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Examining the kind of extensions Ayton and Bridges could get

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The Phoenix Suns have some decisions to make on young players

2021 NBA Finals - Practice and Media Availability Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns have had a good offseason but not a great offseason. Yet.

A full three weeks into free agency, the Suns have imported backups Landry Shamet, Elfrid Payton and JaVale McGee while bringing back starter Chris Paul and backups Cameron Payne, Frank Kaminsky and Abdel Nader with new contracts. This team is the definition of continuity: all five starters and five of the top six reserves are back from the team that just won the Western Conference.

But.... they still have some contract negotiating to do to keep the starting unit together beyond next season.

Both Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges are eligible for contract extensions that would kick in a year from now. About 5-10 players in each first round are good enough in their first three years to get a long-term big-money extension a year ahead of restricted free agency. Teams often negotiate in good faith a year early with their best young players to keep them in the fold rather than take a chance of losing them in restricted free agency, and the Suns are no different.

Rookie-scale extensions for former first-round picks in the past two years: 8 in 2019 and 10 in 2020.

So far this summer, with just over weeks to go until training camp, the count is four:

  • Luka Doncic (Mavericks): Five years, 30% SUPERMAX salary, $207 million
  • Trae Young (Hawks): Five years, 25% maximum salary, at least $172 million (can increase to 30% if Young earns All-NBA in 2022)
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Thunder): Five years, 25% maximum salary, at least $172 million (can increase to 30% if Young earns All-NBA in 2022)
  • Robert Williams (Celtics): Four years, $54 million (pending signature)

The easy rookie scale extensions are done early in free agency, where the team is simply handing over the most it can offer to a young stud. Three years ago, the Suns handed Devin Booker a max extension just a week into free agency, just like the Hawks and Thunder did for Trae and SGA. Luka Doncic was given the rare supermax, allowed only to those two have already made All-NBA in their first three years. Robert Williams is the rare case of less-than-max extension done this early.

At least another half dozen extensions will be done with the vaunted 2018 Draft class, possibly resulting in the most ever year-early extensions from a single draft (10). Using Robert Williams (part-time starter) as a barometer, we could see more than dozen year-early extensions done before the summer is over.

All of Deandre Ayton (1st overall), Jaren Jackson Jr. (4th), Collin Sexton (8th), Mikal Bridges (10th), Michael Porter Jr. (14th) and Donte DiVincenzo (16th) are full-time starters for their teams, while Wendell Carter Jr. (7th), Miles Bridges (12th) and Landry Shamet (24th) have played at least 24 minutes per game in their careers as key role players.

That’s nine more right there. Three of whom play for the Phoenix Suns.

You can expect Shamet will be handled like Kelly Oubre Jr. was a couple years ago — no early extension, wait out the season and see what happens in restricted free agency.

Bridges and Ayton are another story. You risk frustrating them and making them disgruntled all next year if you don’t reach an amenable extension this summer. And considering they are two of your top four starters, you can’t do that.

Will Ayton get a max? Probably. Certainly, his ‘team’ of people will be holding out for the 25% number that’s already been given to Trae and SGA — five years, $172 million with escalators if he makes All-NBA. The Suns clearly don’t want to give him that yet or the deal would already be signed.

Maybe the Suns are pushing for a deal similar to what John Collins just got: five years, $125 million. Less than max, but still really high. Would Ayton accept that? Probably not. Collins himself had to fight for that, waiting until he finished year four.

Seth Partnow, who works for The Athletic these days, recently spent three years in the Bucks front office. He joined me on the Solar Panel this week, and had this to say about Ayton’s possible extension parameters.

“If Ayton ended up at the 25% max extension, I think that would be a touch high but not egregious in any way,” Partnow said. “Especially considering the cap is going to start rising again in the next two or three years.”

“And also from a Suns standpoint,” he continued. “Having locked Chris Paul in, and Devin Booker before, this is not a team that’s going to be looking at a ton of cap flexibility in the near future anyway. It’s only money, and this team works.”

Partnow went on to point out a huge advantage the Suns have already — they know these guys perform well in the playoffs, helping the team make the Finals in their first opportunity.

“You don’t always know that,” Partnow said. “Guys coming into their rookie extensions, not a lot of them have been starters on Finals teams.”

I also checked in with Bobby Marks, who works for ESPN and after previously making a career in the Nets front office, and he closely echoed Seth’s comments without any prompting. A ‘max’ is kinda teeny bit high for Ayton at this point, but given his proven playoff performance, his fast upward trajectory and the rising cap, Bobby would feel fine agreeing to a max extension with Ayton too.

As far as Bridges, Partnow also suggested a good Bridges number would fall into the low to mid 20s per year, given the same indicators used on Ayton: proven playoff value, upward trajectory and rising cap.

The Suns know what they’re getting in Bridges and Ayton, and those players’ agents know what they’re giving too.

Expect deals to get done. And hopefully with James Jones leading the negotiations, no bridges will have been burned along the way.

For historical reference, here are the year-early extensions given out in the past several years to rookies coming off their third NBA season.

2020

2019

2018

2017

  • Andrew Wiggins (Timberwolves): Five years, 25% maximum salary, $147 million
  • Joel Embiid (Sixers): Five years, 25% maximum salary, $147 million
  • Gary Harris (Nuggets): Four years, $74 million
  • T.J. Warren (Suns): Four years, $47 million

2016

2015

2014


What do you all think?