All eyes are upon the Phoenix Suns as they await the arrival of 13-time All Star Kevin Durant. He could potentially be playing this Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the nation will tune in to watch as the game has been moved from Bally Sports Arizona to ESPN.
While everyone is focused on Durant’s arrival, the Suns could be receiving a vital rotational cog back for that game as well. Cameron Payne, as reported by Arizona Sports’ Kellan Olson, could return from his foot injury as early as Friday against the Thunder.
Payne has been like that kid in third grade who used to drink all the chocolate milk…you never know what happened to him. You hope things turned out well from him, but he moved away never to be heard from again. The story zags here, however, as Payne will be heard from again.
CP15 was having a solid season, averaging 12.1 points and 5.3 assists, both career highs, prior to his injury. He started 14 of his 24 games as Chris Paul has missed time with injuries of his own. Payne averaged 15.1 points and 7.3 assists in his starts.
Payne was coming off of a subpar season, hampered mightily by lower extremity injuries. When your greatest attributes are your speed and quickness, having hamstring and ankle issues will cause lingering effects throughout the season.
This year he was playing well and then, mysteriously, he was gone. His left foot/heel became injured, and there wasn’t much fanfare about it. We last saw him play on January 4, although he had missed 9 games before that after injuring his foot on December 13 against the Rockets.
He was spotted in a walking boot and there has been no timetable for return since.
“It’s been tough,” Payne said of the injury process. “I probably say toughest part just coming into the gym every day watching the guys play especially when I wanna play so bad. It’s just been kind of tough, man. I’m ready to play.”
The backup point guard position is key for Phoenix. As the postseason approaches, it is imperative that Cameron Payne is part of Monty Williams’ rotation. We’ve seen it the past two seasons: due to the NBA’s scheduling of playing every other night, coupled with his age, Chris Paul breaks down. Someone must shoulder the point guard minutes effectively.
Cameron Payne must be that guy.
We witnessed him do it in the 2021 postseason run for the Suns, where he averaged 9.3 points and 2.1 assists as Phoenix marched to the NBA Finals. He spelled CP3 for two games as the Point God was out with COVID. His fighting spirit and energy were critical to the Suns’ success during that postseason run.
That was peak Payne.
He is now returning from another lower extremity injury and has 22 games to work himself back into shape. He must avoid further injury and solidify the minute behind Chris Paul in the rotation.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, James Jones will do in the buyout market. There aren’t very many capable point guards available. Russell Westbrook went off the market Monday morning as the Los Angeles Clippers signed him.
After finalizing a contract buyout with the Utah Jazz, nine-time All-Star guard Russell Westbrook plans to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, his agent Jeff Schwartz of @excelbasketball tells ESPN. pic.twitter.com/OjZ0Mkuz5x— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 20, 2023
Questions still remain. Will Champ fortify his 15th roster spot with another capable distributor behind Chris Paul? Is Saben Lee the answer for the backup-to-the-backup point guard position? Will Monty rely on Point Book more than ever seeing as he has another lethal scoring threat in Kevin Durant? Or is Jones putting all of his eggs in the Payne basket?
Regardless of the impending Jones decision, it will be nice to have CP15 back. Not only does he add depth, he adds scoring and energy to the bench unit. His return marks another step towards a healthy Phoenix Suns squad that is hoping to peak at the right time of the season. The playoffs.