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.

Phoenix Suns

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns warms up before a game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena on...
Kellan Olson

Devin Booker’s lifelong dream of Nike signature shoe reportedly on horizon

Devin Booker's completion rate on his bucket list puts just about all of us to shame. A signature shoe with Nike is the next box to check.
15 hours ago
Phoenix Suns Forward Kevin Durant (35) and Phoenix Suns Guard Devin Booker (1) looks on during a NB...
Kellan Olson

What to watch in Kevin Durant’s return, closing stretch of the season

Wednesday is expected to bring the home debut of Kevin Durant and the resumption of the Phoenix Suns' incorporation process.
15 hours ago
Karl-Anthony Towns #32and Mike Conley #10 of the Minnesota Timberwolves react after Towns hit the g...
Kellan Olson

Timberwolves finally at full strength ahead of crucial matchup vs. Suns

The Phoenix Suns have a big-time game on Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have a few things coming together right now.
2 days ago
Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns reacts after scoring in the second half against the Chicago Bu...
Arizona Sports

Phoenix Suns list Kevin Durant as questionable vs. Timberwolves

The Phoenix Suns are listing Kevin Durant as questionable for Wednesday's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
2 days ago
Phoenix Suns' Chris Paul, right, gets congratulations from Kevin Durant, left, and Devin Booker, mi...
Kevin Zimmerman

Mess of the West: Suns’ tiebreakers come into focus with 7 games left

Kevin Durant's return against the Minnesota Timberwolves could help the Phoenix Suns lock up an NBA standings tiebreaker.
15 hours ago
Former NBA player Charles Barkley, center, watches West Virginia and Auburn from the sideline durin...
Arizona Sports

Charles Barkley dishes on Kevin Durant feud, CNN show plans

Charles Barkley talked about a potential new CNN show he could host with Gayle King, his feud with Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns.
2 days ago
ESPN’s Marks projects Suns RFA Deandre Ayton will receive max contract