During this NBA hiatus, one silver lining could be that we get more insight into thoughts and feelings of professional athletes who are just as bored and desperate for social connection as we are.
In fact, NBA athletes have mostly been asked to stay at home since that fateful night Rudy Gobert tested positive. As far as we know, none of the Suns have been tested because no one has reported any symptoms of illness, but they are still holed up.
For Suns center/forward Frank Kaminsky, one of those avenues of release is to reprise his defunct podcast called “Pros and Joes.” On the episode entitled “We’re Back,” Kaminsky talks about all things injury, rehab and Suns.
Kaminsky hosts the podcast with long-time buddies from high school who still spend a ton of their time together, primarily brothers Dylan and Alex Flood.
The Suns big man has been out of commission since the new year because of a fractured kneecap. To hear him tell it now, he should have been out since before that.
“The last seven or eight of which (games), I was playing on one leg,” Kaminsky admits. “I wasn’t up front and honest with people about my injury. It hurt a lot worse than I was letting on.”
He says it started out in early December as a little pain under the kneecap, like a bit of tendinitis, so he thought it would go away with ice and taking care of it. But the pain did not go away, and in fact got worse.
Yet he still played through it, kept the extent of the pain from the trainers. He talks about prior seasons of playing the day after breaking his nose, playing through the flu, and various nicks and bruises.
Kaminsky was coming off the bench his last six games played in December, averaging 8.5 points (38% 3P shooting) and 3.3 rebounds in 14.9 minutes, after Deandre Ayton returned from suspension and injury. Before that he had been putting up 11.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in just under 25 minutes per game.
“I just like playing basketball,” he said. “If I feel like I am capable of going out there and playing at least somewhat of a role, I gonna do it. And, I did it. I shouldn’t have, but I did it. And you live with the decisions you make.”
Then he says there was a play against Golden State on Dec. 27, when the pain became unbearable.
“I had a back door, I caught the ball,” Frank says, “Then I went to go jump to dunk it and ended up laying it in because there was just such a bad shocking pain in my kneecap.”
He says the rest of that game he was basically running on one leg. He played only six minutes of the next game before shutting it down.
“After that game, agents and everyone was telling me to stop playing, but if you know anything about me I don’t like to stop playing. So I just told everyone I would stop... but I didn’t listen.”
He finally called it after the next game, and discovered the extent of the injury was much worse than he had thought.
“It was a pretty big stress fracture I guess,” he says. “I felt kind of irresponsible. Because who knows how I could have mitigated the waiting period to coming back. I definitely didn’t do myself any favors.”
Kaminsky has missed significant time waiting for the bone to grow back before he could resume basketball activities or even put any kind of stress on the knee. The fracture was so big that even 10 weeks later, he wasn’t quite there yet.
He reveals that he was 90 percent healed at his last evaluation, which came right before the NBA got shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic, putting his timeline about a month away from being back on a basketball court.
The NBA hiatus
Like everyone else in the world, Kaminsky talks a lot about the coronavirus scare on the podcast, how most people he knew were not taking it seriously, until suddenly everything was shut down. From “back-of-mind” to “entire world” in a matter of days.
He and cohost Dylan Flood, a former teammate in high school, discuss the various rumors about returning to basketball, but admittedly don’t know any more than the rest of us on that front. The arena is already under construction, so Kaminsky doesn’t even have a place to visit every day for workouts and treatment. His best option is to work out in his back yard with his housemates.
The positive they saw from all this, though, is that Kaminsky could be completely healthy by the time play resumes. He is excited about the prospect of returning to basketball this season, along with Kelly Oubre Jr. (meniscus), to try for any kind of playoff push they could muster.
“Might have to win all 10,” Kaminsky admits if it’s a shortened season when they return. But he didn’t discount the possibility entirely. “Which, who knows. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
This is where Kaminsky gets into his love for the Phoenix Suns.
“I’m starting to get more and more comfortable,” Kaminsky says. “I really do love it here. And I hope that one day this can be a place that I’ll be for a very long time. And I want to make it that so badly.”
But he knows he might not even make it to next season with the Suns, because they have a team option on next year and the chance to make a big splash in free agency if they renounce their rights to Kaminsky, Aron Baynes and Dario Saric.
John Hollinger thinks the Suns will decline the option.
“Who knows,” Kaminsky says. “How do I plan for anything?”
Between coronavirus and free agency, players simply don’t know what will happen the rest of this year.
“I don’t think we are gonna get answers for quite some time,” Kaminsky says. “I think it’s gonna be at least three months.”
Bottom line, he wants to be back with the Suns. He talks about how much more comfortable he feels with the Suns than how it developed and ended in Charlotte. He had asked the Hornets not to make him a qualifying offer a year ago so that he could move on. He says there’s stories he could tell about his time in Charlotte “but that doesn’t help anybody”. It was a great locker room there with Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams, and the guys. They made the playoffs his rookie year, and fell just short in his last year. But he wasn’t in their future, and he needed a new home.
And that home is now Phoenix.
“Just with Phoenix,” he says. “That’s the place.”
He jokes that Woj tweeted the Suns deal less than a minute after he had given the verbal okay over the phone to his agent. Less than a minute!
Even with all the injuries — “there were a lot of injuries” — and the suspension, where the Suns didn’t have their full lineup for even one game this season, Kaminsky sees the future here in Phoenix. He sees something building. He really think they are a playoff level team if they could just get healthy, and all play at the same time.
“Just the way I feel every day when I go into the arena,” he says. “I feel like our culture, our practices and everything, I feel like we’re building towards something.”
He points out that the team is still improving, given that he — at age 26 — is one of the oldest guys on the team and looked to by the younger guys for sage advice. It’s a new situation for him, after being one of the young guys for years in Charlotte.
“Just feels like I made the right decision,” he says. “And I hope that I get to stay here for a long time. Obviously a lot of that has to do with me and how I perform and, you know, what I do behind the scenes, how much effort I show. And obviously the outcome of the games.
“I definitely love it here, The vibe here. The people. This organization is great. Definitely building towards something. It feels good to be a part of something.”
He talks about the system in Phoenix, and how the coach is so relatable to the players.
“What I like about Phoenix is people are definitely buying into the system.”
He says there was no system in Charlotte most of the time. They’d get hot and go on winning streaks, but right when they faced adversity there was nothing to fall back on. When things change mid-season, there’s no practice time to figure it out. Players have to know what they’re supposed to be doing and all times, regardless of what’s swirling around them.
And that’s different now in Phoenix, with the Monty Williams-led coaching staff and the culture in the whole building with the training staff and front office.
He feels like he belongs in Phoenix. We’ll see sometime this summer/fall whether the Suns agree.
For sure, if James Jones has a roster-building style it’s that he wants the right people in his locker room. He wants people that buy into a system, treat the team like it’s their home, that know they are building something for the future. To hear Frank talk, you almost hear the same words that have been used by Jones and Williams for the past year.
I would not be surprised at all to see the Suns reject Kaminsky’s option but then re-sign him anyway with whatever is left of their salary cap after they’re done spending to improve the team.
Listen to the Pros and Joes podcast where ever you get your pods. They’ve recorded three episodes so far with many more to come.