Suns & Ayton Extension Talks Stall

Updated: October 5, 2021

What was assumed to be a foregone conclusion after DeAndre’s playoff performances that helped lead the Suns to their first Finals appearance since the Barkley era, Ayton’s max extension appears to be in dispute in Phoenix. His camp has made it abundantly clear that he will not sign a contract that is a penny less than the 5-year 175 million he is eligible for, especially after seeing so many players in his draft class just get the bag. Trae, Luka, Porter Jr., and SGA all got their full maxes without any delays or public negotiations. The quote report that is circulating is:

“…Sources said the talks between the Suns and Ayton’s representatives are slowed by ownership’s current assertion that Ayton doesn’t deserve to be included in that group of players.”

If these reports are validated as true and circle back around to DeAndre, it could be determinantal to the chemistry which was so positive and flued in their recent Finals run. Now, the easy thing to do is point the finger at ownership. Robert Sarver has notoriously been a trash owner and has not paid into the luxury tax since the 2009-10 season. However, they did just give CP3 the bag in order to retain him despite the heavy price tag for the aged vet and they paid Cam Payne quite well for a backup point guard.

And these two signings may inadvertently shine a light on the ideology behind this reluctance towards handing the 5-year max to Ayton. I think it’s clear that, for a center, DeAndre is a solid 5 who has a clear positive impact being in the rotation. He is a winning player and will most likely take another step this season in his development and IQ on both ends of the floor. The difference though between himself and his classmates who just got the bag is a philosophical one: it is a question of value between positions.

Luka, SGA, Trae, and Porter Jr. are the type of players that cannot be replaced by anybody on the buyout market or in a trade with a single 1st attached for a slight upgrade. They are tier 1 assets because their impact is essentially irreplaceable, especially the first 3 because they are primary facilitators who can dissect a defense by penetrating the paint and score & kick with ease.

We saw a similar situation a few years back with Houston and Capela, where he put up monster numbers next to Harden and expected a near max that never came. They even let him taste restricted free agency to see the sobering truth…traditional 5’s just ain’t worth max money.

Despite all the hype around Ayton after his excellent performances against the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals against all their small-ball lineups, when push came to shove against Giannis and Lopez in Milwaukee, DeAndre just looked like just another big praying for divine intervention. There’s an argument that if you remove his age and ceiling, just purely based on their current on-court impact, that in certain matchups where a dozen or so centers around the league could produce at least 85% of what Ayton provides and make under 20 million. The biggest problem when it comes to value is, there’s a handful of them making under 10.

So as much as I would love to get behind the “fuck Sarver” chants, and blame this situation on his unwillingness to spend, philosophically, paying the guards was easy, but maxing a center who can’t shoot and at times is situational…he better have a superpower. To max a center who can’t shoot the 3 these days, he best be a 7 footer who either A.) is unstoppable when given position inside or B.) be a perennial defensive player of the year candidate…Ayton isn’t either of these. He is an above-average versatile big on the defensive end, with a good shot for a 7 footer who roles well to the rim.

But what I described is a 4-year 100-million-dollar player, at best right? The biggest problem with centers getting this 175-million-dollar 5-year max is if he gets an All-NBA selection, the Suns would owe him 207 million. And because the All-NBA selections still are dictated by positions, making 3rd team all NBA as a center does not in any way shape, or form indicate they were actually one of the top 15 players in the league as it implies. 

Imagine this year or next that two players from this pool, Embiid, Joker, Gobert and Adebayo got injured for a significant amount of the regular season to disqualify them from an All-NBA selection. If a center were to get 3rd team All-NBA that year, would it really validate their worth as a super-max player? We all know the answer, and it’s one of the reasons why so many analysts spend a segment every year near voting time to beg for a positionless All-NBA voting process.

The reason for this being is, if two of those players were injured, and say Ayton made 3rd team all-league, think of how many guards you would still take in front of him? The depth at those positions for top-tier talent is so deep that if the selections were made positionless, there’s a good possibility Ayton wouldn’t even crack the top 20.

It isn’t difficult to imagine a world where CP3 or Devon Booker did Not make All NBA and yet Ayton did, despite the fact that those two guards are clearly the Suns’ top two players. Even though there are 6 slots for guards and only 3 for centers, it’s pretty much guaranteed that a handful of slots are taken even before the season starts. Curry, Luka, Lillard, Harden, and Irving, are all clear-cut top 20 players, and you can include CP3 in that list as a top 20 player and you have your 6 selections. Then there is a stack of All-Star caliber guards not included who could easily be added in Mitchell, Booker, Beal, Trae, Murry, Butler, Morant, Westbrook, Fox, SGA, LaVine, J-Brown, and Klay. If two of the top 6 players were injured, a guard would still have to put up miraculous numbers to crack the top 6 in voting because of the guard depth in this league. Especially if the NBA opted as they did last year to allow Lebron and Simmons to be slotted in as point guards, it guarantees at least a few very deserving guards to be left off the list.

The highest-paid center in the league is Rudy Gobert at 34 million because of his All-NBA selection and despite him being a defensive monster in the regular season, he is overpaid by most people’s estimations. This is the 18th highest salary in the league. Towns is at 24 getting 31 million, and Jokic & Embiid are at 31 million as well.

And that’s where the problem lies, Embiid and the Joker are probably the only two centers that would be perennial All-NBA players if positions were removed in the voting process. Whatever the max amount of money they can be paid, they’re worth it. With Gobert…it would be hard to imagine any franchise would choose him over any of the guards mentioned above if starting a roster. Then when we start to look at all the wings and forwards who are just more dynamic players than the Aytons and Capelas of the world, who could be replaced by a player making 6-12 million a year and get 80% of the production, it’s hard to imagine comfortably giving such a player super-max money.

It isn’t either parties’ fault that they find themselves in this situation. Ayton deserves to be paid the max of what he is eligible for. He showed when it mattered, which is a lot more than you can say about a ton of players making 25+ million a year. Yet the league has been unable to adjust to the fact that traditional centers’ value in the modern NBA has diminished. Yes, Embiid, the Joker, and AD (when he plays the 5) are supermax talents, but they are also All-time level talents and once retired will be put in debates with the likes of Moses Malone, Bill Walton, Patrick Ewing, and David Robinson. As good as DeAndre Ayton may be, no one will be talking about his Hall of Fame chances when he retires. Because his overall impact to value ratio can have a seriously negative effect on a franchise if he ends up taking up such a large portion of their salary cap, despite his talents, he could become a negative asset with even the slightest decline in production.

If Ayton hits restricted free agency, it is possible a team would offer him the max but it isn’t a guarantee…and if a team did, it is more than likely a year later the league sees him as overpaid. All that said, this is not the way to start a season for the Suns who have title aspirations and just paid a 36-year-old Chris Paul through the next four years…

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