Important detail on Phoenix Suns’ ‘wasted’ Ayton negotiations

Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

After refusing to offer a five-year maximum contract extension last offseason, the Phoenix Suns challenged starting center Deandre Ayton to find a maximum contract at the beginning of this free agency period.

He ultimately did that, signing a four-year, $133 million offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers. The Suns subsequently matched, meaning Ayton remains with the franchise despite what could be described as a testing period between player and franchise.

Was the Phoenix Suns’ negotiations with starting center Deandre Ayton all worth it for the difference of just a few million dollars?

Ayton’s five-year extension last offseason would have been worth $177 million. Instead, the Suns have now committed not only one less year, but also slightly less money per annum. How much are they actually saving though if they actually want to keep Ayton long-term?

It’s a point identified by The Ringers’  Ryen Russillo on the latest episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, as he sarcastically degraded Phoenix’s handling of the Ayton situation.

"“What did you guys do again? You wasted an entire year, pissed off a guy, and you saved a couple mill…Actually by the time his contract is up, it’s going to be first year of a new TV agreement, as opposed to the fifth year carrying over from a previous agreement.”"

Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton
Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Right now, Ayton’s contract is worth 25% of the NBA salary cap. According to a league source, the NBA’s salary cap could sit at around $171 million by the 2025-26 season – that’ll be the last year of his deal where he’s making $35.5 million. But what about the following season?

If Ayton remained at the current rate of 25%, and the salary cap hits its projection, then his next contract will probably start at a minimum of $42.5 million per season. Now, add $42.5 million to his current deal and you get a total of five years at around $175 million – pretty much identical to what the Suns could have extended him last offseason.

This is a classic case of Suns owner Robert Sarver attempting to duck the luxury tax implications. Is the small saving worth the challenge of rebuilding Ayton’s relationship with the franchise? Was it worth the speculation around his future?

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Perhaps Phoenix just don’t expect Ayton to be at the franchise come the negotiations of his next contract. We might find that out when his trade restriction ends on January 15, or once his no-trade clause ends at the end of next season.