Last season, the Suns came up two wins short of capturing the first championship in franchise history, but their unexpected run to the 2021 NBA Finals served as a major step forward for a team that hadn’t reached the playoffs since 2010. The front office kept the good vibes going with a strong offseason, which included a new lucrative contract for All-Star guard Chris Paul.
But there is one question lingering in the background as Phoenix attempts to build off a 51-win season: Why didn’t the Suns give Deandre Ayton a contract extension?
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The 23-year-old center emerged as a key part of Phoenix’s core in his third season, and he had several impressive performances during his first trip to the NBA playoffs. It was widely expected that the conversation regarding an extension agreement between the Suns and Ayton wouldn’t last long considering that he should only continue to improve under coach Monty Williams.
And yet, discussions stalled, and Monday’s 6 p.m. ET deadline passed without a deal in place. What’s going on in Phoenix?
Why Deandre Ayton didn’t sign a max extension with the Suns
Ayton was eligible to sign a five-year, $172.5 million extension, but Suns ownership believes that Ayton doesn’t belong in the same tier as Luka Doncic, Trae Young and other max extension candidates from the 2018 NBA Draft class, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Ayton wasn’t going to sign for anything less than the max because of “his performance, his potential and the marketplace,” per Wojnarowski.
Suns general manager James Jones told The Athletic’s Sam Amick that Phoenix was open to discussing a three- or four-year max contract, but the two sides didn’t have any “real negotiations.” Ayton’s agents, Bill Duffy and Nima Namakian, claimed that the Suns never offered a max deal of any kind.
“I mean, obviously, we’re disappointed that we couldn’t reach an extension agreement this offseason,” Jones said. “Deandre is important for us. He means a lot to us and was vital in what we did and what we’ve done this past season.”
Ayton can now enter restricted free agency next summer and sign an offer sheet with another team. Phoenix will have the right to match any offer.
Questions about Suns ownership
The Suns’ decision to not offer a five-year max deal reinforced the belief of some fans that team owner Robert Sarver isn’t willing to spend significant money to keep the core of a contender together.
Sarver hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2010, the last year that Phoenix had reached the postseason prior to the team earning a playoff berth in 2021. Even before that long stretch, Sarver had earned a reputation as a cheap owner, most notably failing to retain Joe Johnson in 2005 after he averaged 17.1 points per game on a Suns squad that reached the Western Conference finals.
Jones addressed the criticism of Sarver, telling Amick that the Suns will pay the luxury tax and “continue to build a deep team.”
“It’s inaccurate,” Jones said of Sarver’s reputation. “If you just look at the moves we’ve made, it’s inaccurate. It’s just not [true]. If you look at all the moves we’ve made, and the things we’ve done, from the practice facility to the roster itself to acquiring Chris Paul, going and acquiring Jae Crowder, extending the guys that we have, that’s not accurate.”
Phoenix did reach agreements on rookie extensions with Mikal Bridges (four years, $90 million) and Landry Shamet (four years, $43 million) before Monday’s deadline.
Suns’ Chris Paul reacts to Deandre Ayton news
“I think my biggest advice for him is control what you can control, and that’s how you go out and hoop. Things happen, the business of the game, but I know [Ayton’s] heart. I know how he competes, and I know how competitive he is. At the end of the day, he wants to do his job for our team, and I appreciate him for that. . . .
“It’s life. We’re all in this situation, playing, and it’s a business. You have to figure out those different types of things, but we all show up to work today to win and play for each other. I think that’s what we’re going to try to keep doing.”
Deandre Ayton stats 2020-21
|Regular season||Per Game||Playoffs|
|62.6||Field goal %||65.8|