For Suns backup point guard Cam Payne, it’s been a difficult journey to the NBA Finals. Payne was a first-round pick of the Oklahoma City Thunder back in 2015 out of Murray State. During his time with OKC, Payne struggled with injuries and was eventually traded to the Chicago Bulls.
The 26-year-old Payne again struggled with injuries with the Bulls. After two and half seasons with the Bulls, Payne was waived by Chicago. He would bounce around the NBA and be out of the league in 2019.
The five-year veteran eventually went to China and the G League.
“Everybody in my family, they’ve seen me play,’ Payne said during media availability on Monday. “They always want to see me play. So, for me, it kind of hurt to go back home, and everybody ask you, what you doing? Who you playing with next year? It would be questions like that, that kind of — you’re like, man, I ain’t really trying to answer that question. Obviously, I’m trying to work out. Obviously, I’m trying to make a team. So, it’s a lot of things that come with working hard, and those are one of the pillars for me, people asking what you’re doing, who you going to play with next year, little things like that always in the back of my head when I’m working out because I never want to be back at the bottom, going to China and stuff like that. It’s just built me a little different coming in on this next go-round. So just keep my head down, keep working, do it for the name on the back of my jersey and keep my head up. That’s about it.”
Ultimately, Payne got another shot. On June 30, 2020, Payne was signed by the Suns as they entered the bubble in Orlando. Phoenix went 8-0 in the bubble, and Payne was solid, averaging 10.9 points and 3.0 assists per game. This season, Payne was solid, but his real impact came in the playoffs, more specifically, the Western Conference finals.
Without Chris Paul(health & safety protocols) in Games 1 and 2 against the Clippers, Payne came up big. He was steady in Phoenix’s Game 1 win and broke out in Game 2. Payne had a career-high(playoff or regular season) 29 points to go along with nine assists and helped the Suns take a 2-0 series against the Clippers. Phoenix may not have defeated Los Angeles without the contributions of Payne.
6/30/2020: Payne signed by the Suns
6/30/2021: Suns defeat Clippers to advance to the NBA Finals.
According to Payne, being in the NBA Finals is totally unexpected.
“To be honest, when I first signed, I just wanted to be able to get some time in the bubble and try to make someone’s roster next — this season, basically,” he said. “I had a pretty good bubble run. I didn’t think all this was going to come about, us making it to the Finals. I kind of feel like we were going to be able to make the playoffs, but here? No, not even a little bit. It’s a crazy roller coaster this thing here. Life’s crazy. So I just put the work in, put the time in, prayed on it, everything, and I’m just going to keep on doing the same thing, and hopefully, we can come in on top.”
No one expected this from the Suns and Payne, but for him to be at this moment, at this point, is a testament to hard work and dedication. Now, he’s four wins away from an NBA title. What a difference a year makes.