The Phoenix Suns find themselves in a BIT of a pickle as their season begins. Already challenged by being the hunted, trying to finish the job of winning a title with CP3’s clock ticking and the general avoidance of the “disease of me” after a team’s first tast of real success, the Suns are now dealing with real drama.
Deandre Ayton wants the max. The Suns don’t want to give him the max. Both sides are understandable.
For Ayton, he watched Michael Porter Jr get the max recently. Porter Jr, like Ayton, is the third best player on a Western Conference contender. Like DA, he’s a supremely talented yet not fully realized player. Unlike Ayton, MPJ has only started one season for the Nuggets and has a troubling injury history that saw him plummet to the middle of the first round the same year Ayton went #1 overall.
Most importantly, Porter Jr didn’t help anchor a deep Nuggets playoff run like Ayton did for the Suns. The consistency and impact Ayton made for the Suns was second only to Giannis’s consistency and success for the Bucks.
So why don’t the Suns want to give him a max?
Because the same player that helped anchor the Suns run is the same guy that the Suns have spent three years, including during the playoffs last season, trying to coax more consistency and effort out of.
No player gets chewed on more by his teammates than Deandre Ayton. No player elicits a stronger outward reaction from his coaches and team like Ayton. Not because they don’t like him, Ayton is incredibly likable, but because no player has frustrated teammates more than Ayton. They see what he’s capable of and want him to want it as badly as they do; sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn’t.
That’s hard to reward. I understand the Suns hesitation. I understand that max contracts should not be a groupthink decision. A contract of that magnitude to the wrong player might hamper the Suns chances of finding a co-star for Booker when CP3 is done, it might hamstring the team’s financial flexibility to sustain success beyond a 1-2 year window and most importantly it might send mixed messages to a team on what is required to get a max.
Is there a chance the Suns would be better off trading Ayton when his value is at its peak and allocating those resources elsewhere to sustain long term success? Not very likely, but while no one is questioning his talents positional value is still a very legitimate question for the Suns and the NBA at large.
A trade seems like the most far fetched of possibilities.
So here’s my solution for the Suns: let the locker room decide.
James Jones should rely heavily on his own instincts as a treasured teammate and on the direct feedback he gets from Ayton’s teammates. What does CP3 think? What does Devin Booker think? Jae Crowder?
Do his teammates immediately rally to his defense? Do they want to see him rewarded? Or do they think it might complicate the team’s chances of getting the best out of Ayton?
The locker room can tell all, you’ll just have to ask.