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.”