Ten days after being kicked out of the Playoffs and severely underperforming, the Phoenix Suns are still reportedly steadfast on not giving their starting center Deandre Ayton a $177 million max contract.
According to Bleacher Report's insider Jake Fischer, Ayton is still expected to demand a maximum salary in the offseason, but the Suns' front office doesn't want to match the lucrative offer.
Are the Suns making a mistake?
When the Suns drafted the big man out of the Bahamas, they expected him to be their next franchise guy. But throughout his 4-year tenure with the Suns, Ayton's been averaging just 16.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in the 236 games he's played. Those aren't superstar numbers (All-Star at best), and it's fair to say that he hasn't met expectations.
Drafting Ayton over a talented draft class that consisted of Luka Doncic and Trae Young was a gigantic all-time franchise mistake by the Suns. Now, they find themselves in the middle of a dilemma. They can't just let Ayton walk because that would mean they'll be giving up a significant asset. So the best-case scenario for the Suns moving forward is to trade Ayton via a sign-and-trade.
That said, it's still unfortunate that Phoenix finds itself in this position. Ayton had his breakout run in the 2021 Playoffs, but his inconsistent play frankly doesn't merit a supermax. Is he in the same category as Doncic and Young? Definitely not, considering the only individual achievement Ayton has gotten so far is being selected in the 2019 NBA All-Rookie First team.
Ayton has leverage
Fischer also reported that Ayton could be traded to the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, and Portland Trail Blazers — who all reportedly have an interest in acquiring the 23-year-old. If the Suns don't take the sign-and-trade route, the San Antonio Spurs and Charlotte Hornets are potential destinations for Ayton since they can clear or have enough cap space for him.
If Ayton doesn't get the money he wants, his departure will significantly dismantle the Suns' hopes of reviving their championship window. His absence would leave a massive gap in the Suns' roster despite his inconsistencies.
The league is currently dominated by big men with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and Anthony Davis, which means every team needs a Deandre Ayton prototype to match up with these contenders.
Signing Ayton to a luxurious deal could be costly but letting him walk is far more of a greater mistake. The Suns are stuck in a loophole, and the only way they can figure a way out is to: either persuade Ayton to change his mind, go all-in with the supermax, or find the best possible sign-and-trade transaction scenario.
It's safe to say it will be a busy offseason for the Suns.