The day after a five-point, four-rebound performance in an elimination game where he argued with the Coach of the Year is probably not the fairest time to ask this question, but it’s out there:
Is Deandre Ayton a max player?
The Suns didn’t put a max extension on the table for him before the season (leading to tension between the sides), the result being he’s about to head into restricted free agency. Would the Suns offer him a max now? When a reporter threw a softball question to Devin Booker after Game 7 about Ayton’s free agency — the kind of question usually answered with some version of “he’s a critical part of our culture and what we do” — Booker was not quite so enthusiastic.
"His contract situation is between him and the front office. I care about him as a brother. Just making sure his mental is right…whatever happens, happens. Kind of hard to look so far in the future." – Devin Booker on Deandre Ayton's contract situation
— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) May 16, 2022
After this playoff performance, are the Suns going to put a max offer on the table for Ayton?
If they don’t another team will, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on NBA Today.
"Deandre Ayton is going to get a max contract in the marketplace somewhere… There are a lot of teams lining up to figure out: how can we acquire him?"
— @wojespn on where things stand between Ayton & the Suns
📽️ "NBA Today"#NBATwitter #ValleyProud pic.twitter.com/vESI8T9vqe
— 𝙏𝙖𝙡𝙠𝙞𝙣’ 𝙉𝘽𝘼 (@_Talkin_NBA) May 16, 2022
Wojnarowski added that “going into the season, Deandre Ayton did not feel valued by this Phoenix organization.”
The Suns have the right to match any offer Ayton gets.
Ayton averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds a game this season, but he was not a defensive stopper (the Suns’ defense was 2.3 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor). In the playoffs, there were games he looked like a max player, and games he faded into the background (like Game 7 against Dallas).
The list of teams looking for a center is pretty established — Toronto, Charlotte, Atlanta, and maybe the Detroit Pistons. (If the Hornets are going to hire Mike D’Antoni as their coach, maxing out a traditional center may not be the smart play.) ESPN’s Zach Lowe, on his podcast, speculated about the Thunder, Knicks, and other teams kicking the tires on an Ayton contract. The challenge for any of those teams outside of Detroit is they don’t have the cap space to sign him outright, any deal would be a sign-and-trade — is a team going to max out Ayton and give up picks/players to secure his rights? For a guy who admitted during the playoffs he loses sleep staying up late to play video games? That’s making a huge bet on the former No. 1 pick.
After watching a five-out Mavericks team push them out of the playoffs, the Suns may be rethinking their roster construction and considering moving on from Ayton. However, they are not going to just give him away for pennies on the dollar.
It’s going to be a very interesting summer in Phoenix.