The Phoenix Suns and their starting center Deandre Ayton have failed to reach an agreement on a contract extension, meaning the former number one draft selection will now enter restricted free agency at the end of this season. The Phoenix Suns are playing a dangerous game here, even if their ideation is clear for all to see.
Restricted free agency means the team can match any offer sheet that Ayton signs, and in that respect still hold the cards on the big man’s future. However, Ayton is now able to start navigating his future within the league with multiple options being available to him.
Deandre Ayton could choose to sign a qualifying deal with the Phoenix Suns and hit unrestricted free agency a year later. The other option is that he could only entertain short-term deals during this free agency. If the second scenario holds true and the Phoenix Suns do match the contract, he’s not tied down for a long period of time.
The flexibility available to Deandre Ayton is arguably the only upside the big man can cling to. When looking at the negatives, there are plenty. An NBA player’s career is a short one, even more so for true big men. Missing out on this deal and possibly having to wait another 1-3 years for a payday is not what Deandre Ayton would have been expecting following his last two seasons of development and solid play.
Injuries are another concern, and should Deandre Ayton succumb to an injury that becomes an ongoing issue, he will likely never recoup the money the team have just withheld from him. Of course, the Phoenix Suns are likely expecting a team to extend a big offer sheet in the summer which will ensure Deandre Ayton gets paid, albeit a over four years rather than five.
But why would Deandre Ayton want to stay with the Phoenix Suns after this fiasco? In a week where the big man has seen Mikal Bridges and Landry Shamet receive extensions, he must surely be feeling neglected.
“He’s very unhappy, he saw his peers who got max deals. And looked at what he’s done so far, how much he’s sacrificed. I think offensively, with the arrival of Chris Paul, with the emergence of Devin Booker that this was a player who really bought in with Monty Williams. They’ve got a great relationship, he’s gotten the best out of him. And unlike anybody else in that 2018 draft class, he’s won, he’s gone to the NBA finals and played a significant role. Deandre Ayton is not happy, and he will have some options after the season on how to proceed with his future and whether that’s in Phoenix or somewhere else.” Adrian Wojnarowski explained while making an appearance on ESPN’S NBA Today
Similarly, this development won’t be good for the Phoenix Suns’ preparation for their upcoming season opener, nor can it be ideal heading into a season where the team will look to build on their NBA Finals appearance. Now they’ve got this weight hanging around their neck, not knowing if Deandre Ayton will remain with the team long-term, or if his mind is in the right place following the front office’s treatment of him.
You could argue that Deandre Ayton’s incentive to overperform this year has increased. That’s if he’s hoping that a potential offer is extended, which the Phoenix Suns would be unwilling to match. However, that is likely a long shot.
Refusing to commit to a top draft selection who has played his role in taking your franchise to the finals is a slippery slope. Players on the roster will see this and understand Deandre Ayton’s frustration due to ownership’s lack of commitment. How can you expect a player to remain committed when you’ve already shown you cards? Will Deandre Ayton be in the right frame of mind to compete at the level we’ve seen from him recently?
Unfortunately, this outcome provides more pro’s for the Phoenix Suns, but they’re all short term. Long term, the front office has likely caused irreparable damage to their relationship with Deandre Ayton and could end up losing one of their franchise players for nothing in the coming seasons, which will likely close their contention window unless Booker can recruit another star. Again, though, recruiting another star won’t be easy with the optics of Ayton’s treatment.
Overall, the Phoenix Suns have taken the short-term gains route, and it’s likely to backfire spectacularly in the coming years. We’re in an era of player empowerment, and little do they know, but the Phoenix Suns just empowered Deandre Ayton to look for a new employer, and that is the worst-case scenario coming to life.
Q. Should the Suns’ have extended Ayton?