With the Suns set to tip off their season on Wednesday, they'll do so without their rising-star center under a long-term deal after talks fizzled on a contract extension ahead of Monday's deadline to get one done. Now a public relations blame-game worthy of U.S. Congress is underway, with Suns general manager James Jones firing a shot at Ayton's team on Tuesday.
Jones spoke with The Athletic's Sam Amick for an interview published Tuesday afternoon. In it, he chided Ayton's representatives for their negotiating tactics — or lack thereof if you let Jones tell it.
'We didn't have real negotiations'
Jones, per The Athletic:
"We didn’t have real negotiations," Jones said. "You talk about conversations (with Ayton’s representatives, Bill Duffy and Nima ) — it was five-year, max extension like the other peers, the other former No. 1 picks, and that’s where the conversation started and ended.
"Anything less than a five-year max wasn’t something to be considered — not something to talk about. It’s evident. They talk about us having discussions on a three-year, four-year max (deals). Those are real."
What Ayton wants — and his classmates got
The max extension refers to the five-year deals valued between $172 million and $207 million (based on escalators) some of Ayton's 2018 rookie classmates signed. Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr. and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all signed max deals. Ayton's All-Star teammate Devin Booker signed a comparable deal with the Suns when he was eligible.
Ayton, the No. 1 pick in his draft and a centerpiece of Phoenix's run to the Finals, believes he deserved one too. ESPN reported on Monday that his representatives stood firm on that desire as the Suns countered with discussions on three- and four-year max extensions. James basically confirmed that report on Tuesday.
Is team owner Robert Sarver to be blamed?
Critics of the failed deal have cast blame on team owner Robert Sarver as unwilling to spend, even as the Suns have built a young contending core. Per The Athletic, the Suns haven't paid the NBA's luxury tax since 2010. The luxury tax charges teams for every dollar they spend over a salary cap threshold — a threshold Sarver's teams are regularly unwilling to broach. Jones countered that the Suns are going to pay it this year.
"We’re gonna pay it," Jones said. 'I can tell you, if you look at our roster now, all of the moves we’ve made — from Chris, Mikal, Cam Payne, Landry. 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."
The lack of a deal doesn't preclude Ayton from joining Phoenix's quest for a championship this year, of course. He's scheduled to suit up against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday with the rest of his teammates. He'll just do so with a year remaining on his rookie deal, under the pall that his long-term future in Phoenix isn't secure.
Without the extension, Ayton will enter next offseason as a restricted free agent. The Suns will have matching rights on any long-term deals offered by other franchises. Or Ayton could simply decide to sign a one-year qualifying offer that allows him to become an unrestricted free agent in 2023.
They're worries that will linger throughout the season that could have been negated with a long-term extension. For now, both sides are left with the option to blame each other and hope for the best next offseason.