The San Antonio Spurs may just be in the best financial shape of every NBA team next season, and they wouldn't be afraid to use it for a rescue mission.
"We were two wins away from winning a championship and I just really want to be respected, to be honest," said Deandre Ayton while awaiting a rookie max extension. Well, the two sides never reached an agreement, and now Ayton will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
"Robert Sarver, who has a history of withholding financial commitment, is faced with a very unhappy Deandre Ayton," said Adrian Wojnarowski on Monday's NBA Today. Unfortunately for the Phoenix Suns, the decision not to extend his star center is far from the first time he's rubbed people the wrong way.
"Former players and Suns coaches recount incidents of Sarver baiting opponents from his courtside seat, and even heckling Suns players or roaring to the bench to yank someone from the game," said ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz in a column about the Suns' dysfunctional front office.
The San Antonio Spurs are certainly no strangers to Sarver's antics. After Coach Popovich decided to sit the Big Three in a showdown in Phoenix, he could be seen in the stands flapping his arms like a chicken as a gesture to the Spurs. Despite being severely shorthanded, San Antonio pushed Phoenix to the buzzer, only losing by six.
In 2014, Popovich again opted to rest his Big Three against Phoenix while Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills, and Tiago Splitter were all injured for the matchup. Sarver took to his arena's PA system before the game finished to apologize to the fans for it "not being the game they paid hard-earned money to watch."
Clearly not forgetting about Sarver's previous antics, Popovich responded to the situation. "The only thing that surprises me is that he didn't say it in a chicken suit," he told the media.
Robert Sarver is messing things up again
Locking down Mikal Bridges to a four-year, $90 million extension was a wise choice. Giving Landry Shamet $43 million over four years -- ok, every team needs shooting. But I think most people agree that Deandre Ayton is worth a rookie max deal. The guy averaged 15.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game in the playoffs at age 22 and was a big part of getting you to the NBA Finals.
Ayton has also averaged a double-double in each of his first three seasons and still has his entire career ahead of him. By not agreeing to a full, five-year contract, the Suns now risk Ayton signing an offer sheet that has an early termination clause, meaning those terms would then apply to Phoenix. Instead of five years, he'd be out in three.
Deandre also could decide to opt into his final year and become an unrestricted free agent the following season, meaning he could leave for nothing. That option is the least likely, though, since he'd have to take much less than his worth to do so.
As usual, it's probably a long shot that Ayton will want to go to San Antonio to continue his career, but there's no question they're one of the teams in the best position to make a bid for him. We all know what Project Spurs' Paul Garcia is hinting at here.
"Teams aren't going to have that cap space to come to Ayton at $30 million, said Brian Windhorst on his latest podcast. "It's limited," responded Bobby Marks. "You're looking at San Antonio, Orlando -- but they just signed Wendell Carter and have Mo Bamba."
While more teams will probably make moves to free up space for an Ayton pursuit, the best thing the Spurs can do to put themselves in the hunt is impress with their young core and potential. Will it likely lead to big-time immediate success? Probably not. But let's not forget the Suns hadn't made even made the postseason for 10 straight seasons before they put it all together last year.
You're bound to hear all kinds of things about the pursuit of Ayton all around the NBA heading into next offseason, but my appeal is beyond basketball. Go to an owner that will respect what you bring to the table and give you with what you deserve. The Spurs have a pretty decent history of taking care of their big men.