Deandre Ayton ‘felt unappreciated’ by Suns, expected to get max offer as a free agent, per report

DeAndre Ayton came up two games short of winning his first NBA championship a season ago, but as the off-season arrived, he had to watch his contemporaries from the 2018 NBA Draft get paid for him. Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all got maximum deals. Ayton was called up before either of them. The Suns refused to pay him the maximum, but they did extend teammates Mikal Bridges and Landry Shamet. So he entered his fourth season in Phoenix without a long-term contract.

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

“Going into the season, Deandre Ayton felt unappreciated by this Phoenix organization,” Adrian Wojnarowski said:† Ayton did not speak to reporters after the loss. He appeared at one point in the second half to face Williams on the sidelines, but what exactly was said has not been confirmed.

Now Ayton and the Suns are entering the uncertainty of limited free agency. Ayton can search the open market for the maximum offer he craves… but Phoenix has the right to match any offer he receives. There is no guarantee that this will improve their relationship. Utah infamously forced Gordon Hayward to find a maximum offer form on the open market in 2014. They matched Charlotte’s, but it was a short-term maximum that allowed him to leave as an unrestricted free agent three seasons later. While the situations were not identical, San Antonio forced Kawhi Leonard to wait until he was a restricted free agent to get his maximum contract in 2015, as it allowed the Spurs to retain cap space to sign LaMarcus Aldridge. Leonard left the Spurs three seasons later. Once a player feels financially belittled by his team, the relationship is usually broken beyond repair.

Should Ayton venture into the market off-season, Wojnarowski expects he will receive a maximum offer from someone. Five teams are currently positioned for big cap space this offseason: the Spurs, Magic, Pistons, Pacers and Trail Blazers. If Ayton’s goal is only to get a four-year maximum deal, one of these teams could help him by giving him such an offer note on the understanding that the Suns can match it. Only the Suns can offer him a five-year contract. When his goal is to get out of Phoenix, things get more complicated.

Phoenix must offer Ayton a one-year eligible bid of $16.4 million to retain the right to match any bid he receives this off-season. If Ayton accepts that offer, he would become an unrestricted free agent by 2023. Of course, if Ayton accepts that offer, anything can happen. He may have a recovery season and become the most coveted free agent in the market by 2023. He could get injured and lower his own long-term value. Very few players ever take up the qualifier offer for this reason. The risk-reward ratio is rarely favorable.

Ayton could also try to find a team willing to organize a sign-and-trade for him. He shouldn’t have to limit his search to teams with cap space, though teams above the load would likely struggle to get Ayton on their balance sheet. Sign-and-trades cause a hard cap. Phoenix may be susceptible to a large enough trade offer. The Suns went 16-6 without Ayton this season. Their pick-and-roll-heavy system is extremely friendly to centers. JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo have both filled in admirably for Ayton this season.

Over all of this, the reality looms that the Suns are about to get extremely expensive. Bridges is already jumping from a rookie-scale deal to a market value contract. Devin Booker maxes out and Chris Paul is not far away. Cam Johnson is up for renewal this season and Jae Crowder has an expiring contract. Ultimately, the Suns will have to make financial concessions or accept their fate as a luxury tax team. Suns owner Robert Sarver isn’t exactly known for paying the tax. If he decides he doesn’t want this, Ayton’s time in Phoenix is ​​probably over.

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