The Epic Turnaround of the Phoenix Suns (7/4/21)

Cameron Payne writes his own NBA reclamation story - Bright Side Of The Sun

Just four years ago, in the 2017-18 season, the Phoenix Suns were awful. They were last in the league in offensive and defensive ratings. Young star Devin Booker was playing for a team where his second best player was T.J. Warren (pre-bubble, of course). Their recent lottery picks, Dragan Bender and Josh Jackson, weren’t performing like they should have. They finished with a record of 21-61. 

In the 2018 offseason, two major things happened for the Suns. GM Ryan McDonough drafted Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges. He was also fired and replaced by James Jones. 

James Jones made the trade to acquire Kelly Oubre early in that season. Oubre is an important piece in the Suns story. 

The Suns finished with a 19-63 record in the 2018-19 season. That’s worse than the previous season, but the core was now there. Book, Ayton, Oubre, Bridges, and Warren. 

The 2019 offseason was big for Phoenix. It started off with the T.J. Warren trade, which was a weird one because all they got in return was some second round picks. Cam Johnson was drafted, and many people considered him a bad pick. Selecting a guy who was already 23 years old in the lottery seemed crazy. 

Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, and two seconds were traded for Jevon Carter (which in hindsight is a kind of a bad trade. Jevon is solid, but Melton is better, and so is Josh. It’s the only “bad” trade that James Jones did). 

2019 free agency for the Suns was headlined by the resigning of Kelly Oubre, and the arrival of Ricky Rubio. Those signings were made possible by the T.J. Warren deal, which cleared up money (the trade didn’t look as bad after free agency). 

Monty Williams was hired this offseason, who has proven to be an excellent coach. 

The 2019-20 season was a turning point for the Suns. They became the Valley Boyz, a name coined by Kelly Oubre. Fueled by strong play from Book, Oubre, Ayton, Rubio, Bridges, and Cam Johnson, the Suns were in the playoff hunt. Then, COVID hit and the NBA shut down. When the bubble was announced, Phoenix’s record was good enough to send them to Orlando. Unfortunately, Oubre had gone down with a knee injury and would miss the bubble. 

When the bubble was announced, the NBA allowed teams to sign free agents and fill out their rosters. This is my favorite part of the Suns story. They were on the brink of the playoffs. Usually, teams fighting for a playoff spot want veterans to fill out their roster. Guys like Gerald Green, Iman Shumpert, and Boogie Cousins were available for the Suns. 

Instead, Phoenix picked up Cameron Payne.

Cam Payne was picked at the end of the lottery in 2015. For the first few years of his career, he wasn’t good. In fact, in 2017 a Chicago Bulls coach said Cam could not play at an NBA level. 

So, if Cam wasn’t an NBA player, why would James Jones sign him? Well, I don’t know, but he clearly saw something that nobody else did.

The 2020 NBA Bubble is where the Suns got over the hump. 

First came a win against the Wizards. Nothing special, Bradley Beal didn’t play.

Then came a two point win against the Mavericks. That was a big win, because Luka had 40 that game and Porzingis had 30. 

After that was the defining win against the Clippers, where Book hit the game winner. That was a big one, because the Clippers were title contenders. 

Next came four more wins. One against Indiana and bubble god and former Sun T.J. Warren. One against the Eastern Conference champion Heat. One in a 27 point blowout against the Thunder. The final was against Philadelphia. 

The Phoenix Suns were now 7-0 in the bubble, the last undefeated team. Their final game was a rematch against the Dallas Mavericks. Could they win, and complete the undefeated run? Yup. They overcame a 18 point and 20 rebound game from Boban Marjanovic and took a 26 point win. 

They had done it. They finished 8-0. Booker was awesome. Ayton, Bridges, Rubio, and Johnson all did their thing. Dario Saric and Jevon Carter were solid. But, most importantly, Cameron Payne played great. That’s right, the guy who wasn’t supposed to be an NBA level player averaged 11 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists while shooting a sizzling 52% from three in 8 wins for the Suns. 

Unfortunately, the 8-0 surge was not enough to land Phoenix in the playoffs. But, the Suns now knew that they were capable of big things. 

That’s why they traded for Christopher Emmanuel Paul.

That was a crazy trade, too. Chris showed what he brought to a team when he led the Thunder to the playoffs in 2020. He was obviously a top point guard. Despite his age, you would expect a large return. 

Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre, and only one first round pick (Ty Jerome as well) isn’t exactly a large return (of course, Sam Presti turned that return into a lot more, but I can’t talk about that in this article). It was tough to see Kelly Oubre go, because he was a significant part of creating the winning culture in Phoenix. OKC had to get something valuable in return for Chris, so I guess he had to go (that’s a joke, Ricky Rubio is a solid player). 

The Chris Paul trade was made possible by the T.J. Warren deal back in 2019. If he wasn’t traded, the Suns wouldn’t have been able to acquire Ricky Rubio and resign Kelly Oubre. 

The 2020 free agency class was solid for Phoenix. Jae Crowder was the headliner. Crowder is a winning player. He’s the perfect guy to have on your roster if you’re looking to contend. Dario Saric, who’s become a solid stretch center, returned. Jevon Carter, the scrappy backup guard also came back. Langston Galloway and E’Twaun Moore were signed. Frank Kaminsky returned, which I think was a funny thing because Phoenix waived him, he signed with Sacramento and was waived, and then Phoenix brought him back afterwards

The final piece of this roster, Torrey Craig, was acquired at the trade deadline for practically nothing. I dislike that the Bucks did this deal, because I was really excited when they signed him in the 2020 offseason. It is what it is, I guess. 

So, with a roster led by Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Jae Crowder, everybody knew the Suns were gonna be good. And they obviously are. This story is just so crazy because of how Phoenix went straight from missing the playoffs to the Finals.

So, shoutout to James Jones, who’s one of the best GMs in the NBA. Shoutout Monty Williams, who’s awesome at his job. Shoutout to Devin Booker, who’s been continuously great throughout his whole career. Shoutout Chris Paul, the ultimate point guard and leader who really pushed Phoenix over the top. Shoutout Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, who are both really great young guys with bright futures. Shoutout Cameron Payne, who’s success story is one of the best. Shoutout Frank Kamisnky. Shoutout Kelly Oubre, the man who created Valley Boyz. Shoutout T.J. Warren, the guy who was sacrificed to make the Chris Paul trade happen (indirectly, of course). Shoutout Josh Jackson, who’s kinda reviving his career. Shoutout Dragan Bender because he’s a former Buck.

I really love the Suns roster, and I hate that I have to root against them now. 

So, that’s the story of the Phoenix Suns. Did you enjoy reading it? I hope so, I took time out of my vacation to write it (just kidding, I’m writing this at 9 o’clock so I’m not doing anything better). 

See you next time!

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