Suns coach Monty Williams took issue with Deandre Ayton during Phoenix’s season-ending Game 7 loss to the Mavericks.
That apparently wasn’t an isolated incident.
After not getting his desired max extension last offseason, Ayton had ups and downs during a contract year. Now, his value will be tested in restricted free agency.
Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report:
Ayton is expected to command a maximum salary, sources said, but there is skepticism among league executives the Suns would match such a lucrative offer.
The recent Williams dynamic may simply echo consistent word—dating back to the trade deadline—from league sources with knowledge of the situation that Ayton is not particularly a favorite of Phoenix’s head coach. Williams has purportedly griped about Ayton’s waning focus, which some people contacted by B/R said has often been reflected by the ebbs of his playing time.
There’s a stronger sense among league figures that Phoenix brass simply does not view Ayton, or any center, as a player worth greater than $30 million annually.
The Suns have correctly determined centers are most easily replaceable position – especially with guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker setting up the bigs. Two minimum-salary centers, JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo, just had fine years in Phoenix.
But whether Ayton’s production-per-dollar befits a max contract isn’t the only question.
The Suns will be capped out even if Ayton leaves. They can’t simply use a max-salary slot on another player. Phoenix could shed other players and open cap space, but that gets complicated. Using the threat of matching an offer sheet could help the Suns sign-and-trade Ayton for value, but again, that can be complicated.
Phoenix might face the straightforward dilemma of Ayton being the best center they can get but needing to overpay to keep him. Though production-per-dollar value matters, so does assembling the best possible roster. For a team in championship contention around a 37-year-old Paul, the present should take priority.
Williams is an excellent coach. He reaches and motivates his players. Getting the most from Ayton might not be easy. But that’s Williams’ job.
Or at least it has been.
The Suns should consider Williams’ assessment of Ayton. The coach doubting the center matters. Ayton isn’t always attentive enough.
But he’s athletic, talented and just 23. Ayton can mature. His upside is high. Even as is, he’s already pretty good.
Most importantly, Phoenix has his Bird Rights. Ayton is likely the best center the Suns can outright sign this summer. Alternatives might be less frustrating and certainly cheaper, but also less impactful.
Sometimes, coaches must do their best with suboptimal players.