Deandre Ayton's stock has never been higher than it was coming off of the 2021 playoffs. His Phoenix Suns reached the Finals thanks in large part to his two-way interior performance, and if they could have survived the minutes he spent on the bench, they might have won the championship. Conveniently for him, he became eligible for a contract extension once the postseason ended.
Inconveniently for him, Phoenix had already committed max money to Devin Booker, would soon re-sign Chris Paul, and later in the offseason, they inked fellow 2018 draftees Mikal Bridges and Landry Shamet to long-term deals. With so much money committed, Phoenix refused to meet Ayton's demands, so he played out the season knowing he'd become a restricted free agent over the summer. Sadly for Ayton, this season didn't go quite so well. The Suns lost in the second round to the Dallas Mavericks. Ayton played just 17 minutes in the season-ending loss. When asked why, Suns coach Monty Williams called the matter "internal." Now Ayton is set to hit the open market, and his agent has made it clear that he's ready to hear other offers.
"Things will work out for Deandre. He's a valuable player," veteran player agent Bill Duffy said in an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio. "There's other teams in the league as well. He's a restricted free agent, so we'll see how this process unfolds."
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That restricted designation is going to make Ayton's summer a bit more difficult than he'd like. It gives Phoenix the right to match any offer another team makes. While that would make it harder for him to leave the Suns, it probably won't impact him financially. Historically, low-end restricted free agents are squeezed by the lengthy matching process. High-end restricted free agents, though, typically have to be overpaid in an effort to scare incumbent teams away. While Duffy didn't set a dollar figure for what Ayton expects this offseason, he did confirm what was widely reported last offseason: Ayton wanted a max contract.
"We're disappointed. We wanted a max contract," Duffy said. "He went out and was a soldier the whole year, played well, improved his statistics. So, we're proud of him. A lot of guys handle things differently, but he was very mature about it."
A max contract from the Suns would be worth a projected $176.9 million over five years. Should Ayton sign a max contract elsewhere, it would top out at an estimated $131.15 million over four seasons. Reports have indicated that Ayton should expect a max offer somewhere on the market this offseason if he doesn't get one from Phoenix. Of course, as long as the Suns control his rights, they can exert some measure of control over his offseason.
If the Suns aren't willing to pay Ayton the max to bring him back, they might be open to a sign-and-trade arrangement with another interested party. Ayton, just 23 and a former No. 1 overall pick, doesn't figure to lack for suitors. Any team willing to pay him max money would likely be willing to send the Suns a reasonable trade package for the right to do so. No matter how poorly this season ended, Ayton should be a very hot commodity this offseason.