Deandre Ayton ‘didn’t feel valued’ by Suns, should receive max offer as free agent, report says

Deandre Ayton ‘didn’t feel valued’ by Suns, should receive max offer as free agent, report says

DeAndre Ayton missed two games before winning his first NBA championship a season ago, but when the offseason rolled around, he had to watch his contemporaries in the 2018 NBA Draft get paid before him. Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all got maximum offers. Ayton was drafted before any of them. The Suns refused to pay him the maximum, but extended teammates Mikal Bridges and Landry Shamet. He therefore entered his fourth season in Phoenix without a long-term contract.

That season ended Sunday when the Suns lost Game 7 of their second-round series to the Dallas Mavericks. Ayton only played 17 minutes. When Suns coach Monty Williams was asked why Ayton’s role was so limited, he replied “it is internal.Now, it looks like some of the tension that has been bubbling up under Phoenix’s success all season is starting to surface.

“At the start of the season, Deandre Ayton did not feel valued by this Phoenix organization,” Adrian Wojnarowski said. Ayton did not speak to reporters after the loss. He appeared to have a confrontation with Williams on the sidelines at some point in the second half, but exactly what was said has not been confirmed.

Now Ayton and the Suns are entering the uncertainty of restricted free agency. Ayton can seek the maximum offer he needs on the open market… but Phoenix will have the right to match any offer he receives. There is no guarantee that this will mend their relationship. Utah infamously forced Gordon Hayward to find a maximum offer sheet on the open market in 2014. They matched the one he got from Charlotte, but it was a short-term maximum that allowed him to become unrestricted free agent three seasons later. While the situations aren’t identical, San Antonio forced Kawhi Leonard to wait until he was a restricted free agent to get his max contract in 2015, as it allowed Spurs to preserve cap space to sign LaMarcus Aldridge. Leonard left Spurs three seasons later. Once a player feels financially wronged by his team, the relationship is usually severed beyond repair.

If Ayton ventures into the market this offseason, Wojnarowski expects him to get a max offer from someone. Five teams are currently positioned for major cap space this offseason: the Spurs, Magic, Pistons, Pacers and Trail Blazers. If Ayton’s goal is simply to secure a maximum contract of four years, one of these teams could help him by handing him such an offer, with the understanding that the Suns could match it. Only the Suns can offer him a five-year contract. If his goal is to get out of Phoenix, things get complicated.

Phoenix must offer Ayton a $16.4 million one-year qualifying offer to retain the right to match any offer he receives this offseason. If Ayton accepts this offer, he would become an unrestricted free agent in 2023. Of course, anything could happen if Ayton accepts this offer. He could have a rebound season and become the most coveted free agent on the 2023 market. He could get injured and reduce his own long-term value. Very few players accept the qualifying offer for this reason. The risk-reward ratio is rarely favorable.

Ayton could also try to find a team willing to orchestrate a sign and trade for him. He wouldn’t need to limit his search to teams with cap space, though teams over the tax would likely struggle to get Ayton on their balance sheets, with signings and trades triggering a hard cap. Phoenix could lend itself to a large enough trade offer. The Suns went 16-6 without Ayton this season. Their pick-and-roll-heavy system is extremely center-friendly. JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo have both filled Ayton admirably this season.

Above all of this looms the reality that the Suns are about to get extremely expensive. Bridges is already moving from a rookie-scale deal to a market value contract. Devin Booker is doing the max and Chris Paul is not far behind. Cam Johnson is eligible for extension this offseason and Jae Crowder has an expiring contract. Eventually, the Suns will either have to make financial concessions or accept their fate as a luxury tax team. Suns owner Robert Sarver isn’t exactly known to have paid the tax. If he decides he doesn’t want to, Ayton’s time in Phoenix is ​​likely over.

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