ESPN’s Marks: Suns deserve F grade if they don’t extend Ayton or Bridges
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Let’s start with the asterisk: Time exists between now and the 3 p.m. Monday deadline for the Phoenix Suns to agree to a contract extension with fourth-year pros Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Landry Shamet.
The looming question, however, is why whatever time existed between the opening of free agency on Aug. 2 and now hasn’t been used by the team to commit future money toward those players.
ESPN analyst Bobby Marks has concerns about how Phoenix has managed the situation so far, especially regarding Bridges and Ayton.
“If the playoffs didn’t show you the value of what these two players are, then you should go out and sell the team. You shouldn’t be part of the ownership group here,” Marks said on his Instagram feed. “So I don’t get it, I’m perplexed. Hey, I’m usually pro-front office, just because I’ve done it, I’ve been there, I’ve seen it.
“But for these two players here, and why there’s not a deal done — and there’s still time, we’ve got about 72 hours about to get a deal done — I’m confused.”
Marks adds that he hopes he amends an article he’s prepared for publication after the 3 p.m. Monday deadline passes.
He’s ready to say the Suns have failed this offseason if they don’t get either Ayton or Bridges extended.
“This is kind of how I open up the article: Despite signing Chris Paul and Cam Payne to free-agent (deals) this offseason, the Suns could be described as a failure. If I was giving the Suns a grade on Tuesday morning and if there’s no deal between Ayton, Bridges — we could put Landry Shamet in there too — the Suns get an F for this offseason,” Marks said.
Ayton has reportedly asked for a max deal, and regardless of whether Phoenix wants to give it to him now, the team can match any max deal dolled out by another team next offseason in restricted free agency.
Marks firmly believes Ayton is worth a max deal. Debating that aside, the bigger red flag to the ESPN analyst is Bridges.
The wing could put the Suns in a deeper financial hole if he reaches restricted free agency. Marks said he thought an extension would be agreed upon with Bridges soon after Luka Doncic of the Mavericks and Trae Young of the Hawks signed max extensions in August.
“(Bridges is) not a max player … everyone can agree he’s not a max player. But when you have one of the top 3-and-D players, top wing defenders, top small forward who will be a restricted free agent next offseason, you go out and you get him done before he hits restricted free agency,” Mark said. “It’s going to cost you basically 130% more than it would have costed you now. If you think Mikal Bridges is a $20 million player now, he’s going to cost you $23 million, $24 million next year. The body is in the work.
“Wings in this league get paid a premium. Here’s an interesting stat for you on Bridges: He averaged the most points, 13.5, in league history for a player with less than a 15% usage rate last year.”
Suns owner Robert Sarver declined on Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo this week to divulge how extension negotiations are going between the team and its players entering contract years.
“If we can get something that works for both sides, we definitely would,” Sarver said.
“As you know, in restricted free agency sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn’t. Getting a deal done a year early is a little bit more challenging than getting a deal done at the beginning of a season.”
Marks does not see room for excuses if the Suns don’t lock down at least one contract extension this offseason.
That’s especially true, he says, after Phoenix signed Paul and Payne to relatively generous deals that are not guaranteed beyond the first few years. Paul also saved the team about $30 million this year by declining his one-year player option and signing a longer-term deal as well.
In 2022-23, there is no way the Suns should not be paying the luxury tax. That is the cost of running business for a title contender.
“Why these two players (Ayton and Bridges) have not been agreed upon and why they have not been a priority for Phoenix coming off of a Finals loss to Milwaukee, two games from winning it all … I’m perplexed,’ Marks said.