Deandre Ayton looked like he was trending toward a max contract as he emerged into a core piece of Phoenix's Finals team in 2020-21. He was up for a rookie extension on the heels of that run, but the Suns chose not to give it to him. That made some waves about Ayton's long-term future in Phoenix.
This season became something of an extended audition for max money. He's a restricted free agent this summer. The Suns would have the right to match any offer he gets, but it doesn't sound like Phoenix is interested in retaining Ayton's services at that kind of price. According to The Athletic, it is more likely than not that Ayton is playing elsewhere next season.
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It's fair to wonder whether this is just the Suns being cheap or whether they know something we don't. As the Athletic report notes, there has been talk of Ayton not getting enough sleep because he's up all hours playing video games. As childish as that sounds, it speaks to the commitment of a 24-year-old who you're considering paying not too far south of $200 million.
Beyond the commitment questions, there's a direct but difficult basketball question the Suns, and other teams, have to answer: Is Ayton really a max player? Is any center not named Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid, for that matter, a worthy max player? We continue to see these big men being marginalized, if not played off the court entirely, in the playoffs. But we have also seen teams win with size. Offensive rebounding still swings games. Ayton was incredible in last year's postseason.
Building on that, he likely wants a bigger offensive role than the ancillary one he typically occupies in the shadows of Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The Athletic report mentions the Pistons as a potential landing spot for Ayton.
The Suns would likely try to negotiate a sign and trade if they want out of the Ayton business, so as to not lose him for nothing. This is the guy they drafted over Luka Doncic, after all. To let him walk about four years with nothing to show for passing on a generational superstar would be a catastrophe.
Speaking of that 2018 draft, Ayton has watched a number of his classmates sign big rookie extensions. Doncic and Trae Young got over $200 million; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Michael Porter Jr. over $170 million (Porter is guaranteed $145M). Jaren Jackson Jr. got $105 million.
Ayton is surely looking at those deals and thinking he's worthy of the same kind of reward. We'll see if anyone else agrees, but it doesn't sound like it's going to be the Suns.