Suns restricted free agent Deandre Ayton is expected to command a maximum-salary contract this offseason, but there’s skepticism around the NBA that Phoenix will be eager to match that sort of deal, says Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.
As Fischer explains, there are multiple reasons why the Suns may not be enthusiastic about making a substantial financial commitment to Ayton.
For one, league figures believe the team’s front office is reluctant to pay any center a salary of $30MM+ annually, according to Fischer. It’s probably unwise to draw any conclusions based on small samples in the regular season, but Fischer notes that the team didn’t miss a beat in January when Ayton was unavailable and modestly-paid centers like JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo filled his role.
The Suns have already invested heavily in Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and Mikal Bridges, and would push their team salary well beyond the luxury tax line if they were to sign Ayton to a lucrative new deal. Robert Sarver has said the right things publicly about his willingness to become a taxpayer, but it’s unclear what sort of appetite he’d have for a significant tax bill, especially if it spans multiple seasons. It also remains unclear how the NBA’s investigation into Sarver’s conduct may affect the ownership situation.
Additionally, league sources with knowledge of the situation have suggested to Fischer that Ayton may not be one of head coach Monty Williams‘ favorite players. Fischer has heard that Williams has “griped about Ayton’s waning focus.” The big man memorably played just 17 minutes in the final game of Phoenix’s season earlier this month, with Williams brusquely referring to the decision as “internal” in his post-game comments.
The Hawks, Pistons, and Trail Blazers have been the teams most frequently linked to Ayton by league personnel, according to Fischer, who says multiple team executives have also mentioned the Hornets and Spurs as potential suitors.
Some of those clubs would have the cap room necessary to make a serious bid for Ayton, but the Suns would control the process as a result of their ability to match any offer sheet. If a rival suitor is unsure whether or not Phoenix would match its offer for the 23-year-old, attempting to negotiate a sign-and-trade to acquire him outright might be the safe move. There’s a belief that the Suns would be open to that idea, Fischer writes.