Pay him... Pay that man his money. - Teddy KGB (Rounders, 1998)
As the Phoenix Suns prepare for the upcoming 2021-22 NBA season, there's a lot of promise and buzz floating around the organization. After being one of the most impressive teams throughout the NBA last year, Phoenix found itself with a 2-0 lead against the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals. Everything was great, this Suns team had quickly come together in a hurry and looked like they were on the verge of an NBA championship. Unfortunately for the Suns, the Bucks would go on the warpath, winning four consecutive games and clinching the NBA title.
Even though Phoenix didn't secure a ring, they still had a phenomenal season. After acquiring Chris Paul in a trade the previous offseason, the Suns quickly found their groove throughout the NBA season. They would finish second in the Western Conference with a 51-21 record. Devin Booker looked like he was finally entering the spotlight as a rising superstar, Deandre Ayton was developing into one of the brightest young bigs in the NBA, Chris Paul was becoming the son that Phoenix never had, everything was just awesome. Things are different for the Phoenix Suns now, as they had themselves another impressive offseason adding some strategic pieces in Landry Shamet (Nets) and JaVale McGee (Nuggets) to their roster to solidify their depth.
I mean what's the worst that could happen right?
Well. It's funny that you ask that.
It was reported earlier this morning that the Phoenix Suns are "reluctant" to offer a maximum rookie contract to big man Deandre Ayton. It's also been reported by Adrian Wojnarowski that discussions have "stalled" on a deal.
Ayton, a key part of the Suns’ run to the 2021 NBA Finals, has no intention of accepting a deal less than the comparable max contracts that several of his 2018 NBA Draft classmates signed, including Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Michael Porter Jr. https://t.co/2vutSYzPpH— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 5, 2021
"I ask you what the HELL is going on?" - Cyrus the Virus (Con Air, 1997)
With the Phoenix Suns hoping to make another run at a title this year, the Ayton news could turn into a bit of an "elephant in the room." After acquiring Chris Paul last offseason, the hope was that this Suns team could gel quickly and give the franchise a potential contender in the Western Conference. Many were looking to Deandre Ayton as the X-factor when it came to the Suns find their way back into the NBA Playoffs. What they didn't expect was Ayton to develop into one of the most promising young bigs in the league. Fast forward to the NBA Playoffs and Ayton was becoming a crucial part of the Suns' success on a nightly basis. The 23-year-old big man went on to average 15.8 points and 11.8 rebounds in the Playoffs. Not bad for your first time ever playing on the "big stage." So what seems to be the hold-up? Why is this becoming a situation that we are now going to have to quickly monitor?
Phoenix Suns fans will be quick to point fingers at someone that is currently running the team, and it's understandably so. Robert Sarver has been the man in charge in the desert, and he's had a history with a similar situation over the course of the Suns history. Back in 2005, the Phoenix Suns roster was a serious contender in the Western Conference that looked to be on the rise. They had the likes of Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudamire, Shawn Marion, and Joe Johnson. The previous season, the Suns had gone on to post a 62-20 record and looked like a team that was going to be in contention for years to come. Unfortunately, rising young wing Joe Johnson was up for a contract extension. It was expected that Johnson was going to take a "hometown discount" in order to keep the core together until the Suns decided to trade Johnson to the Atlanta Hawks. While the team would go on to have successful years following the trade, it was a move that had an impact on this team for years down the road.
So now you could say that Suns fans might be feeling that the ghost of Joe Johnson has returned. Another HUGE reason why this story is worth keeping an eye on is that Deandre Ayton isn't the only young asset on the roster up for an extension. The team also has to figure out what they are going to do with versatile wing Mikal Bridges. The obvious decision seems to be giving an extension to both Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges. I mean isn't that the point of drafting and developing young talent? Shouldn't the goal be to groom your own players and then keep them for the foreseeable future? It looks as if Robert Sarver is staring right at the idea of the "luxury tax" and he's starting to sweat.
Things could obviously change in a hurry. The Suns could simply just let Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges play out their contracts before trying to extend a possible qualifying offer to them next offseason. It would make the players restricted free agents and give the Suns the opportunity to match any contract. Maybe the Suns want to see if both of the players take strides in their games. But it does seem like the Suns are especially playing with fire when it comes to Ayton. He's a rising star for a big man in this league who is still continuing to get better. Phoenix would be wise to lock up their big man in the paint for the long term. If they don't, they could be playing a dangerous game that could shift the team's future for years down the road.