In professional sports, we often hear players go public with the desire for a new contract instead of just allowing their performance on the court or field to speak for them. But that isn’t how Phoenix Suns center DeAndre Ayton is handling his contract situation with the Suns. All Ayton’s done over the last two years is improve his play and step up his game even more in the postseason.
For the second consecutive campaign, Ayton has improved his numbers in some key statistical categories from the regular season to the postseason. During the 2020-21 season, Ayton averaged 14.4 ppg and increased that to 15.8 ppg in the playoffs. This season he posted 17.2 ppg, and so far in the playoffs, Ayton is scoring 21.1 ppg. Ayton also improved his field goal percentage significantly from 63 percent during the regular season to 68 percent over the Suns’ first seven playoff games.
So, what is the problem? Why hasn’t DeAndre been granted the contract extension that he’s earned? Only Suns owner Robert Sarver can answer that question, but he hasn’t been entirely cheap where the team is concerned. It’s not like Sarver has refused to pay anyone coming up on a new contract. In fact, over the past year, more than one Phoenix Suns player has gotten an extension while Ayton is forced to wait. With the allegations of misogyny and racism running rampant through the organization, you’d think Sarver would want to stay on his fan base’s good side.
Three Suns role players received big paydays just before the start of the season. Cam Payne, Mikal Bridges, and Landry Shamet all inked new deals with Phoenix before the beginning of the season. And Ayton continues to wait. While there is an argument for how vital Bridges is to the success of this Suns team compared to Ayton, there’s no way I’m buying Payne or Shamet being on the same level.
Ayton and Sarver were spotted together a week before the season started at an Arizona resort meeting to discuss a new deal. Of course, nothing came of that meeting, and Ayton went into the season with no extension. Following the meeting with Sarver, Ayton addressed the Phoenix media and expressed how “disappointed” he was that a deal hadn’t gotten done.
These contract negotiations can be bitter topics for any fan base. The longer they drag out, the worse it gets. This summer, Ayton is a restricted free agent, which means the Suns can match any offer another team makes. In 2005, Joe Johnson asked the Suns not to match an offer made by the Atlanta Hawks, and so there went Iso Joe. Not exactly the same circumstances, but like Ayton, Johnson didn’t feel he was getting the respect he deserved from the team. So, he bolted.
So, while Ayton will get paid this summer, it won’t be the max extension he could’ve received had the two sides reached a long-term agreement last fall. Or maybe another team sneaks in and makes an offer for Ayton’s services he doesn’t want to refuse. Years later, Sarver opened up about the Johnson contract situation of 2005 and regretted letting him leave. So, I don’t think we’ll see the same thing with Ayton. But we also know that history usually repeats itself. We’ll soon find out if Sarver is doomed to repeat it.