Suns roundtable: What does the offseason hold for Phoenix?
The Phoenix Suns are no longer in the running for this year’s NBA championship.
A lackluster Game 7 showing in the form of a 123-90 defeat has Phoenix traversing the offseason much sooner than most around the state expected.
And just because it’s onto the summer, doesn’t mean there’s not work to be done this offseason, especially when it comes down to Deandre Ayton’s contract situation. To max or not to max, that is the question.
With that in mind, Arizona Sports hosts and editors gave their thoughts on how the Suns should attack the offseason.
How should the Suns handle Deandre Ayton’s contract situation this offseason?
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: You really have to wonder what the Suns’ thoughts on Ayton are after not giving him a max extension last season after he largely dominated in the playoffs. In this postseason, Ayton was brilliant against New Orleans and took a step back against basically a centerless team in Dallas. His dominant rebounding from last summer wasn’t as prevalent — although the Suns’ constant switching on defense took him out of rebounding position frequently. His shooting touch has become elite and his jump hook was almost automatic at times.
Ultimately, though, I think the Suns will let some other team offer Ayton a max in restricted free agency and then go from there. They won’t be blindsided, and they certainly won’t let him walk away with nothing in return. I can see them matching a $131.1 million max offered from somewhere else, keeping their young center and getting a bit of a discount all at the same time.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: The Suns have some tough choices to make here. They can max out Ayton, which would be a 5-year contract with annual raises of 8%. They can do a sign-and-trade with another team — basically signing him to a max deal and trading him — so he can make the most money possible and the signing team gets an extra year. They can let another team sign him to a restricted free agent offer of which a max deal would come with a 4-year maximum and annual raises of 5% and either match it or let him walk (which they would never do).
First, they have to decide if they want to extend him a qualifying offer before free agency starts that would be for an NBA record $16.5 million. If he accepts that he gets a no-trade clause in it so the Suns could not move him without his consent. A team signing him to a restricted free agent offer could entice the Suns not to match it with stuff like trade kickers, player options, moving up payment schedules. I still believe in Ayton and if the Suns plan on utilizing him the way he should be I would extend the match. If they do not want to build around him and Devin Booker then they should trade him.
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Let’s talk philosophy. When it comes to DA, the Suns have to figure out what their philosophy is when it comes to the big man. If it’s to make Ayton the focal point of the offense — or at the very least more of a focal point — then by all means. Give him the max. But if the Suns’ philosophy is that they will always be a more perimeter-oriented team then it would be irresponsible to max him out. I suspect that they will choose the latter and that Ayton will be elsewhere next year. But that’s just a guess.
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Wolf & Luke: He isn’t a James Jones guy. Everybody in the organization loves this guy and thinks he’s a super human being but he’s not the Superman that everybody inside the organization thought he was going to be. And if this year won’t bring the “S” out of him, no year will.
We all know what this year meant to DA financially. We all know the money that he was playing for, but it wasn’t just the money that left a mark. It was the perceived “disrespect” by the Suns in not giving him a max-contract, isn’t that right Michael Porter Jr.? In addition to all of this, Playoff DA never really materialized the way it did last postseason. If DA didn’t become more aggressive, more physical this year, when will he? And that is his kryptonite.
He isn’t a James Jones guy… and yet I don’t see how this team gets better letting Clark Kent walk outside their doors. And I don’t think they will.
Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & Luke: I don’t envy James Jones right now. If the Suns weren’t willing to give Deandre Ayton the max last offseason, what has really changed to make them do it now? He did improve this year overall, but his performance in the playoffs wasn’t as dominant this time around. So they might just view him about the same way they did seven months ago.
I don’t believe you need a top line big man to win in today’s NBA. The game has changed. But you already have Ayton, he’s a huge part of this team and he helps you win. I give Ayton all the credit in the world for playing this season instead of pouting because other guys from his draft class already got paid. Ideally, you find a way to keep him. But I don’t think he’s playing for less than the max, and the Suns already showed they didn’t want to give him that in October so we’ll see.
Kellan Olson, editor of ArizonaSports.com and co-host of the Empire of the Suns podcast: They should bring him back. Until there’s a notion that the Suns can get an above-average center back in a sign-and-trade or in a different avenue, the drop-off from Ayton’s departure would be immense. Sure, his inconsistencies would be gone but so too would be what he does as a defensive anchor, rebounder, screen setter and rim runner. A replacement would not be able to fill all those holes, and it just matters who it would be, because it needs to be someone established for a championship window that is still open (yeah I said it). For now, that’s all hypothetical.
Tyler Drake, editor of ArizonaSports.com: I had been in the camp of maxing out DA for most of the season. This postseason, however, has changed my views. I figured the center would be the dominating force in the Dallas series. Instead, he was unable to seize the moment that would have erased all doubt on if he should get paid. That box is still unchecked, and the optics of Luka Doncic ending the Suns’ season certainly doesn’t help things.
Jake Anderson, editor of ArizonaSports.com: No max deal: This Dallas Mavericks series just proved to me why James Jones didn’t want to shell out a max deal for Deandre Ayton. He was supposed to dominate Dallas’ lack of size. He didn’t. For whatever reason, he’s not the old school center that wants to dominate the paint physically. He prefers finesse around the basket and it’s extremely frustrating to watch a 7-footer not dunk or rebound as much as some other max deal bigs around the league.
Kevin Zimmerman editor of ArizonaSports.com and co-host of the Empire of the Suns podcast: The Suns need to bring Ayton back. At the moment, I don’t see a sign-and-trade deal that makes sense, though getting a two-way wing or guard who can take on playmaking duties to help Booker and an aging Chris Paul would be enticing. Ayton will get the max or something close to it, and the Suns should max it. It’s not an overpay — Michael Porter Jr., whose back doesn’t work and who plays zero defense, got the extension last summer. The only way the Suns can mess this up is by letting Ayton walk with nothing in return.
Besides the Deandre Ayton situation, what’s another top priority for the Suns this offseason?
Marotta: There’s a lot of work to do, but getting another reliable shot creator is paramount. I think the Suns really need to upgrade the point guard spot behind Chris Paul and add someone who can really lighten his regular season workload. Cam Payne certainly earned his new deal with a stellar 2020-21 season and postseason, but came back down to Earth this season, eventually falling out of the rotation despite help being desperately needed. I’d also like to see the Suns add some more beef, or at least sturdier wings with 3-and-D capabilities who can also help out in the rebounding department.
Gambo: Main priority for Phoenix is add more three-point shooting. They just do not shoot enough threes to overcome poor performances by their star players. They really have no choice but to roll it back with Booker and Paul, but adding two more elite shooters would allow them to be bailed out by the great equalizer in the game — the three-point shot. They also need an alternative for Paul when things are not going his way — a bigger combo guard that would give Monty options in a playoff series when Chris doesn’t have it.
Burns: Improving the backcourt depth. The options could be limited with the contracts for Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet. Upgrading the options behind Chris Paul pays off in two ways; limiting his minutes during the regular season and giving you more capable options should he get hurt or falter again in next year’s playoffs.
Wolf: They need to find another shooter that can backup Chris Paul. Moving away from Cam Payne was too easy for Monty Williams. Landry Shamet came around but is still more of a question mark than an exclamation point.
The Suns need more perimeter shooting and a dude that can be the point. They needed Cam Payne to be that guy and he didn’t get it done. My only question is: Why? I don’t know the answer to that, but James Jones does.
Lapinski: This one’s easy for me. You need another option behind Chris Paul. That doesn’t mean Paul’s done or anything like that. But would this team still be playing right now if they had someone they could go to when Paul started struggling in this series? Or — better yet — someone they could’ve leaned on more throughout the grind of the regular season so Paul didn’t seem so worn down in the playoffs? It’s not such a crazy thought, considering they were one win away from advancing.
Maybe Cam Payne can be that guy, it certainly seemed like it last year. He was reliable pretty much all of the 2020-21 campaign, and came up especially big when Paul missed the first two games of the Western Conference Finals. But he had his struggles this season. So the Suns need to figure out if he’s actually the guy, or if they need to add someone. Otherwise, who’s convinced what we just saw won’t happen again 12 months from now?
Olson: Get another offensive creator. Cam Payne and Landry Shamet proved they weren’t ready for being the supporting options to Chris Paul and Devin Booker. They need another reliable ball-handler. You could honestly talk me into two.
Drake: Add another legit point guard option behind Chris Paul. I think we all saw what happened this postseason. When CP3 wasn’t feeling it, the team struggled mightily. Throw in Cameron Payne’s play and it was clear Phoenix was missing that floor general that could make up for Paul’s down play. Obviously, that’s going to take some serious digging on top of some financial responsibilities, but having that security blanket type backup that can generate production for himself and those around him, most notably Devin Booker, should be the top priority. Get a younger player who can learn from Paul in his final years and have an heir apparent already on the roster.
Anderson: Another scorer: James Jones really has his work cut out for him now. With 37-year-old Chris Paul’s championship window getting smaller with each passing day, who is the future point guard of the Phoenix Suns? Or for that matter, who is going to be the No. 2 scorer behind Devin Booker as Paul continues to decline as he gets older? The Bucks exposed the Suns’ lack of size in the 2021 Finals and the Mavs just exposed Phoenix’s lack of a scoring threat if the All-Star backcourt can’t get anything going.
Zimmerman: Any type of ball-handling scorer or playmaker who can hold up on defense. Mikal Bridges’ own postseason might’ve been a hint his skillset will only take this team so far, and Phoenix must be aggressive in adding a more dynamic group of players around Booker. While we’re here, acquiring a draft pick and either using a future choice to trade for a veteran mid-year or drafting this year — gasp! –wouldn’t be a bad idea.