Robert Sarver

Suns GM James Jones Talks Failed Ayton Negotiations

After not reaching a rookie scale extension agreement with center Deandre Ayton on Monday, Suns general manager James Jones tells Sam Amick of The Athletic that the team’s discussions with the former No. 1 overall pick have been mischaracterized.

According to Jones, it’s accurate that the Suns didn’t want to offer Ayton a five-year, maximum-salary extension. However, he disputes the notion that team owner Robert Sarver didn’t want to spend big money on Ayton, telling Amick that the club would’ve been happy to talk about a three- or four-year max deal.

Amick says Ayton’s agents – Bill Duffy and Nima Namakian – are adamant that no maximum-salary contract of any kind was offered, even informally, and that the message they received from the Suns was that the franchise, from Sarver on down, didn’t view the former No. 1 pick as a max player. Asked to respond to that claim, Jones said, “They know that a three- or four-year max was not an (acceptable) option for them.”

As Amick outlines, one reason the Suns were unwilling to offer a fifth year, according to Jones, was the fact that it would make Ayton the team’s second “designated rookie,” joining Devin Booker. The term is something of a misnomer, since a designated rookie isn’t a rookie at all, but rather a player who has signed a five-year rookie scale extension.

Teams are only permitted to carry up to two designated rookies, so signing Ayton to a five-year extension would have limited Phoenix’s options on the trade market, Jones pointed out. While that’s technically true, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Suns would not only be able to acquire a third designated rookie before Booker’s current contract expires, but would be able to do so without giving up Booker or Ayton.

Here are few more of Jones’ comments to Amick on the failed negotiations with Ayton:

On the perception that Sarver is being cheap:

“It’s inaccurate. If you just look at the moves we’ve made, it’s inaccurate. It’s just not (true). If you look at all the moves we’ve made, and the things we’ve done, from (upgrading) the practice facility to the roster itself to acquiring Chris Paul, going and acquiring Jae Crowder, extending the guys that we have, that’s not accurate.

“When you boil this thing down, it’s disappointing that we didn’t get a deal done. It’s disappointing that it was a five-year-rookie-max-or-bust, or nothing to talk about, and we just didn’t have real substantial conversations. And that (idea that a) lack of a deal is a signal that we aren’t committed to Deandre or interested in continuing, that we don’t believe in him, that becomes the narrative. But it’s the furthest from the truth.

On the likelihood of the Suns paying the luxury tax starting next season:

“We’re gonna pay it. I can tell you, if you look at our roster now, all of the moves we’ve made — from Chris, Mikal (Bridges), Cam Payne, Landry (Shamet). All those moves that we’ve made have been to continue to build a team — a deep team. So we’re gonna pay the tax (and) continue to build a deep team.”

On the possibility of Ayton signing a maximum-salary offer sheet next summer:

“I don’t know what the market will be next year. I’m not projecting what the market will be next year. But it’s an issue about the five-year max — the five-year, designated rooke max, you know? That’s the issue. So if it’s a four-year max deal, it could be done, right? It could be done if you entertain it or consider it. But if you don’t, then the only thing you’re talking about is a five-year max deal. So we’re not talking about whether he’s getting paid. It’s whether or not he’s getting a five-year max.”

No Contract Extension For Suns, Deandre Ayton

The Suns and center Deandre Ayton have ended their contract extension negotiations, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link).

As Wojnarowski explains, Ayton expected a maximum-salary deal and team owner Robert Sarver has remained unwilling to offer one, so the two sides won’t reach an agreement by today’s rookie scale extension deadline. While Phoenix was able to work out an extension with Mikal Bridges, the team’s former No. 1 pick is now on track to become a restricted free agent in 2022.

Wojnarowski first reported nearly two weeks ago that discussions between the two sides had reached an impasse due to their difference in opinion on Ayton’s value. The 23-year-old’s representatives felt their client deserved a commitment like the ones Luka Doncic, Trae Young, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander received from their respective teams this offseason, while the Suns’ ownership group felt Ayton wasn’t at the level of those young stars.

Ayton’s 14.4 PPG in 2020/21 was the lowest mark of his career, but he averaged double-digit rebounds (10.5 RPG) for a third straight season, made a career-best 62.6% of his shots from the field, improved as a defender, and played a key role in the Suns’ NBA Finals run. His modest scoring numbers were primarily a result of his willingness to accept a reduced role on offense following the arrival of Chris Paul to Phoenix. Ayton had averaged 18.2 PPG in ’19/20.

Since Ayton will be a restricted free agent in a year, Phoenix won’t be at any risk of losing him next summer. However, if these unsuccessful negotiations leave a bad taste in his mouth, Ayton could consider alternative options in free agency besides just reentering long-term contract talks with the Suns.

Accepting his qualifying offer would be one option for Ayton, though that’s not a path many high-level RFAs seriously consider. Signing the qualifying offer would be the equivalent of accepting a one-year contract and would put Ayton on track for unrestricted free agency in 2023. While it’s an unlikely scenario, it’s worth noting that Ayton’s qualifying offer will be worth $16.4MM, which I believe makes it the largest QO in NBA history to date.

Ayton would also have the option of going out and seeking an offer sheet from another team. The Suns would have the ability to match any offer sheet Ayton signs, but he could negotiate unfriendly terms, including perhaps an early opt-out and a 15% trade kicker.

Of course, it’s possible that when the Suns and Ayton return to the negotiating table next offseason, things go more smoothly and the two sides are able to work something out, like the Hawks did with John Collins this summer. For now though, it looks like we can safely pencil in Ayton as one of the top free agents in next year’s class.

Pacific Notes: Paul, Sarver, Lue, Kerr

Chris Paul can become a free agent if he declines his $44.2MM option but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski doesn’t see him leaving the Suns (hat tip to RealGM). “It certainly seems to me it’s hard to see him go somewhere else,” Wojnarowski said on ESPN’s The Jump. “He wanted to be there. He had to convince Phoenix a little bit that they were ready for him.” However, Woj said Paul could use the Knicks as a “leverage point.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Suns owner Robert Sarver is committed to keeping his core group intact and is willing to go into the luxury tax to make that happen, Kellan Olson of ArizonaSports.com relays. “From a financial standpoint I am,” he said. “In terms of the timing of contracts and who and this and that, that’s something that (GM) James (Jones) and his crew will be working on I’m sure during the summer,” he said. “But in terms of from ownership, yeah, we’re committed for sure.”
  • Clippers coach Ty Lue rested many of his regulars down the stretch and the team wound up with the No. 4 seed in the West. He has no regrets, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN tweets. “I don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks… we finally got everyone healthy… I don’t care,” he said. “I don’t read Twitter. I don’t have Twitter… I am my own man and I do what I want to do.”
  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr appreciates the way his team persevered through injuries and finished strong, according to Nick Friedell of ESPN. “When you go five straight years of ‘win the championship or bust,’ it’s incredibly stressful,” Kerr said. “It’s exciting and you wouldn’t want it any other way, but it adds up. And so I think this year has been refreshing in a lot of ways. It’s been a really meaningful season for our franchise in a lot of ways and that’s important.”

Pacific Notes: LeBron, Suns, Beverley, Warriors

After leaving Sunday’s game midway through the fourth quarter due to a sore right ankle, Lakers star LeBron James will miss the club’s game on Monday vs. Denver as a result of the same issue, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. James’ status for L.A.’s next game – against the Clippers on Thursday – is uncertain, Charania adds.

The fact that LeBron will miss tonight’s game isn’t a major surprise, despite the fact that the Lakers are fighting to secure the fifth or sixth seed in the West. After last night’s game, the four-time MVP suggested that getting healthy was more of a priority than chasing regular season wins down the stretch.

“It doesn’t matter at the end of the day (where the Lakers land in the standings) if I’m not 100% or close to 100%,” James said, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • While Suns owner Robert Sarver has faced plenty of criticism over the years for the way he has run the franchise, it appears he got it right when he hired first-time general manager James Jones to run the team’s front office, as Jabari Young of CNBC writes. “The thing about Robert that has not changed or ever will change is his passion and his desire to win and his commitment to winning,” Suns CEO Jason Rowley said. “He’s gotten better and matured as an owner, as anybody does in a position that’s new to them.”
  • Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, who has been out since April 8 due to a fractured hand, was able to do 5-on-5 work in practice, according to head coach Tyronn Lue, who said the team will see how Beverley’s hand responds before providing an update on his status (Twitter link via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN). If Beverley feels good, he should be on track to return to action later this week.
  • With Minnesota playing well as of late, Ethan Strauss of The Athletic explores whether there’s a chance that the Warriors could end up with a better shot at a top-five pick with their own first-rounder than with the Timberwolves’ selection.

Hawks, Knicks, Suns Expected To Pursue Davis Bertans

The Hawks, Knicks, and Suns are expected to be among the top threats to pry unrestricted free agent Davis Bertans away from the Wizards this offseason, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. Atlanta is “shaping up to be particularly aggressive,” Hughes writes.

Bertans opted out of the NBA’s restart due to his history of ACL injuries and a desire to preserve his value for his upcoming free agency. Before that, he had enjoyed a career year in 2019/20 during his first season as a Wizard, averaging a career-best 15.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 1.7 APG in 54 games (29.3 MPG). The 27-year-old also had his best shooting season, making an impressive 42.4% of 8.7 three-point attempts per game.

Bertans’ rare combination of size and shot-making ability will make him an intriguing target for teams seeking a big man who can stretch the floor. Estimates earlier this season suggested that he may be in line for a deal worth in the range of $15-20MM per year. The coronavirus pandemic has created some uncertainty about teams’ financial situations for next season, but Hughes says league sources still expect Bertans to command a salary in that $15MM+ range.

The Hawks project to have the most cap room of any team this offseason, making them a legit threat to make a run at Bertans. The Knicks could also create significant room, depending on how they handle their numerous veterans with non-guaranteed salaries and team options.

The Suns’ cap outlook is cloudier. They have more guaranteed money on their books than Atlanta or New York, and ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said this week during an appearance on Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta podcast that there have been rumblings that Phoenix intends to reduce its spending. Windhorst cited the sale of the Suns’ G League franchise to the Pistons as evidence of team owner Robert Sarver clamping down on the team’s expenses.

Of course, the Wizards still may be the frontrunner to retain Bertans. They turned down offers for him at the trade deadline, hold his Bird rights, and have long expressed a desire to bring him back on a new deal. Based on the competition they’ll face though, it sounds like they shouldn’t expect to get him back at a discount.

Western Notes: Green, Sarver, Grizzlies, Jokic

Although the veteran big man struggled throughout most of the season, Warriors coach Steve Kerr expects to see the very best version of Draymond Green next year, recently explaining his thoughts on KNBR’s “Tolbert, Kreuger and Brooks” podcast (hat tip to Sportando).

“I think this year was really frustrating for him offensively, and then as a competitor, it was frustrating for him just losing night after night,” Kerr said. “It’s just too difficult in this league to try to win games when you’re that shorthanded. I think he dealt with the frustration. He definitely boiled over several times, got kicked out. But, overall, I just thought he handled himself well.”

“He made it through, and he is getting a much-needed rest,” Kerr continued. “And I think we’re going to see the very best version of Draymond next year, whenever next season starts. I feel really good about where he’s going to be mentally and physically.”

Green posted averages of 8.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game on 39% shooting from the floor and 28% shooting from deep this season. By comparison, he averaged 11 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.3 assists per contest during Golden State’s last title run in 2017/18, shooting 45% from the floor.

The Warriors dealt with a series of injuries this season, playing without Klay Thompson and losing Stephen Curry to an injury in late October. The team finished with the NBA’s worst record at 15-50 and is among eight clubs that weren’t invited to the league’s restart in Orlando next month.

Here are some other notes out of the Western Conference today:

  • Suns owner Robert Sarver wanted to own an NBA franchise in Las Vegas, Jeremy Cluff of the Arizona Republic writes. Sarver, who purchased the Suns in 2004, explained that then-commissioner David Stern pointed him toward Phoenix after Sarver initially expressed interest in Vegas.
  • The Grizzlies have hired Austin Spurs assistant Blake Ahearn to their coaching staff, the team announced in a press release. Ahearn is the sixth assistant coach on Memphis’ staff, leaving the Spurs’ minor league affiliate in Austin to accept the position. He’ll participate in various player development efforts with the Grizzlies, including shooting development.
  • Mike Singer of the Denver Post examines whether Nikola Jokic‘s sudden weight loss could negatively impact his game. Jokic has slimmed down during quarantine with hopes of getting in better shape and becoming quicker, though his past successes with the Nuggets have come with a wide seven-foot, 280-pound frame.

Pacific Notes: Wiseman, Warriors, Sarver, Clippers

The Warriors have already met with some prominent draft prospects via Zoom, including center James Wiseman and guard LaMelo Ball, Anthony Slater of The Athletic tweets. Wiseman is currently rated at No. 3 by ESPN with Ball at No. 2, just behind Georgia guard Anthony Edwards. With the draft rescheduled to October 15th, the Warriors anticipate they’ll get to evaluate prospects in person at some point.

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • With the Warriors left out of the 22-team restart of the season, Draymond Green stands to benefit the most among the franchise’s players, Slater opines in a separate story. Green had been nursing a variety of injuries prior to the suspension of play and now he’ll get plenty of time to heal up prior to next season. Young players such as Eric Paschall, Jordan Poole, Alen Smailagic and Mychal Mulder will be hurt the most by the long gap between seasons, Slater adds.
  • Suns owner Robert Sarver says there are many hurdles to clear before play can resume in Orlando on July 31, according to Matt Layman of ArizonaSports.com. Sarver made his comments in a radio interview with 98.7 FM. “The logistics with Disney — you know a number of these hotels have had layoffs, have been partially closed or fully closed, and so there’s a re-startup there,” he said. “And then there’s the whole health concern with COVID-19 and how that plays out and making sure that we go back to what our first priority was, which was the health and safety of the players and the staff.”
  • If the Clippers are able to re-sign free agents Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell, they’re likely to bring back virtually the same team next season, John Hollinger of The Athletic predicted in a conversation with fellow Athletic writer Jovan Buha. Hollinger believes in that scenario the only additions will be a second-round draft pick and a minimum-contract point guard to replace Reggie Jackson.

Pacific Notes: Suns, Tatum, Warriors, Kings

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum spoke this week about being enamored by the Suns leading up to the 2017 draft and hoping to fall to Phoenix at No. 4. According to Tatum, a meeting with the Suns’ then-coach Earl Watson a few days before the draft helped sell him on the organization. Speaking on Monday to Jay King of The Athletic, Watson confirmed that he was high on Tatum during the pre-draft process.

As Watson tells it, he wanted Tatum badly enough that he had some “uncomfortable” conversations with team owner Robert Sarver, who preferred Josh Jackson. Watson tells King that he tried to get the Suns to do whatever it took to get in position to land Tatum.

“I was pushing Tatum,” Watson said. “Like, we had to move up for Tatum, we had to get Tatum. And ownership chose Josh Jackson. … I knew the two players were dynamically different, but my vision was what’s the best fit for Devin Booker. Booker and Tatum, I think a combination like that right now would have been completely different than anything in the NBA at that age.”

Although Watson’s story is compelling, John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 pushes back against the former head coach’s recollections of the 2017 draft. According to Gambadoro (via Twitter), the Suns had Tatum ranked ahead of Jackson on their board and would have drafted Tatum if they’d had the opportunity to do so.

As Gambadoro explains (via Twitter), since the Celtics initially controlled the No. 1 pick and had Tatum atop their board, the Suns had no avenue to move up to select the young forward. Presumably, when Boston swung a deal to move down to No. 3, the C’s had assurances that the Sixers and Lakers wouldn’t be trading out of the top two spots, which would have been Phoenix’s only path to Tatum.

Here’s more from around the Pacific:

  • Teams around the NBA are reopening their practice facilities for individual voluntary workouts, but that won’t happen anytime soon for the Warriors, who are tentatively aiming for June 1, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic. As Slater observes, the last-place Dubs won’t have the same urgency to return to their building as some other California teams might, so they’re “waiting for the (government) order, not influencing it.”
  • After Klay Thompson recently cautioned against assuming the Warriors‘ dynasty is over, fellow Splash Brother Stephen Curry conveyed a similar sentiment in an interview with Jermaine O’Neal (video link via Chris Montano). “It’s going to look different. It’s going to have a new cast of characters that are going to contribute at a high level,” Curry said. “But the DNA and the chemistry that us three (Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green) have, we’re going to be in good shape coming out of this.”
  • Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee takes a look at the financial toll that COVID-19 is taking on the Kings, who are preparing for the possibility of “tens of millions of dollars in uninsured losses.”

Western Notes: Spurs, Kerr, Suns, Powell

Spurs sports and entertainment chairman Peter Holt said the team’s ownership group remains “100 percent committed” to staying in San Antonio, Jeff Garcia of FoxSanAntonio.com relays. Holt’s statement was issued after a report that the Spurs were selling a minority stake in the franchise. The Holt family is the majority owner. “As an ownership group we remain 100 percent committed to the city of San Antonio. … San Antonio is home and will remain home,” Holt said.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr admits his franchise is already in offseason mode, ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes. In a Zoom conference call among Kerr, GM Bob Myers and the players last week, the conversation felt more like the team’s annual exit meeting, Kerr said. “It was just a chance to check in, but it was also a chance for Bob to update the players on his contact with the league and the latest news, but it also kind of felt like our annual team exit meeting,” Kerr said. “Our coaching staff and I have been undergoing staff evaluations, offseason plans, so we are absolutely in offseason mode right now.”
  • In an in-depth discussion between The Athletic’s Gina Mizell and John Hollinger regarding the Suns future, Hollinger indicates the biggest question regarding GM James Jones is whether owner Robert Sarver is still calling the shots on basketball decisions. In recent years, Sarver has been heavily involved in the team’s moves, including most of the ones that set back the franchise, Hollinger continued. The team may have to move forward Kelly Oubre Jr. in the coming months due to the two-year, $30MM contract he received last year, Hollinger adds.
  • Mavericks big man Dwight Powell was well prepared to stay in shape during the suspension of play, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. After rupturing his right Achilles tendon in January, Powell was unable to drive to the Mavericks practice facility, so he invested in fitness equipment. One of those machines, a Concept 2 Skier, mimics the upper body motion of cross-country skiing while standing still. “Ten seconds on that at full bore will get you up to max heart rate,” Powell said. “I’m a push-up master and mixing in that cardio, so I’m actually in great shape, considering I’m not able to run right now.”

Larry Fitzgerald Now Part Owner Of Suns

NFL star Larry Fitzgerald has purchased an undisclosed share of the Suns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski and Adam Schefter of ESPN.

A longtime receiver with the Arizona Cardinals, Fitzgerald has forged a strong working relationship with Suns managing partner Robert Sarver and has been serving as an ambassador for the team.

Fitzgerald was part of the interview process when the organization hired Jeff Bower as senior vice president of basketball operations in April. He also helped to canvass for a public arena vote, but he won’t become more active with the NBA team until he retires from football, according to the authors. Fitzgerald signed a one-year extension with the Cardinals last week.

He becomes the second prominent NFL player to invest in the NBA, joining Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who bought part of the Bucks in 2018.

Wojnarowski and Schefter point out that Fitzgerald is well respected in the Phoenix community and should bring more credibility to the Suns and to Sarver, who has frequently been a target of fan anger amidst a string of losing seasons. Fitzgerald does extensive charitable work and was selected as the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2016.

“It’s an investment in something I have supported since I’ve been in Arizona,” Fitzgerald told Jim Trotter of NFL.com. “It gives me another connection in the community I love and always will live in. It’s a long-term commitment I wanted to make for life after football.”

Sarver and Fitzgerald have a friendship that dates back to 2005, a year after the wide receiver was drafted into the NFL, Trotter adds. Sarver brought up the idea of investing in the team two years ago when Fitzgerald was thinking of retiring.

“I had never really given it any thought before then,” Fitzgerald said. “I asked him to give me a little bit of time to think about it and wrap my mind around it. I thought it was a unique opportunity because I hadn’t heard of many other [athletes] doing it, but I wanted to really think about it because it’s a substantial capital commitment. It’s not something small.”