ESPN’s Marks projects Suns RFA Deandre Ayton will receive max contract

Jun 30, 2022, 10:55 AM
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns runs onto the court before the start of Game Five of the West...
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns runs onto the court before the start of Game Five of the Western Conference First Round NBA Playoffs against the New Orleans Pelicans at Footprint Center on April 26, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

NBA free agency begins Thursday at 3 p.m. and Phoenix Suns restricted free agent Deandre Ayton is the big fish at center.

ESPN basketball analyst Bobby Marks devised a list of projected salary ranges each free agent will fall in, and no big man comes close to the 2018 No. 1 pick.

Marks has Ayton making $31 million annually, a max contract for players with 0-6 years of service.

No other center is projected to make more than $12-14 million per year with Bobby Portis, Mitchell Robinson and Jusuf Nurkic behind Ayton.

Guards Bradley Beal, Zach Lavine and James Harden are the only free agents Marks has commanding a higher price.

Either the former No. 1 pick will join an exclusive club of centers (Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert and Bam Adebayo) who are currently on max contracts, or the two sides’ failure to reach an agreement on an extension last October will continue.

The offseason now presents the question of whether Phoenix now views Ayton as a $179 million player (or perhaps $138 million with one fewer year) after another strong season. If they do, he will be in a Suns uniform for the foreseeable future.

Ayton’s $31 million would be the second-highest annual salary on the Suns’ books after Devin Booker ($33.79 million in 2022-23) and ahead of Chris Paul ($28.4 million in 2022-23).

The former Arizona Wildcat does not have the accolades of Jokic, Towns, Embiid, Gobert or Adebayo without an All-Star selection or All-NBA honor. But, he was integral to Phoenix’s NBA Finals run in 2020-21 and averaged a double-double for the Suns for the fourth straight season last year.

The Suns can offer him a five-year max contract while other teams can only give him four.

Other options include exploring a sign-and-trade or matching an offer sheet made by another organization.

Phoenix has no centers under contract for next season.

Marks projects Ayton’s backups JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo will both make salaries between $4-6 million.

Phoenix’s other free agents include guards Elfrid Payton, Aaron Holiday and Ish Wainwright.

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