What is Deandre Ayton's actual value?
For the last few months, reports have circulated everywhere from Adrian Wojnarowski to Phoenix media that he's a max player. But is he?
Has this all been an effective job by his agent to plant seeds across the media to drive up interest in his client? Because less than 72 hours to go before NBA Free Agency begins, it appears Ayton's market is shrinking not growing.
Consider the fact the Detroit Pistons, the only team with the immediate cap space to sign him to a max contract outright and with a young core that would fit Ayton's timeline, traded up for a second 1st round pick and selected Jalen Duren. Duren is the second center they've selected in the last two years in the first round, along with Isaiah Stewart in 2020, so why would the Pistons then spend the bulk of their cap space on another center? It seems clear they chose a cheaper, less proven option.
The Charlotte Hornets have long been rumored to be a team seeking big man to compliment LaMelo Ball. They selected Mark Williams in the first round and will pay him approximately $4 million dollars a year over the next four years instead of paying Ayton $34 million dollars a year over those same four seasons.
The Spurs might be trading Dejounte Murray not adding Deandre Ayton. The Thunder just drafted a big man at #2 overall. The Hawks seems more interested in Rudy Gobert and the Pacers recently said they weren't actively shopping their center Myles Turner. Of all the teams in the NBA, the Raptors led by Masai Ujiri, seem like the last team to spend $30+ million on a center and after that, the obvious options are gone.
Everyone agrees Ayton is a really good young player so why hasn't a more obvious market materialized?
Because everyone agrees Ayton is a really good young center.
Centers are important to every team but they are the least valuable position on the floor. The most valuable big men are big men who have guard or wing skills. Joel Embiid initiates the offense in Philly and can knock down 3's. Nikola Jokic is a point center. Giannis is one of the most feared players in the league when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim. Deandre Ayton doesn't shoot 3's, hasn't been trusted to initiate the offense and his off the bounce skills are more classic big man than modern big man.
In other words, Deandre Ayton is a center in the purest of terms.
Think about this in an NFL context. A similar evolution happened at running back. Every team still uses a running back but most teams use two or three lesser paid running backs than splurge on an expensive one.
If I was comping Ayton to a current NFL running back, I'd argue he's the NBA's version of Ezekiel Elliot. Elliot put up monster numbers three of his first four years after being drafted in the top 5. He then got a massive contract from the Cowboys. Now Tony Pollard may be every bit as effective that offense as Elliott and they are still stuck paying Elliot top RB money. So even while Elliott has been undeniably productive as a back, he hasn't and can't justify being selected ahead of Jalen Ramsey in the NFL Draft or having a higher cap hit on the team than every other player not named Dak Prescott.
Deandre Ayton is good, he's productive and he's young.
But he's a center. He's more of a role player than a focal point. If I were the Suns, I'd offer him 5 years/100-110 million dollars and rest my head knowing it would be a fair and good deal for both sides.
If he wants a max, he's probably going to have to find a time machine first.