Deandre Ayton 'a Big Part of' Suns Ahead of 2022 NBA Free Agency, Says James Jones

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVJune 24, 2022

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 15: Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns shoots a free throw against the Dallas Mavericks during Game 7 of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals on May 15, 2022 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

It has seemed at times this offseason that the Phoenix Suns and Deandre Ayton are headed for a split with the big man due for restricted free agency, but that may not be the case.

"DA remains a big part of what we do and he's a free agent, so we'll talk about free agency when the time comes," general manager James Jones said, per Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports.

That comment stands in stark contrast to some of the reports this offseason, including one from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski on Wednesday.

"I think they're very motivated to find a sign-and-trade, get some assets back for him," Wojnarowski said of the Suns. "They do not value Deandre Ayton at a max contract."

The question of value has been at the heart of the Ayton discussions to this point, as Phoenix has yet to commit to a max deal for the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NBA draft. Previous negotiations failed to land the Arizona product a rookie max extension when the deadline passed in October.

Fellow notable members of his draft class, such as Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks), Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder), Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies) and Michael Porter Jr. (Denver Nuggets), all agreed to extensions.

Wojnarowski reported in May that "Ayton did not feel valued by this Phoenix organization."

His future seemed even more in doubt when he played a mere 17 minutes in the Suns' Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in their second-round playoff series.

However, Jones' comments suggest the Suns still see him as a key part of a team that could be a championship contender once again in 2022-23, with Chris Paul and Devin Booker as the main pieces. If that is the case, they could match any offers Ayton receives this offseason.

Such offers will surely come considering he is just 23 years old and averaged a double-double of 17.2 points and 10.2 boards a night while shooting 63.4 percent from the field in 2021-22. How much value Phoenix places on those numbers will likely determine the big man's future this offseason.