PHOENIX — At the start of the Phoenix Suns’ offseason, there was a small countdown slowly winding down to an Oct. 18 deadline for rookie contract extensions.
Now, with under a week to go, it’s a large clock loudly ticking and tocking.
Phoenix could agree to those extensions with center Deandre Ayton, wing Mikal Bridges and guard Landry Shamet before any of the three would become restricted free agents next summer.
Ayton has been the face of this timeline, especially after Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all agreed to max extensions in early August, shortly after teams were allowed to start signing those deals.
It was not foolish to expect Ayton to join them, but he hasn’t yet, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Oct. 5 that negotiations between the Suns and Ayton had stalled.
Ayton on Tuesday spoke for the first time since that report, and it does not sound like there has been much progress made.
“I love Phoenix but I’m really disappointed that we haven’t really gotten a deal done yet,” he said. “We were two wins from a championship and I just really want to be respected, to be honest. Be respected like my peers are being respected by their teams.”
Ayton said he will “let them handle it in the most professional way possible and just control what I can control” when asked if he is confident a deal will get done.
The Suns’ preseason finale is on Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers and then the team has no games until the season opener on the following Wednesday. When asked if he anticipates having a sitdown involving him, his camp and the Suns’ front office between those two dates, Ayton said he will let his agents handle that.
Ayton has been a divisive player to the fanbase for his first three seasons, so it’s no surprise that there appears to be some level of disagreement on what his price should be on a new contract.
But while Ayton had an inconsistent regular season last year, he also showed up when it mattered the most in the postseason, all while accepting a smaller role than most would have with his talent.
Ayton undoubtedly played like a top five center in the league during the Suns’ run to the NBA Finals, arguably top-three. He got the better of Anthony Davis and MVP Nikola Jokic while defending them and did just about as good of a job as anyone could have against Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
And he managed that at the age of 22 with unreal production.
He is now one of eight players in league history at 22 years old or younger to average at least 15 points and 10 rebounds over a postseason with at least 10 games started, per Basketball-Reference. Ayton grabbed 260 rebounds last postseason, the most ever by anyone under the age of 23, according to Basketball-Reference.
Lastly, focusing on efficiency among players taking at least 10 shots a game and starting at least 10 postseason games, Ayton is fourth all-time in true shooting percentage at 67.4%, sandwiched by two Kawhi Leonard postseasons.
His credentials are there that he will be borderline elite at his position on the biggest stages.
And the bizarre part about potentially not agreeing to a max extension with Ayton now is that there are absolutely a handful of teams that will offer him that next summer, which the Suns would then have to match if they want to avoid losing him for nothing.
It’s not a shock that two sides are still trying to find a common ground because that’s how these things go sometimes, but there is a very small chance of the above scenario not happening. The difference could be this becoming a distraction over this season, and if the last couple of weeks are any indication, it’s been the No. 1 storyline surrounding the team.