they match any offer he’s given to the table, and there’s a high chance that someone will offer him money with the cap going up again, Ayton may become more disgruntled. They could extend a Qualifying Offer of $16.4 million, but he’s worth more than that. While the league has continued to move toward a more perimeter-oriented play, Ayton has bucked he trend by showing that a good and mobile big man who doesn’t shoot a lot of threes can still make a big impact in the right system.
For the Suns organization, it also makes sense that they may be wary of having so much money tied into Paul, Booker, and Ayton if they were to give the latter the big extension he’s looking for. He could be getting paid somewhere in the region of $30 million with a max extension, which would mean that in the 2022-23 season the Suns could be looking at potentially paying their trio somewhere north of $90 million. Team harmony and chemistry is important in the chase for a championship, and there’s no better example
However, as Paul would be the first to attest, having reached his only NBA Finals this year, championship windows can be very small in the NBA. If the Suns believe that they have a legitimate shot at contending for the next few years, it may simply be worth inking Ayton to a long-term deal. By the time Paul retires, Booker and Ayton will still be on the books and could legitimately be a serious 1-2 punch.
It’s one of those situations where there’s merits to both sides, and we’ll have to wait to see how this situation develops. The deadline for extensions is October 18, only a few days away.