How do you go from possibly the worst player in the NBA to being a valuable piece on a championship level team? The incredible comeback story of Cameron Payne is unlike any other, and deserves an in depth look.
So let’s go from the very beginning all the way to last night when he scored 29 points in the conference finals. What up everybody, my name is Stefan and this is Heat Check. Let’s get into it.
Cameron Payne Sophomore Year: 20.2 PPG / 6.0 APG
After a strong sophomore year at Murray State, averaging 20 points and 6 assists per game, Payne entered the NBA draft and analysts compared him to Damian Lillard, predicting a bright future for him.
The fact that he was selected pretty high at number 14 confirmed all of that. So he was headed to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
That rookie year in 2016 OKC were making a big push in the playoffs so watching and kind of rooting for them, I caught a few highlights of Payne as well. Or I should say lowlights.
I distinctly remember watching Cameron struggle under the pressure. Even in the limited 4-5 minutes per game that he would get while Westbrook was getting a breather on the bench, Payne would always make his presence felt by having multiple turnovers, or missing open shots. If you take a look at some of the boxscores during that postseason, you would see lines like these:
4 minutes, zeros across the board and 2 turnovers. 7 minutes, 2 of 7 from the field and 2 turnovers of course. And this one from game 4 against golden state: 1:58 , 0 for 1 and 1 turnover. Now that’s what I call making your presence felt. In less than 2 minutes, basically everything he did on the court was bad for the team.
Dude would get subbed in with a 9 point lead and in just a few possessions, that would instantly melt down to 2 or 3 and Russell would need to get back in the game
That playoff run of course he would become more famous for his pre-game dance routines that he did with Westbrook, than his actual play.
And shoutout to my friend Gorjan who still laughs to this day about my horror stories from watching Cameron Payne on the Thunder. That was legit stressful.
When KD left the team in that off season, OKC tried to retool the roster, and Cam was sent to the Chicago Bulls in a trade package for Taj Gibson.
What followed was the most blunt statement that I’ve ever read about a player. Check out this quote from someone within the Bulls organization:
We knew the second practice that he couldn’t play at an NBA level. The only reason it took two practices was because we thought maybe it was nerves in the first one… Any Bulls coach who says differently is lying.
Wow, this has to be the harshest thing I’ve ever heard about a player by far, and back then it only confirmed my initial impressions about this guy.
As I just found out yesterday, JJ Reddick thought the same thing as well.
JJ REDDICK PODCAST.
So it was pretty much a unanimous opinion that Cameron Payne was not an NBA player.
So from a Chicago Bulls team that ended the season 13th in the East, Payne signed 2 10 day contracts the following season with an even worse team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who ended the year as 14th in the East or second to last of course, with a record of 19 and 63.
This is important to know because he wasn’t picked up by anyone after those 10 day contracts, and if you’re not worthy of playing for the worst teams in the league, then you must really be bad at basketball, I don’t know how else to put it.
In November of 2019 Payne basically found himself out of the league, and had to sign with a team in China. This is without a doubt the lowest point of his career. Just a few years after getting drafted, being universally seen as a horrible player, and having to go down to an inferior level of competition just to play, that had to have been demoralizing.
After a short stint in the Chinese league, Cameron returns to the states and signs with the G-League team Texas Legends.
Now this is where things get interesting and where fortune plays a big role in this story.
In the G-League at the beginning of 2020, Payne slowly started to get his confidence back, and played well. In 15 games there he averaged 23 points, 5 rebounds and 8 assists.
So when the NBA returned to the bubble, the Suns, led by Monty Williams who was an assistant in OKC when Cam was there needed a player to fill out the roster, and based on that relationship, as well as his recent performances they called Payne.
He knew that it’s now or never for him, so this second opportunity that he got, he wasn’t going to waste it.
In the bubble, in 23 minutes per game he had a strong outing of 11 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting 48.5% from the field and 51.7% from downtown.
24 Ιούν 2021