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Suns' Cameron Payne on rise, fall and rise again and playing on Christmas: 'My story is a movie'

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PHOENIX – Three years ago, Cameron Payne couldn’t have fathomed playing on Christmas for the NBA’s best team.

“I would’ve been more worried about being in the league, better yet playing in the Finals, better yet playing on Christmas Day,” Payne said Wednesday at a Christmas event for needy families he hosted at Footprint Center.

Payne, 27, has gone from being out of the league to becoming a key member of the Phoenix Suns.

The Arizona Republic sat down with the energetic and energized backup point guard to discuss his journey back to the league, what he’s learned from teammate Chris Paul and former teammate Russell Westbrook to whether these Suns are as good as last year’s team that reached the NBA Finals.

Suns point guard Cameron Payne, a former lottery pick, bounced around the NBA and also had stints in China and the G League before finding a landing spot in Phoenix.
Suns point guard Cameron Payne, a former lottery pick, bounced around the NBA and also had stints in China and the G League before finding a landing spot in Phoenix.

Q: Having at one point been out of the league, what’s it been like for you to get back and making the most of that opportunity?

CP15: “Honestly, it’s crazy. I never would’ve thought this. Honestly, I was just taking it a day at a time. Like it’s crazy. One day, you in the league. The next day, you trying to make a training camp team. Next day, I’m overseas. Next day, I’m playing in the G-League. I’d probably say the main thing through all of this is just never get comfortable. Never be comfortable with what you have. Always know you can do better. That’s what happened to me. My story is a movie that you would have never; it’s like, somebody had to have written this out. But honestly, man, for me, it’s just keeping my head down and keep working no matter what. I want to play in the NBA, that’s my goal and that’s what I wanted to do. I’d never give that dream up. Never give that up and now that I made it all the way back, I won’t give it up. I mean, that’s why I play so hard. Like no matter what, no matter what kind of game it is, that’s why I play hard because I was outside of this thing watching, never thinking I would be back. So now that I’m back, yeah, I’m going to play 100% in every game. Yeah, I’m going to pick up full (court). Yeah, I’m going to do all the little things because those are the things you kind of lose track of when you get in the NBA. Those were the things that actually opened my eyes and showed me like yeah, those are things you’ve got to do if you want to be here. There’s only a couple of guys that don’t have to do that. And if you want to be in the league, you’ve got to do that.”

Q: Playing with Chris Paul, learning from him. What’s that been like in Year 2?

CP15: “Honestly, Year 2 is probably worse than Year 1 (with a smile), and it’s crazy because we’re playing the best basketball yet. It’s even more learning. Even last year, I said the same thing. I’m just learning so much and I wouldn’t think that it would be the same thing, still learning, but I learned more this year already than I did all season last year. Playing with C, man, you learn so much. Like they say, the Point God. He’s the guru. He knows it all and like he coaches and plays. It’s tough, but I’m thankful to have him in my corner. He knows so much about the game. Makes the game easier for me even though I drive myself crazy on the court, but he makes it easy. ... It’s just little things that you wouldn’t necessarily think of. You’re just thinking basketball, just go play, but it’s games within the games. Those are the things CP knows and it’s just big time to be able to learn.”

Cameron Payne (15) says the lessons he learned from "Point God" Chris Paul (3) has been invaluable.
Cameron Payne (15) says the lessons he learned from "Point God" Chris Paul (3) has been invaluable.

Q: Playing against Russell Westbrook the other night in L.A. What did you learn from him in OKC?

CP15: “Playing hard and don’t care about what anybody got to say. Like man, you got here for a reason. Never give that up. Never give up that identity that brought you here. I think that’s where I get the ‘Be You’ from. Like, it doesn’t matter what people got to say. As long as you come out there on the court and do your thing, live your life. Like, don’t try to live for someone else. Be yourself no matter what and just take the criticism. Take the adversity. It’s going to make you a better player. It’s going to build you up, but if you don’t want to take that criticism, that’s when it becomes a problem. So that’s probably some of the things I learned from Russ.”

Q: Deandre Ayton said after Tuesday’s win over the Lakers that he thinks this year’s team is better than last year’s team that made the Finals. You agree with that?

CP15: Yeah. I said that three weeks ago. That question has been lingering around our team. First time I was asked, I said, of course. And not saying our team wasn’t good last year. Don’t get me wrong. I just feel like between last year and this year, last year, we pretty much knew our roles. This year, it’s expected we know our roles. That’s why we’re winning. It’s not questioning what we’re doing. We all know what we’re doing. The culture. The floor plan is built. Now we’re just building windows. We’re going up, we’re building upwards. It’s easy to play. Everybody on the team love each other. Not like. Love. When it’s like that, it’s easy to go out there and say something to your brother. Say something to him and he respect that and take it in. I think that’s the shift on why this team is better. Obviously, we’ve got a lot more pieces.”

Q: One last thing. Christmas Day. Warriors. The prime game on ABC. If someone would’ve told the Cameron Payne from three years ago that he would be playing in that environment with the top two teams in the league on national television, would he have believed it?

CP15: Nah. I would’ve been more worried about being in the league, better yet playing in the Finals, better yet playing on Christmas Day. And the best part about it is I played on Christmas Day before, but it doesn’t feel anything like this one. I’m actually a part of it. It’s going to be fun. Lost to them last time. So obviously, we’re ready to play. I feel like every time we play them, it’s playoffs. We’re 1-1. It’s like a series. It’s going to be fun, man. Everyone’s families is going to be here. It’s going to be a high intensity game.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Suns' Cameron Payne on rise, fall, rise again, Chris Paul's influence