'Give this kid what he wants': Shaquille O'Neal in favor of Phoenix Suns keeping Deandre Ayton

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Chris Paul just finished his 17th NBA season at age 37.

Devin Booker an All-NBA nod away from being eligible for four-year supermax deal for $211 million.

Mikal Bridges has become one of the NBA’s top defenders while Cam Johnson could start for several teams, but shines as the Phoenix Suns’ sixth man.

Then there’s Deandre Ayton.

The talented 23-year-old big man has averaged a double-double in each of his four NBA seasons – and someone Shaquille O’Neal said the Suns should give "what he wants” this summer.

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton celebrates during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, in Minneapolis.
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton celebrates during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, in Minneapolis.

“Had a great year, just one of those nights,” said O’Neal as Ayton finished in Sunday’s Game 7 against Dallas with a career playoff-low five points on 2-of-5 shooting.

“Phoenix had a great year, just one of those nights. This is a classy organization. This is a classy team. Can’t say bad things about them. They played hard. Again, even great players have one of those nights.”

O’Neal, and fellow TNT NBA analysts Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley discussed Ayton’s future with the Suns after the top overall seed was eliminated by the Dallas Mavericks in Sunday’s Game 7 in Phoenix.

“You’ve got to re-sign Ayton,” Barkley said.

May 8, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber (42) guards Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) during the second quarter during game four of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Center.
May 8, 2022; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber (42) guards Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) during the second quarter during game four of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Center.

O’Neal said Ayton handled not getting a rookie max extension for five years, $172 million heading into the 2021-22 season “the right way.”

The Suns and Ayton’s representatives failed to agree on any kind of rookie extension.

“The kid did it the respectful way,” O’Neal said. “Me, I’m different. OK, you’re not going to play me? Alright, don’t worry about it. He didn’t complain. He made one statement about it and he played and he played his tail off. Played like a true big man. Give that kid what he wants. You’ve got other people signed for four (years), $270 (million), they don’t deserve it. Give this kid what he wants.”

Ayton is a restricted free agent, means Phoenix can match any offer from another team, but the Suns could also do a sign-and-trade with their big man and address perimeter needs in return.

“If I’m a Western Conference president of a team, the first thing I’m doing is trying to figure out how to sign (Ayton) cause not only does he make your team better, he takes one team away,’ Smith said. “If we’re able to get him away from Phoenix, and we’re in the West, now they become worse and we become better. He is the difference to me in what makes them another contender next year between he and (Devin Booker). They have the inside, outside punch and Chris Paul manages it.”

Booker led the Suns in scoring with a career-best 26.8 points a game this season, but Ayton was the team's second-leading scorer at 17.1 points on a career-best 63.4% shooting from the field.

“Nope, nope it’s not your time Devin anymore, now it’s Deandre’s time,” Smith continued. “That free agent signing is going to be huge or lack of.”

Barkley later said the Suns should bring back backup big JaVale McGee, who joined Phoenix on a one-year deal for $5 million going into this season.

Apr 24, 2022; New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.;  Phoenix Suns centers Deandre Ayton (left) and JaVale McGee warm up for Game 4 of the Western Conference playoffs against the New Orleans Pelicans.
Apr 24, 2022; New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.; Phoenix Suns centers Deandre Ayton (left) and JaVale McGee warm up for Game 4 of the Western Conference playoffs against the New Orleans Pelicans.

McGee averaged 9.2 points on 62.9% shooting and 6.7 rebounds in his first season with the Suns.

“(McGee) played well, he was a great addition to the team, but it all hinges on Deandre Ayton,” Barkley said. “It’s him and Booker. They are the guys going forward. Chris is going to be 38 (years old). He’s going to get the ball to the right person, but it’s time for Booker and Ayton. You can’t have a bad game like they did. Chris, he had a tough night, but Ayton and Booker, they’ve got to play well."

Booker scored just 11 points on 3-of-14 shooting as he missed his first nine shots from the field while Paul only managed 10 points.

“You can never be the reason your team lose if you’re a star,” Barkley added.

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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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix Suns must 're-sign' Deandre Ayton, says Charles Barkley