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Isaiah Canaan is back and ready to fight for his job

Phoenix Suns point guard Isaiah Canaan is healthy and ready to compete.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After the Suns’ preseason game on Friday, Devin Booker called across the locker room to congratulate teammate Isaiah Canaan on his first game back after his gruesome injury. Booker told Canaan he’s going crazy with his own four-week recovery and can’t imagine having to rehab for nine months like “Sip” did.

Canaan just looked at Booker for a moment and shook his head, saying “phew” a couple times.

“It’s a blessing,” he said to the media when the cameras came on.

Isaiah Canaan suffered a horrific ankle fracture in a Jan. 31 game between the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks, ending his season and potentially, it seemed then, his NBA career — just as it was about to rekindle with fresh hope in Phoenix.

The four-year NBA veteran was living on non-guaranteed contracts after originally being taken by the Houston Rockets with the pick the Suns traded for Marcus Morris, 34th overall in 2012.

Canaan spent two years with Houston before before traded along with the pick that became Richaun Holmes to the Sixers for K.J. McDaniels. Canaan was later released by the Sixers and signed by the Bulls. He played in 39 games for the Bulls and was released a year later.

Last year, he got a preseason deal with the Thunder, then a cup of coffee with the Rockets (playing only one game) before finding himself out of work.

A month later, the Suns came calling. They wanted him in the mix for their point guard spot.

Canaan provided a level of point guardiness the Suns needed: Someone who would fight through screens on defense and keep the Jenga tower from falling down on offense.

His first two games in Phoenix last December were storybook:

  • Game 1: 15 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds with a whopping plus-19 on the scoreboard in a two-point win over Minnesota
  • Game 2: 17 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals with a whopping plus-26 on the scoreboard in a six-point win over Dallas

A star is born!

Or, at least, a competent lead guard better than anything else the Suns had. Canaan was a big contributor off the bench in 20 of the next 23 games — earning himself a contract guarantee for the rest of the season along the way — until horrifically breaking his leg four minutes into the Jan. 31 game.

The 21-61 Suns were 8-11 with Canaan in the lineup, including 6-3 in his first nine games with the club, despite missing Devin Booker in five of them. The wins were against Minnesota, Dallas, Memphis (twice), Sacramento and Atlanta. Not good teams (except Minny) for sure, but wins are wins.

Canaan’s return on Friday night was less spectacular (11 points, 3 assists and 1 rebound), but just getting on the court was the important thing.

“There’s a lot of emotions,” he said. “I could barely sleep last night, just knowing that I was going to have a chance to play again.”

He ended up playing 32 minutes and loved every minute of it.

“I give credit to this organization, to this training staff,” Canaan said. “They did an unbelievable job getting me back, not only on my feet but back to competing at a high level. I’m just very thankful.”

He didn’t like how he played. There’s a lot of work to do to get his game back to a level he’ll be happy with, but he’s glad the preseason can help him over that hump before the games matter.

Canaan’s contract is non-guaranteed, just as Shaquille Harrison’s is. It’s very unlikely that both make the team, with rookies De’Anthony Melton and Elie Okobo both guaranteed for at least two seasons.

Canaan is a better playmaker, though his 3.8 assist average per game last year for the Suns was a career high, while Harrison is a better defender. Neither can shoot the ball, but Canaan can make at least 33% of his threes, which would be huge for the Suns’ spacing.

Who knows if the Suns will acquire a point guard before opening night.

But if no deal materializes, Canaan is just another to throw his hat in the ring for a chance to lead the team.

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