EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Former Suns F Ish Wainright returns ‘home’ in Phoenix after going to Blazers

Jan 1, 2024, 7:24 PM | Updated: 7:35 pm

Ish Wainright #23 of the Portland Trail Blazers reacts during the first quarter against the Dallas ...

Ish Wainright #23 of the Portland Trail Blazers reacts during the first quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at Moda Center on December 16, 2023 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Amanda Loman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Amanda Loman/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Ish Wainright only spent two seasons in Phoenix but you would have guessed his Suns tenure was for a decade after the amount of quick reunions he had across Footprint Center on Monday.

From owner Mat Ishbia to a video coordinator or that security guard he’d walk by every day, the Portland Trail Blazers forward Ish Wainright was unsurprisingly greeted quite positively by the fans when he got welcomed back.

Just like it was for The Twins, this was a very emotional night for Wainright. An undrafted player out of Baylor in 2017, Wainright spent four years working his way to the NBA. Phoenix was the team to give him a chance on a two-way contract and he became a terrific development story for the program.

He grew into a reliable, trustworthy option on the back-half of the bench. Whether it was injuries or something not flowing on a night Wainright initially wasn’t going to play, he took advantage of every opportunity across those two years.

His true value, however, came with the person he is in the locker room and the worker he is in the gym. He was a beloved teammate and how hard he played through that made it easy for everyone to latch onto him.

“Not just the players but the workers,” Wainright told Arizona Sports of the people he was seeing again on Monday, referencing fans and security workers by name. “Just seeing everybody, just seeing all the familiar faces I haven’t seen in a minute. Emotions is running.”

What did those connections mean to him?

“Everything. Literally everything,” he said. “From the ball boys to the workers to the fans. … to fans that travel not just from Phoenix but from like every other city. Just little things like that.”

The connection extended to the city itself.

“I still have things going on this summer in Phoenix,” he said. “Phoenix is home. I’m not gonna be like, ‘Oh, this is not home.’ No. Phoenix is home. My mom loves it here, my lady lives here, my family’s here too. I will be looking for a house eventually.”

Wainright, who was claimed by the Blazers off waivers in October after the Deandre Ayton trade created a Suns roster logjam, moves to a Portland team that is a seamless fit. Head coach Chauncey Billups is trying to establish the foundation of his basketball culture around the promising young talent of Ayton, Scoot Henderson, Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe.

It cannot be emphasized enough how much guys like Wainright matter in achieving that.

“Obviously he can play basketball,” Billups said. “He knows how to play. You put him in there, he’s always a plus guy. He’s vocal, he talks. But when you’re starting and trying to build something, you need guys like Ish that are gonna push your message.”

Billups confirmed players that go on journeys like Wainright’s to get to the league come with certain traits.

“They haven’t been given anything,” Billups said. “In fact, not only have they not been given anything, nobody ever thought they would be here. It comes with part of who they are. You have to do everything right. You have to be about the right things. No matter if you’re playing or not or you’re getting minutes or not, you still have to maintain and be the same person. You have to be positive, you gotta be a positive guy in that locker room. He’s that person. Period.”

Wainright had the unique perspective of entering the NBA and joining a top-tier team that was just coming off a Finals appearance. The 29-year-old gets to take everything he absorbed and put it toward making a long career out of this.

“I’ve been around elite players, Hall of Famers, even guys I’m about to play against right now,” Wainright said. “I learned from [Chris Paul], I learned from Jae Crowder, JaVale McGee — guys that have won championships. [Kevin Durant] and [Devin Booker] and all those guys. So I’m just taking whatever they taught me and installing it into the younger generation, the younger guys that’s on the team.”

Empire of the Suns

Kevin Durant faces a Thunder double-team...

Kevin Zimmerman

It’s on the Suns’ players to clean up their turnover rate

Kevin Durant, Jusuf Nurkic, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal all have their individual turnover problems to grapple with for the Phoenix Suns.

12 hours ago

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball against Grayson Allen #8 o...

Kellan Olson

Suns’ latest comeback flurry at home falls short vs. Thunder

You don't need to be a meteorologist to see a troubling forecast ahead for the Phoenix Suns.

22 hours ago

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)...

Kellan Olson

Amar’e Stoudemire’s long-awaited Suns night comes with Ring of Honor nod

There is a lot different about the Phoenix Suns franchise that Amar'e Stoudemire was a part of for the first eight years of his NBA career.

2 days ago

Devin Booker #1 (L) and Royce O'Neale #00 of the Phoenix Suns react after an apparent injury during...

Kellan Olson

Concerning Devin Booker injury overshadows Suns’ slow start, loss to Rockets

Every loss from here on for the Suns should come with the "hard-fought" qualifier in front of it given how close they are to a play-in fate.

2 days ago

Bradley Beal #3 of the Phoenix Suns adjusts his mask before the game against the Sacramento Kings a...

Kellan Olson

Bradley Beal in good spot for Suns return after caution with hamstring injury

It's hard to think of anyone in the NBA this season that would have wanted to rush back from an injury more than Suns guard Bradley Beal.

2 days ago

Devin Booker #1 and head coach Frank Vogel of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA ga...

Kellan Olson

Suns’ gauntlet of high-end opponents begins at stretch run of tight West race

Thirteen of the Phoenix Suns' remaining 23 games are against the best of the best in the NBA and will show us who they really are.

3 days ago

Former Suns F Ish Wainright returns ‘home’ in Phoenix after going to Blazers