ESPN: 'A Thought Around' NBA Is Paying Centers Is a Mistake amid Deandre Ayton Rumors

Rob Goldberg@@TheRobGoldbergFeatured Columnist IVMay 29, 2022

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) looks away after being fouled during the first half of Game 7 of an NBA basketball Western Conference playoff semifinal against theDallas Mavericks, Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
AP Photo/Matt York

The Phoenix Suns didn't sign Deandre Ayton to an extension, which could end up being a trend around the NBA regarding centers.

ESPN's Brian Windhorst, Tim Bontemps and Tim McMahon provided a breakdown on The Hoop Collective:

"There is a thought around the league that paying centers in the modern NBA is a mistake," McMahon said (5:40). 

McMahon did acknowledge there are still exceptions with elite players, notably Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid after they finished first and second in MVP voting this past season.

Ayton, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, is a restricted free agent this offseason. 

Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer reported the Suns chose not to offer Ayton a five-year max extension last offseason that would have been worth over $170 million, and they "quietly gauged his trade value in February."

The center was then surprisingly benched down the stretch of the team's Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the playoffs.

It's been a surprising twist for a player who was the second-leading scorer on the NBA's best team during the regular season.

Ayton averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in 2021-22 and averaged a double-double in each of his four NBA seasons. 

Despite his impressive numbers, there are questions about his value on the roster. He ranked just fourth on the team in win shares (7.3) behind Chris Paul, Mikal Bridges and Devin Booker, per Basketball Reference. His 2.1 value over replacement player was the same as Cameron Johnson, who is also eligible for an extension this offseason. 

Even the most productive centers have struggled to lead their teams deep in the playoffs.

The four highest-paid players at the position in average salary—Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jokic and Embiid—have a combined one career appearance in the conference finals. 

Phoenix could decide to allocate its resources in other areas as it tries to bring home an NBA title for the first time in franchise history.