The emergence of Phoenix Suns' Center DeAndre Ayton in last year's playoffs is one of the main reasons the team featured in the NBA Finals of 2021. While there was much chatter about injuries and the part they played in the Suns' victories, Ayton had strong performances against Anthony Davis and every other big man on Phoenix's opponents. DA was a force in the paint on both ends of the floor.
Most of Ayton's success was attributed to the leadership of Chris Paul, and while Paul's presence did have a considerable impact on Ayton's approach to the game, let's remember that Ayton was the first overall pick in a draft that included Luka Dončić. He is no scrub and may be considered one of the best big men in the NBA in a year or two. How do we know this?
Well, you only have to look as far as Ayton's draft classmates, with Trae Young and Luka Dončić getting much recognition from the league for their talents while now having the contracts to show for it. Naturally, the Suns kicked off similar discussions with Ayton with the hopes of bringing him back for the next few seasons. However, unlike his ball-handling counterparts, the idea of getting the maximum extension has not become a reality for Ayton. Phoenix Suns Coach Monty Williams spoke with the media and had this much to say about the fact the contract negotiations have stalled.
"It's not my job to pay a guy. If it was my job, everybody would be rich. The cap isn't based on my heart. The organization would be broke, but everyone would be happy."
Monty Williams, Twitter
This statement is classic Monty, not only because it is a statement that may truly galvanize the team, but because it is honest. Monty's coaching was a big part of the Phoenix Suns' identity and success last season, apart from the killer backcourt and Ayton's inside presence. Just thinking about the number of times his speeches featured on TV is a testament to how connected he is to his guys.
The story of the Phoenix Suns presents another side to the NBA story, where teams in smaller markets have the difficult decision of paying stars that aren't necessarily the league's most well-known just to stay competitive. On the other hand, you have teams like the Lakers and the Nets getting former all-stars at a discount, while Phoenix is seriously wondering if they can ever get someone better than what DeAndre Ayton gave them last year.
Here's another thing, though - continuity matters, and in the end, that's what you pay for in giving Ayton the rookie max. You don't necessarily need to add pieces to get better; you just need your good players to become great players, and so forth. Most teams do not have that luxury, and quite frankly, they don't have Monty Williams. If you're Phoenix, do you pay Ayton the max? Personally, I think this shouldn't even be a discussion because Ayton is the real deal, and the Suns are lucky to have him.
Who cares if there might be someone better out there. Ayton has always been with your team, and with Chris Paul starting to age, the Suns need to build another star in DeAndre Ayton. If last year was any indication, the cap space they will give up in signing Ayton the max will be forgotten once Chris Paul is off the books, and by then, they will be looking to give that money to a third star to complete a big three of their own.