One of the weirder stories to emerge from the 2021-22 NBA season was the Phoenix Suns stale contract negotiations with starting center Deandre Ayton. Ayton, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft — a totally defensible selection had Luka Dončić and Trae Young not existed — wanted a max extension, and the Suns weren’t buying it.
On the one hand it was defensive. Ayton, who averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game last year, with great efficiency and good defense, has the look of a quite-good-but-not-great player. He was either the Suns third or fourth-best player, and you can understand the hesitancy to offer such a player the rookie max.
On the other hand, Ayton was a No. 1 pick, and a high-level starter on a team that finished with the best record in the NBA — a full 11 games ahead of the Golden State Warriors. Those players receive max extensions. And if it seems like a little bit too much, you hold your nose and do it anyway.
After all, fellow No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins — long before being an All-Star or on a good team — was given a rookie scale max. That’s the precedent.
But the Suns awkwardly went through the at a stalemate with one of their core players. And when the offseason began, Ayton gained more attention for potentially being used in a sign-and-trade for Kevin Durant than for any hint of re-upping with Phoenix.
And then, two weeks into free agency, the Indiana Pacers signed Ayton — a restricted free agent — to a four-year deal with $133 million ... less than the max contract the Suns could have offered him, but the maximum that any other organization could. And the Suns immediately matched the offer sheet.
As soon as the Suns received the four-year, $133M offer sheet, the franchise matched it. Deandre Ayton returns to Phoenix and can't be traded without his consent for a full year. https://t.co/dBXGN3qbCK— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 15, 2022
And just like that, last year’s regular-season champs will be running it back with their core of Ayton, Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Mikal Bridges.
So what does this mean for the Warriors? On the one hand, you can breath a small sigh of relief. Durant’s preferred destination is the Suns, and their only real way of acquiring him this offseason was with an Ayton sign-and-trade, which obviously won’t be happening now.
On the other hand, there are some long-term concerns for the Dubs. The Suns would still be very good without Ayton, but wouldn’t feel like a serious threat to win the West. But being able to run back the squad that won 64 games last year means Phoenix will enter the year in championship contention. That impacts the Warriors.
Ayton’s contract also opens up the door for a Durant trade down the road, should KD finish the offseason still in Brooklyn, which is increasingly looking like the case. Ayton can’t be traded until January 15, and he can’t be traded for the first year of his contract without his consent. But the size of his contract, and his reputation as a young, future All-Star, make him a potential centerpiece for Durant this time next year (or halfway through the season if this experience soured him on being a Sun).
Ultimately the Warriors aren’t losing July sleep over the Suns. If they’re losing sleep over anything, it’s how uncomfortable the Larry O’Brien trophy is when used as a pillow.
But when the time comes to rank the contenders for the Warriors title, the Suns will once again be near the top of the list.