The Suns and center Deandre Ayton have reached an impasse in their contract negotiations, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, who reports that the team is reluctant to offer the former No. 1 pick a maximum-salary rookie scale extension.
The Suns and Ayton have until Oct. 18 to work out an agreement that locks up the 23-year-old long-term, but the two sides disagree on his value. As Wojnarowski explains, the Suns’ ownership group doesn’t believe Ayton is at the same level as other players who have received maximum-salary rookie scale extensions this offseason, including Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Ayton’s representatives, on the other hand, are adamant that the young center is worthy of the same sort of investment those other young stars received, based on his performance to date and his potential going forward.
Ayton’s 14.4 PPG in 2020-21 was the lowest mark of his career, but he averaged double-digit rebounds (10.5 RPG) for a third straight season, made a career-best 62.6% of his shots from the field, and improved as a defender. His modest scoring numbers were a result of his willingness to accept a reduced role on offense following the arrival of Chris Paul to Phoenix. Ayton had averaged 18.2 PPG in ’19-20.
As Wojnarowski writes, the Suns probably won’t risk losing Ayton even if they’re unable to complete an extension before the regular season begins. He’d still be eligible for restricted free agency next summer, at which point the team could either match any offer sheet he signs or – like the Hawks did with John Collins this offseason – negotiate a new deal with him directly.
Still, coming off their unlikely run to the NBA Finals, the Suns won’t want to risk upsetting any of their key players as they continue to push for a title. Wojnarowski points out that Ayton’s development and maturity has hinged largely on the trust he has built with head coach Monty Williams over the last two years. His faith in the organization could waver if he feels as if he’s not being fairly valued.
It’s possible the two sides could reach a compromise similar to the one the Nuggets reached with Michael Porter Jr. While Porter received a max extension, only $12M of the $39M+ cap hit in year five of his deal is guaranteed — MPJ can ensure it becomes fully guaranteed by meeting certain performance criteria over the life of the contract. It’s unclear if the Suns and/or Ayton would be open to similar terms.
The Suns remain under the luxury tax line for 2021-22, but could be a taxpayer in future years if they’re committed to keeping their core together. Besides Ayton, starting forward Mikal Bridges is also up for a rookie scale extension and the expectation is that Bridges’ new deal could exceed $20M per year.