Last playoff success relied in large part on Ayton, who fully bought into his new role as a defensive anchor.
The Phoenix Suns and Deandre Ayton have concluded contract extension talks ahead of Monday’s deadline without a deal. Ayton has reportedly sought a five-year commitment worth 172 million dollar – it can escalate which could take the deal up to 207 million dollars if he earns All-NBA honors this season — similar to the deals signed by fellow 2018 draft picks Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Suns owner Robert Sarver was reportedly hesitant to make such a commitment, though, and now Ayton will enter the season without a long-term deal.
ESPN Sources: Suns talks with Deandre Ayton on rookie extension have ended — without a deal. Ayton expected max contract and owner Robert Sarver hasn’t offered it. More coming on consequences for failing to reach deal with 2018 No. 1 overall pick. NBA Today debut, ESPN2. Now.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 18, 2021
This means that Ayton will be a restricted free agent next offseason. That gives him three options. The easiest would be to sign a new, long-term deal with the Suns. Perhaps another year of growth will convince Phoenix that he is worth the max that he seeks. The second would be to pursue a deal with another team. Even if Ayton signs an offer sheet with a new team, the Suns will have the right to match it. The final, riskiest option would be for Ayton to sign the one-year, 16.4 million dollars qualifying offer Phoenix must make him in order to maintain his rights. If he does so, he would become an unrestricted free agent in 2023, free to sign with whatever team he chooses.
Ayton is very unhappy with the news, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. That puts the Suns in a fairly precarious situation entering the season. Phoenix is coming off a surprise trip to the NBA Finals. That postseason success relied in large part on Ayton, who fully bought into his new role as a defensive anchor and play finisher rather than a fulcrum of Phoenix’s offense. Financial tension can wreck havoc on locker rooms, so the Suns will have to navigate this situation very carefully if they hope to make it back to the NBA Finals.
Fortunately for the Suns, they were able to reach a deal with Mikal Bridges, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, on a reported four-year, 90 million dollar deal this weekend. That prevents them from having to worry about multiple hazardous offer sheets being thrown at their players next summer. With Bridges locked up, Ayton is the last core piece whose situation needs to be settled.
But doing so will be significantly harder now that the Suns have failed to do so before the rookie extension deadline. Plenty of players, including max-contract stars like Kawhi Leonard and Gordon Hayward, have wound up leaving their original teams after they made them wait until restricted free agency to get paid. Phoenix can still pay Ayton next summer, but there’s no way of knowing how much damage has been done.