Phoenix Suns forward Cam Johnson earning 'small wins' in returning from knee injury

Phoenix Suns' Cameron Johnson goes to the basket (23) untouched by any Houston Rockets during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)
Phoenix Suns' Cameron Johnson goes to the basket (23) untouched by any Houston Rockets during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

Phoenix Suns forward Cam Johnson seeks “small wins” every day in returning from a torn right meniscus he suffered Nov. 4 against Portland.

On Wednesday, he got several.

“I jumped on it and I was shooting," Johnson said. "And I did more cardio and I was able to kind of let rip on the bike and get my heart rate up."

He’ll miss his 10th consecutive game Friday against the Pistons, but Johnson is making progress and appears on track to return within two months.

“He’ll be back,” Suns forward Ish Wainright said. “I was gone for two weeks and I saw he was out. To see his face and I saw his face light up and my face light up. Seeing him walking, I’m happy to see him back on his feet and moving and stuff like that. I know he’s been going through a lot of stuff over the past couple of years dealing with certain things, but this is just a little, small speed bump.”

Johnson was playing some of the best basketball in his career, scoring a season-high 29 points in a win over Minnesota, before going down with the injury in the next game against the Blazers.

Averaging career highs in points (13.0 ppg.) and 3-point shooting percentage (43.1%), Johnson is working his way back from injury. Johnson sat down with The Republic at a Thanksgiving event Wednesday at Footprint Center to discuss the injury, his progression, and how the Suns have played without him.

Q: How’s the knee feel?

A: “I feel good. Making progress every day. Small wins are what I’m looking for. I’m not looking super big picture right now. I’m not saying I’m going to come back this day or come back that day. Just continue to improve each and every day and gain strength in it.”

Q: What’s the latest small win?

A: “I jumped on it (Wednesday) and I was shooting (Wednesday). And I did more cardio and I was able to kind of let rip on the bike and get my heart rate up. When we go from playing every day, we’re sweating and running, that’s cardio. After surgery, it’s a little limited with those options. To be able to get back, work up a sweat and get my heart rate up and explore some new movements post-surgery, it’s my win for (Wednesday).”

Q: You had the trim procedure for the meniscus tear that allows you to come back sooner. What went into that decision?

A: “The doctor. That’s the thing about it. There was no decision on my end. It’s the doctor doing what he thought was best for my longevity, what he thought was best for recovery. It’s simply that. It was relatively straightforward, there’s not much to it. Just take that piece out that slipped around would be best for me and that’s that. A little quicker recovery, though.”

Q: People are saying one month, two months. Are you in that ballpark?

A: "I’m sure I am. I’m sure I am in there, but that’s a big ballpark right. That’s a four or five-week difference. I think it’ll be a combination of just how it all progresses and then my comfort getting back on the court. You never know what kind of obstacles will come up in the future. So like I said, I’m going for small wins each day.”

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Q: Did you know it was a tear when it happened?

A: “It was a familiar feeling. It was a familiar feeling, but yeah, I was pretty sure because it felt like when I did it with the other one, but it’s life.”

(Johnson tore the meniscus in his left knee during practice at North Carolina in November 2017).

North Carolina's Cameron Johnson (13) drives to the basket while Wake Forest's Doral Moore (4) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
North Carolina's Cameron Johnson (13) drives to the basket while Wake Forest's Doral Moore (4) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Q: The way the team has played without you, what do you think about that (Suns are 5-4 without Johnson this season)?

A: “I just love our grit, our intensity, how guys step up. Whether they play 20 minutes a night, whether they play 10, whether they’re every other game in the rotation, you’ve got guys in and out sometimes, but when they get in, they’re sharp and that’s what I really appreciate about our group. D-Lee (Damion Lee) is coming in and doing his thing. Josh (Okogie) is coming and making things happen. Ish is hitting shots. It’s cool to see. Duane (Washington Jr.), it’s across the board.

"They come in and make plays and you can see our identity as a team no matter who is on the court. From what I can tell about the league, that’s what you need to go through injuries and this and that and still maintain your identity no matter who you roll out there. It’s a testament to what I think we’ve built with the coaching staff and the organization has been able to build. The cool part about it is even if we lose a game we know we shouldn’t or play the way we know we shouldn’t, we’re able to bounce back from that. If there is one thing that we’ve learned from the last couple of years is that things don’t always go smoothly.

"It’s about how you respond to things. You can’t ask for everything to go your way all the time. Whether it’s a playoff game or a regular season or injuries, I believe you need to be resilient and respond to adversity in any form is a big calling card to what we’ll be able to accomplish.”

Q: You saw what happened (Tuesday night with Deandre Ayton and Patrick Beverley). Where you like, what the hell?

A: I didn’t. I was in the second row (behind the bench as the play happened on the opposite side of the court in front of the Lakers bench). So I don’t have the best view. Everybody gets up and I’m like, ‘What happened.’ So I saw the clip, but emotions run high. We’ve seen that one before, but his punishment or how they deal with it, that’s the league’s business. My business is making sure DA is cool and making sure that he knows we have his back. That we’ve got everybody’s back.”

(The NBA suspended Beverley three games without pay for “forcefully shoving” Ayton in the back as the suspension time was partly based on his “history of unsportsmanlike acts.”)

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Suns' Cam Johnson looks to return from knee injury within two months