Negotiations between players and teams in the NBA can be a messy situation especially when they play out in public during the season. The entire league knew that Deandre Ayton was set to be a free agent during this offseason and it had been a hot topic for discussion even while Ayton was under contract. While it can be said that Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and at times even Mikal Bridges provide more value to the team, Ayton himself is a vital piece to the Phoenix Suns’ title chances.
A terrible loss like that to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of the 2022 Western Conference Semifinals can leave a bad taste in one’s mouth and one that was made worse for the Suns when Ayton decided to sign a four-year, $133-million offer sheet, the highest in NBA history, with the Indiana Pacers. For his part, the Bahamian center just wanted to go to a place where he felt wanted and Ayton got that and an opportunity to be part of the Pacers, who may not be on the same level of Phoenix, but nevertheless presented an exciting opportunity.
In the end though, it seemed as if hard feelings had been set aside at least for now, as the Suns matched Indiana’s offer sheet, keeping Ayton and the rest of Phoenix’s core of Booker, Bridges, and Paul for at least three more seasons. They even got to exact some slight vengeance on the Pacers for their efforts.
It’s fair to say that Ayton won, since he got the highest possible offer he could get in the market, something the Suns couldn’t give to the former Arizona Wildcat unless their hands were forced. Whether or not he will be traded during the season is anyone’s guess, as Phoenix can only trade Ayton after January 16, 2023, so he can only control what he can control, which is the basketball side of things.
Ideally, Ayton is at the point where basketball is now his main focus with his place on the team secure at least until the turn of the calendar. The first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft has always produced solid numbers, as he has averaged 16.3 points (on 59.9 percent field goal shooting and 75.4 percent free throw shooting), 10.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and a block over four seasons. However, it remains to be seen how Ayton’s numbers will fare post-extension. There are times when the season a player’s contract expires is more often than not his best, or at least better than the following season.
Fellow centers like Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and even Jaren Jackson Jr. all either have a statistic they lead the league in or an attribute they are so well-known for. While Ayton had last season’s seventh-highest true shooting percentage (65.6) he’s more often than not in the top-20 or lower of stats dominated by centers.
Numbers aside, the inside scoring and rim protection Ayton provides is not necessarily a rare commodity, but that he has a combination of both with an occasional 3-pointer makes his potential as a top NBA center still a possibility. Moreover, the 2018 consensus first-team All-American is not one to waste opportunities given to him and that’s why it’s also clear as day that Paul enjoys having him as a lob partner.
Another factor Ayton needs to address would be his reliability in terms of staying in the court. Ayton only played 70 regular season games just once, which was during his rookie year. He was also suspended for 25 games back in 2019 for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy after testing positive for a diuretic. Last season, Ayton was also hounded by a litany of leg injuries, which can be tricky if not addressed.
With the drama and uncertainty well behind them, Deandre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns can focus on atoning for their atrocious performance in Game 7 of the 2022 Western Conference Semifinals. Whether or not Ayton finishes the 2022-2023 NBA Season with the Suns is another matter altogether, but it’s on him to follow through on his side of the deal regardless of where he ends up.