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Suns' Deandre Ayton 'disappointed' about failed contract talks over rookie max extension

Duane Rankin
Arizona Republic

Deandre Ayton got perhaps the loudest cheer of the Suns individual pregame intros before opening the 2021-22 season Wednesday night at Footprint Center. 

That had to feel good.

"To be honest, I can't believe we're already back," Ayton said. "Just hearing the fans and everybody, it felt like we never left to be honest. They're ready for us to put on a show and the season is up. We've got to get things going and rolling." 

Ayton was a little more than 48 hours removed from talks between his representatives and the Suns ending without him receiving a desired five-year, rookie max extension for $172 million, or any extension at all.

Talk swirled about him being a possible distraction. Much was made of him wearing Elfrid Payton's practice jersey Monday that could be interpreted as "Pay Ayton." 

Then Ayton came out and hit his first four shots of the first half of a 15-point, six-rebound night that ended in Phoenix losing, 110-98, to the Denver Nuggets.

That didn't feel good.

"Ball stopped moving," Ayton said after the game. "I'd say a little fatigue kicked in as well, but definitely the ball stopped moving and turnovers as well."

The 6-11 center then addressed his feelings about not receiving an extension. He was the No. 1 overall draft pick by Phoenix in 2018, and all first rounders from that draft year were eligible for rookie extensions this year. The deadline for those deals was 3 p.m. Monday Arizona time.

Oct 20, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) dunks the ball over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) at Footprint Center.

Ayton will be a restricted free agent at season's end. Any team can make him an offer, but the Suns can match it. 

"One thing about me, throughout my whole life, I've always learned to control what I can control," Ayton said. "At the same time, obviously I'm disappointed, but I'm still trying to get us back to the finals. I've still got to represent the team and myself as well. I'm just a competitor, man. Just like to compete to the best and every time I'm in between those lines, that's what you're going to see out of me. Nothing else."

There seems to be confusion about whether a three-year or four-year max extension was offered to Ayton. 

Suns General Manager James Jones said in an interview with The Athletic that "we didn't have real negotiations" with Ayton's representative, but Ayton's agents, Bill Duffy and Nima Namakian, said the Suns didn't offer any kind of max deal, even informally.

In response, Jones, last season's NBA executive of the year, said, "They know that a three or four-year max was not an (acceptable) option for them."

In further addressing the three-year, or four-year option question, Jones said, "They talk about us having discussions on a three-year, four-year max (deals). Those are real."

Ayton would've filled the second allotted rookie max extension an NBA team can have. Devin Booker has the first.  

Oct 20, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) during the pregame shoot-around before playing the Denver Nuggets at Footprint Center.

Mystery aside, Ayton talked about still having to do his job. When asked how he will stay focused despite not getting the deal he wanted, Ayton made reference to his past to explain how he'll handle this situation.

"If you've been following me for a long time, I've always hit the rock bottom," Ayton said. "It's always something up with me, but for me, to be honest, I played to the best of my ability when my back is against the wall. I know the true meaning of professionalism and when I'm between them lines, nothing else matters." 

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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