It looks like the Phoenix Suns will not offer center Deandre Ayton — the former #1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft — a max contract extension. Ayton’s agent Bill Duffy hinted that Ayton could bolt in free agency to the Charlotte Hornets or Portland Trail Blazers if the Suns do not match their offers. But, there’s also slight chance the Suns work out a sign-and-trade with another team like the Indiana Pacers.

Deandre Ayton from the Phoenix Suns could depart in free agency after the team was hesitant to offer him a max contract. (Image: Getty)

The Suns posted the best record in the NBA this season, and Ayton was an integral part of the team as they secured the #1 seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. In 58 games this season, Ayton averaged 17.2 points, and 10.2 rebounds per game. He shot a career-best 63.4% from the floor this season. His PER rating of 21.99 ranked him #16 in the NBA.

The Suns had advanced to the 2021 NBA Finals, but lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games and were the unfortunate runner up. The Suns had high expectations to win a championship this season, yet they were knocked out in the Western Conference Semifinals by Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavs.

Over his four-season career with the Suns, Ayton averaged 16.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 1.0 blocked shots per game. He’s an efficient shooter at 59.9% from the field.

Ayton turns 24-years old this summer. The 6-foot-11 center played his collegiate ball at Arizona and was thrilled to stay in the state to join the Phoenix Suns. However, it’s starting to look like his days in Phoenix are numbered.

Ayton Benched in Game 7 Collapse

Ayton had a strong first-round playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans. He averaged 20.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.2 blocks per game. He also shot a blistering 70.3% from the floor while attempting at least 12 shots in five out of six games against the Pelicans.

Ayton saw his numbers drop off in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Dallas Mavs. He averaged 15.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game against the Mavs, but only shot 55.7% from the field and 60.7% from the free-throw line.

The Mavs picked off the Suns in seven games, when the Suns had an awful collapse in Game 7. Head coach Monty Williams benched Ayton in the second half of Game 7.  Williams said it was an “internal matter” and never elaborated. Ayton scored just five points and hauled down four rebounds in 17 minutes in the first half, before riding the pine the entire second half. Depending on who you talk to, that could be the last game that Ayton played with the Suns.

Word got out that Williams — the 2022 NBA Head Coach of the Year — did not like the simple fact that Ayton lost focus for huge stretches of time. It just wasn’t an isolated incident, but something they struggled with over the last couple of seasons.

Ayton is still relatively young, but the team was concerned with his affinity for video games. The avid gamer would stay up late playing video games when he should’ve been getting much-needed rest and recuperation.

Ayton ‘Disappointed’ in Suns

The Suns tipped their hand last summer when they did not offer Ayton a contract extension heading into the final year of his rookie contract. The Suns won the Western Conference title and secured a spot in the 2021 NBA Finals, yet lost to Greek Freak and the Milwaukee Bucks. You’d figure that a team that came so close to winning a title would be quick to lock up their big man. However, the Suns balked.

“Going into the season, Deandre Ayton did not feel valued by this Phoenix organization,” said ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “They were not able to come to an agreement on his rookie extension. He saw all the other players in his class or many of the top players get extensions. He wanted a max deal, he would not move off that.”

“We’re disappointed,” said Ayton’s agent Bill Duffy. “We wanted a max contract. He went out and was a solider the whole year, played well, improved his statistics. So, we’re proud of him. A lot of guys handle things differently, but he was very mature about it. Things will work out for Deandre. He’s a valuable player. There’s other teams in the league as well.”

“Now, Ayton moves toward restricted free agency this summer, where now he’ll have some more options,” added Wojnarowski. “Phoenix can still match an offer out there and keep him if he signs an offer sheet with another team.”

The Suns will wait and see what other teams — like the Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, or Indiana Pacers — offer Ayton before they make the ultimate decision if he’s truly worth $30 million a season. But, they lack the cap space to pay Ayton a max contract.