Cameron Payne has been the Energizer bunny for the Phoenix Suns over the last three seasons.

But in the last two postseasons, he hasn't provided the juice.

Payne, who signed a three-year, $19 million contract with the Suns after their run to the 2021 NBA Finals, has flatlined. He emerged due to his energy, patented finger-rolls and exceptional ability to energize the team without starting point guard Chris Paul for some playoff games.

The Suns needed all of it. Payne helped lead them to two wins in the 2021 Western Conference Finals. He had 29 points in Game 2 and carried the energy of the Suns crowd with him.

Payne is seemingly not that player anymore. To his credit, he worked through a back injury, had a playoff-best 31 points in the Suns' Game 6 loss to the Denver Nuggets these playoffs and had more in the tank in this postseason, he said.

He has not used it enough over the last two years earn a role beyond this playoff run.

Here is why the Suns might not fully guarantee Payne's $6,500,000 salary for the 2023-24 season.


Two years ago, Payne had the windows rolled down in his red Ferrari, driving through a few miles of Suns fans who lined up to greet the team after they won the 2021 Western Conference title.

Payne was a catalyst for that success. He exploited teams with his quickness and looked like a player the Suns could use to speed up the Milwaukee Bucks, who had defender Jrue Holiday and a potent offensive attack themselves.

That did not happen. Paul played through torn ligaments in his wrist to that point in the postseason, and he may have dealt with another injury as the Suns lost the series in six games.

Cameron Payne averaged 7.6 points in the Finals on 43.1 percent shooting. He was not the same, energetic player as the conference finals and the first round versus the Los Angeles Lakers.

Since then, Payne's theme has been the same. He has been good at times but not nearly enough to back up Paul, who is 38 years old with his best days behind him.

Lack of playoff success

To no fault of Payne's own, he returned for the 2023 NBA playoffs from a lower back injury suffered before the final weekend of the regular season. He is the Suns' only backup option at point guard, so Phoenix played Paul heavy minutes against the Clippers.

Payne was thrust into a bigger role in the Suns' Western Conference semifinal series against the Denver Nuggets. He did not score more than seven points in Games 3 through 5.

Cameron Payne then had a playoff career-high 31 points in the Suns' 125-100 loss to the Nuggets in Game 6. He told ClutchPoints after the game he wished he could have given more to Phoenix in the playoffs.

“Wish I would have played a lot better,” Payne said. “[In Game 6], I played alright. It just took a couple games for me. I just wish we were still playing to really show y'all I got a little bit more to me.”

New direction

The Suns fired coach Monty Williams after Game 6. They are currently in a coaching search in which they have three reported finalists: former Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel, former Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers and Williams' associate head coach from the last two seasons, Kevin Young.

Phoenix also has a new majority owner, Mat Ishbia, who is very aggressive. He traded four unprotected first-round picks, a pick swap in 2028 and forwards Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson for forward Kevin Durant in February.

The Suns did not win a championship this season and have limitations under the new CBA. Durant, guards Devin Booker and Chris Paul and center Deandre Ayton will take up over 90 percent of the team's salary cap for the upcoming season.

Phoenix is expected to make moves to build a team around Booker and Durant. Paul and Ayton could even be on the move, though TNT's Chris Haynes reported the Suns are expected to guarantee Paul's $30.8 million salary with the vision he will be their starting point guard to start next season.

Payne has $2 million already guaranteed for 2023-24, with a guarantee date for the full $6.5 million coming on June 29. The Suns could waive and stretch Payne's guaranteed money to create a bit more salary cap flexibility, or they could look to trade him.

He has been an important piece to the Suns' culture. But Phoenix has to have a contending roster, and Payne might not be seen as a part of that plan by ownership.