Cam Payne ‘had to run it back’ with Suns, hopes to build on hustle identity

Aug 12, 2021, 10:44 AM
Phoenix Suns guard Cameron Payne, left, and Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann scuffle during ...

Phoenix Suns guard Cameron Payne, left, and Los Angeles Clippers guard Terance Mann scuffle during the first half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Finals Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Cam Payne knew he could chase a big payday in free agency.

In the end, there wasn’t much entertaining it.

Just more than a year after Payne debuted for Phoenix in the Disney bubble, the free agent point guard agreed to return to the Suns on a three-year deal reportedly worth $19 million.

“We had to run it back. I feel like we got a good team here, and I just, like, the relationships I built here as well,” he told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Thursday. “It was more about just where I was and just being comfortable here than about the money. I like hooping. It’s really not about the money for me.”

The Suns provided Payne comfort, continuity and the potential for winning more and improving. And in the end, they offered competitive money.

Did any other offers lead him to at least think about departing Phoenix?

“Nah, for real,” Payne said. “Obviously, it was out there. The opportunity was there. But personally, nah. I want to be a Valley boy.”

It was a good move, too. Aside from Suns teammate Chris Paul earning a massive four-year contract that pays out more than $30 million each year — the last two years are not fully guaranteed — the point guard market didn’t play out so well for others.

Los Angeles Clippers point guard Reggie Jackson, who like Payne boosted his stock with a deep playoff run, signed for two years and a reasonable $22 million.

Kemba Walker, a starting-caliber player when healthy, was waived by the Oklahoma City Thunder and reportedly inked by the New York Knicks on a two-year, $18 million contract.

The most telling sign of the market came with former Los Angeles Lakers starting point guard Dennis Schroder. He signed a one-year, $5.9 million deal to join the Boston Celtics after he turned down a mid-year extension worth up to $80 million, according to ESPN.

For Payne, who averaged 8.4 points and 3.6 assists per game last year, the desire to remain Paul’s backup and to play in a fitting system — that through the Suns’ playoff run emphasized its need for Payne’s skillset — stood out.

He felt that Phoenix taking a chance on him before the bubble, as his NBA dreams were on the edge, changed his life. Payne had played for three NBA teams, three G League clubs and for one team in China before landing back into the top league in the world.

“It got me back into the NBA. I feel like I gotta pay the favor back, even though I don’t have to,” he told Doug & Wolf. “Man, it changed my life. And it’s only right for me to just ride it out with Phoenix as well. Monty, a great coach, he been coaching me up this last year and in the bubble. I just love it, I love it out there. I just had to stay, I had to.”

“Just adding a couple more years, a three-year deal, I get to learn even more. I get to become a better player for my team.”

Suns general manager James Jones since the season ended suggested there’s room for the 27-year-old Payne to grow.

Payne sees that, too.

He wants to add a more diverse skillset while finishing at the rim — dunking is first on the list, he said — after proving his first step could get him there with regularity. Payne also wants to become more efficient with his time, better on defense and more capable of drawing fouls.

New contract in hand, he doesn’t fear that his play will stray away from using the pace-driven energy that revived his career starting in the bubble to end the 2019-20 season.

“It’s settled in my pocket but I’m not settled with my game,” he said. “I’m still trying to find ways to be better, I still got stuff to prove to owners and coaches. I still got stuff to prove. People keep saying it’s not enough, it’s a small sample size, it’s not enough.

“I still got that chip on my shoulder to build my resume even more ’cause I just want to show people I still belong here. … That hustle guy is still gonna be here.”

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