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Suns are fumbling the bag amid Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges contract disputes

Deandre Ayton Mikal Bridges contract extension Suns Devin Booker

The Phoenix Suns made a magical run to the NBA Finals last season. Short of actually winning the whole damn thing, Suns fans couldn’t have asked for a better outcome to their season.

However, one wrinkle that resulted from their earlier-than-expected Finals run was the fact that it came before the contract extension period for their pair of 2018 NBA draft lottery picks – Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges.

The two third-year stars played championship-caliber basketball throughout the 22-game postseason span, helping propel the Suns to two wins away from raising the Larry O’Brien trophy.

In effect, they more than earned themselves a handsome payday in the process. But after the Suns handed Chris Paul his four-year, $120 million contract, the front office has gotten gun-shy to pull the trigger on deals for both Ayton and Bridges. The team has until Monday to lock in their studs before the deadline to do so passes.

Bridges was recently asked about where his head was at amid all the extension talks. There’s not a shred of doubt that the Villanova product wants to stay in Phoenix for the long haul.

Via Bright Side of the Sun:

“We’re humans obviously,” said the Suns forward. “I try not to think about it, but at the end of the day we’re human beings and when stuff like this comes up you can’t just push it to the side. Obviously, I want to be here,” Bridges said. “I love the city here. You can see it on my twitter I talk about it all the time. I might not like the Cardinals, but I love it here man.”

“We’re going to do what’s best for me,” he said of his agents and family. “We all know we want to be here. And it’s time. You know, I just sit there and just wait every day, and keep improving and don’t let it get to me. Just got to wait.”

While Bridges sounded more hopeful, Deandre Ayton on the other was not as cheery. The Suns big man expressed his frustrations with not getting a deal done despite anchoring the team’s defense during their spirited playoff run.

Ayton clearly wants to be rewarded just as his draft classmates like Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Michael Porter Jr. have been before him.

“I love Phoenix, but I’m really disappointed that we haven’t really gotten a deal done yet. I mean we were two games away from a championship, and I just wanted to be respected to be honest. Just be respected like my peers are being respected by their teams.”

There’s obviously a lot more nuance to these contract negotiations than it would seem at a glance. The Suns would absolutely lock up their youngsters in a heartbeat if it was just that easy.

But Ayton reportedly wants a max deal akin to the ones his aforementioned peers have gotten. While Deandre Ayton is still just 23 years old and showed flashes just months back of being a true difference in the paint, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that his body of work has been enough to warrant a nine-figure deal that pays him close to the figure other third-year stars have earned.

The same probably goes for Bridges, who could very well command a deal north of $20 million in annual salary based on the going rate for young players of his caliber.

That’s going to be a lot of cheddar for two players who don’t project to be All-Star next season. But while the team is understandably hesitant to cough up the money, they’d be downright foolish not to.

Phoenix Suns fans will be the first to tell you how badly they needed the success they had last season after nearly a decade of wandering the desert.

They got Chris Paul to stay and have Devin Booker locked down until 2024. The hard part is over. All they have to do now is make sure the two other core pieces will be there for the ride.

Yes, a max contract for Deandre Ayton would be quite an overpay compared to guys like Luka and Trae. But not all max deals are created equal. He’s still a young center who many pointed to as the prototypical big man in the modern game during his dominant playoff stretch.

The Suns also need to be cognizant of the fact that if Mikal Bridges doesn’t get the $80-90 million extension he’ll likely warrant, another team desperate for a dynamic wing prospect will offer it to him next offseason. If they give it to him now, they’ll avoid the headache of hearing about it constantly during the actual season.

The Phoenix Suns haven’t had this much to be excited about since Steve Nash was running pick-and-roll with Amar’e Stoudemire. When the stars align in Phoenix, money shouldn’t be what pushes them apart.