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"That owner [Sarver] is cheap...The fact is the kid earned it" - why not giving Ayton the extension was a mistake

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He's usually named on almost every "worst owners in the NBA" list. Robert Sarver has a history of doing weird stuff, such as bringing goats into his GM's office (as inspiration, I guess) that then defecated on the floor. Aside from the standard owner meddling in basketball decisions, Sarver's main attribute is his reluctance to invest in the team. That gave us one of the most legendary videos ever.

This was a Phoenix council meeting back in 2018 when Sarver was doing one of the sleaziest moves billionaire owners do - threatening to relocate the team if the local community doesn't subsidize arena renovation. Sarver asked for $150 million and ultimately got it. The lady in the video, Greta Rogers, still feels the same way about the Suns owner despite their Finals appearance last season.

"He’s tighter than a tick on a dog’s back in July. He’s a cheapskate, that’s what he is. He has a lot of money, most of which he inherited."

Greta Rodgers, Defector.com

I'm sure it would be very entertaining to hear Greta's opinion on Sarver after the Suns didn't offer DeAndre Ayton a max extension, telling him to test the market next offseason as a restricted free agent. There are differing opinions on whether this was a mistake or not. The general wisdom is you don't pay centers max money unless they are MVP-level players. Your Nikola Jokić and Joel Embiid kind of guy. But, this is where Robert Sarver's reputation comes into play.

If you consistently cheap out on the team, that creates a prism through which future decisions will be interpreted. Here's how a league executive commented on the decision not to offer max money to Ayton.

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"I was checking in with executives around the league for their thoughts on the Ayton situation. The first executive said to me, 'That owner (Robert Sarver) is cheap, and he’ll get killed for it again. He finally had some goodwill making the Finals, and he pulls this (not extending Ayton). The fact is the kid earned it.'"

Michael Scotto, HoopsHype

Your mileage may vary on whether Ayton deserves a max or not. But several factors show this decision was mismanaged from the start. First of all, Chris Paul took a discount on his contract with the understanding the team would invest in other players and keep the core together (and happy). Can CP3 get on Ayton as much as he did last season, knowing the young fella is frustrated about his contract situation? Probably not. If you extend Paul for the money you did, then you have to maximize the first few years of the deal, and that means making sure Ayton is happy.

The second thing was noted by another league exec in the Scotto report. The exec was saying, "It was one thing not to do an extension with Ayton, but then to do one for Landry Shamet, who hasn't even played for their team yet was surprising." So you cheap out on Ayton, but you give Shamet 4 years/$43 million? Even after we found out the last two years weren't guaranteed, this has to have a detrimental effect on Ayton's feelings about the team.

But even if you don't think the chemistry issues aren't enough to possibly overpay for Ayton, it wouldn't be as expensive for Sarver as you may think. As we reported, the NBA is expected to sign a new TV deal that will start in 2025. The current deal is $24 billion over 9 years, and the projections are the new contract should come around $75 billion over 9 years - three times more! So the most expensive years of the potential Ayton max will be under a new salary cap, making him a bargain.

If you want to build a contender, you have to pay the luxury tax. Particularly if your team is in the conference with Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokić, Rudy Gobert, and even Jarren Jackson Jr. (who got his extension, by the way). So if you value Ayton around 28 a year, and he wants 35, pay the extra 6-7, take the luxury tax hit and enjoy the show. Sarver has made money on the team, the city funded his arena renovations, and Sarver still had to "squeek when he walks."

One other thing. We have a paradoxical situation where this is the highest-paid rookie extension class in NBA history - they collectively passed 1 billion, and the top two draft picks didn't get an extension done. If you don't think centers deserve max money, then why the hell did you pass on Luka Dončić, Trae Young, or the aforementioned Jarren Jackson Jr.? Ah yes, because Ayton is Sarver's alma mater.

Never forget - owners are the most significant predictors of franchise success. Hang in there, Phoenix.

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