• Mikal Bridges should hold out for a max deal, says Zach Harper of The Athletic
  • Harper believes that both Bridges and Ayton are max deal players because of next year's market
  • Locking up Bridges and Ayton will ensure that the Phoenix Suns remain competitive in the years to come

Zach Harper of The Athletic and Sirius XM radio spoke with SB Nation’s Dave King to talk about the looming contract extension of impending Phoenix Suns players, particularly Mikal Bridges.

Harper had no reservations whatsoever on center Deandre Ayton signing the max deal.

“You’re maxing out (Deandre) Ayton,” Harper said. “That’s just what the market’s gonna be. He goes to restricted free agency, he’s getting a max deal.

“You could say, if he signs an offer sheet and you match it, I got him at a lower max. But there’s something to the idea that you may have now upset him and his agent down the road.”

Harper was referring back to when the Utah Jazz allowed Gordon Hayward to test restricted free agency.

“Now if I’m (Mikal) Bridges and his agent, I’m saying ‘you have to keep us together. Max me out’,” said Harper.

“He could go somewhere and average 18-20 points per game relatively efficiently, and of the better defenders in the league on the wings.”

Bridges is still under his rookie-scale contract of four years, $17.6 million after the Suns traded for him on draft night back in 2018, but he is eligible to sign a max deal of five years, $173 million this season.

Should the Suns max out both Ayton and Bridges, then including Devin Booker, Jae Crowder and Chris Paul’s recently-signed deal, that gives the Suns a highly paid starting lineup after just one Finals appearance.

Suns owner Robert Sarver claimed in the past that his biggest regret was letting Joe Johnson walk to the Atlanta Hawks in the middle of the Seven Seconds or Less era.

“He was so good in college and he’s so good in the NBA,” Harper said. “You see what he does to people every single night. I feel like, with Bridges, it’s not ideal to pay a guy like that the max. I also think he could justify a max deal, in that first extension. I think he’s worth 25-30 million dollars.”

If Aaron Gordon was able to receive a four-year, $92 million deal with the Denver Nuggets this past season, then Suns fans are expecting around the same deal for Bridges, who emerged as an elite defender during the season and as a crunch-time scorer in the playoffs.

Keeping the core together has been Suns general manager James Jones’ philosophy this offseason after a surprising NBA Finals run that saw them fall two games short of winning the Larry O’Brien trophy.

Locking up their center and small forward of the future, the Suns can definitely build a yearly competitive team around the young core of Bridges, Ayton and Booker, with the hopes of winning a title.

Mikal Bridges Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots past Mikal Bridges #25 of the Phoenix Suns in Game Six at the 2021 NBA Finals at Fiserv Forum on July 20, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo: (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-Pool/Getty Images)