Mavericks guard Luka Doncic got a (super-)max rookie-scale contract extension. Hawks guard Trae Young got a max rookie-scale contract extension. Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got a max rookie-scale contract extension. Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. got a max rookie-scale contract extension.
The No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Suns center Deandre Ayton… has not.
The Phoenix Suns’ reluctance to offer a maximum rookie contract extension to 2018 No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton has stalled discussions on a deal, sources told ESPN on Tuesday.
Ayton, a key part of the Suns’ run to the 2021 NBA Finals, has no intention of accepting a deal less than the comparable max contracts signed by several of his 2018 NBA draft classmates, including Atlanta’s Trae Young, Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Denver’s Michael Porter Jr., sources told ESPN.
I don’t blame Ayton for refusing to accept less than the max (projected to be worth $173 million over five years). Given his stature as a former No. 1 pick and his role in helping the Suns reach the 2021 NBA Finals, it’s somewhat surprising the Suns haven’t offered him the max. He could probably get max offer sheets in 2022 restricted free agency (projected to be worth $128 million over four years).
For Phoenix, the decision is more complicated.
Reasons not to offer Ayton a max extension:
- He’s not worth it. Ayton is both solid offensively and defensively, but he’s not elite on either end. He has never been an All-Star or even drawn significant consideration. Though he’s an excellent finisher and has mid-range shooting ability, he hasn’t expanded his range beyond the 3-point arc, and he’s not much of a passer. His ability to move defensively for his size is better than his rim protection, an area that’d be more impactful. In a league overflowing with at least solid centers, teams ought to be especially wary of overpaying one.
- He’s already under contract for this season. The Suns would also have matching rights on him next summer. Taking another year to evaluate his value doesn’t at all mean letting him leave.
Reasons to offer Ayton a max extension:
- He’s just 23 and improving. Ayton has so many raw tools – size, strength, athleticism, skill. There’s every reason to believe he’s on a clear upward trajectory. Phoenix would be paying not for what he is, but what he projects to be.
- A max extension is the only way to lock in Ayton for five years, not just four (assuming he’s not demanding a player or early termination option). That might be worth overpaying. It looked like the Bucks got a slight discount on Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s rookie-scale extension. Instead, the big story became his ability to hit unrestricted free agency a year earlier. The extra year on Ayton could be particularly helpful if the salary cap skyrockets in a few years.
- If they let him become a restricted free agent, the Suns could lose significant long-term team control on Ayton. He could sign a 3+1 or even 2+1 offer sheet. Heck, he could do something even more drastic: Sign his $16,422,835 qualifying offer, gain the ability to reject any trade during the 2022-23 season then become an unrestricted free agent in 2023.
The big variable: How would an extension affect Ayton this season?
Maybe getting extended would make him too content with what he has already accomplished and stagnate his growth. Or maybe it would make him feel comfortable, fueling productivity.
Maybe not getting extended would destroy his bond with the team and cause him to chase individual numbers. Or maybe it would drive him to even greater heights.
This is an important consideration for Phoenix, which is in the thick of championship contention.
The Suns, owned by Robert Sarver, also face questions about spending. Phoenix hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2010. Even this summer’s big spending leaves the Suns well below the tax line this season.
But that’ll change the following season if Phoenix keeps its core together. Chris Paul and Cameron Payne got multi-year contracts this summer, joining Devin Booker, Jae Crowder and Dario Saric. Ayton and Mikal Bridges are up for new deals.
If the Suns pay, it probably won’t matter much whether they commit the money now or next summer. But these Ayton negotiations leave plenty of unease about Sarver’s financial commitment.