The Phoenix Suns have come a long way from where they were only
a few seasons ago. At that time, they were consistent bottom
feeders in the NBA, a true laughing stock due to their lack of
improvement on, and overall dysfunction off, the basketball
Fast forward to today, and we can see that Phoenix has become a
juggernaut. Chris Paul’s arrival before the 2020-21 season launched
the Suns into a new stratosphere the organization hasn’t
experienced since Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni’s Seven Seconds or
Less era. Paul has helped push their promising young core forward,
but all of the key 25-and-under pieces have taken serious steps
forward in their own development.
Devin Booker is now considered a superstar shooting guard.
Deandre Ayton’s vast two-way growth has made him into a player
poised to cash in this offseason as a restricted free agent. Mikal
Bridges’ elite defense and three-point shooting has him being
considered among the NBA’s most underrated wings.
However, one perhaps-overlooked piece of the puzzle, who is now
blossoming into a full-blown valuable cog in the Suns’ machine, is
Many in NBA draft expert circles were quick to mock Phoenix for
overthinking their pick — a reaction to the shock of the Suns'
selection of the senior wing from North Carolina at No. 11 overall.
Remember, this was after trading back five spots with the Minnesota
Timberwolves to also acquire Dario Saric. Three years later,
though, Suns GM James Jones seems to have been spot-on with his
vision for bringing Johnson to the Valley.
Johnson entered the NBA as a well-known three-point marksman,
but so many questions loomed about his defensive ability — as well
as his ability to hold up over a full NBA regular season
physically. Along the way, Johnson has answered all of those
questions with ease while demonstrating his true ceiling — and
doubtlessly increasing the value of his next contract.
Johnson is extension-eligible for the Suns after the 2021-22
season, and he’s become a priority for the Suns to hold onto
long-term. Without Johnson’s all-around brilliance, Phoenix would
not be sitting atop the Western Conference standings right now.
Johnson has scored in double figures in 18 consecutive games,
averaging 15.6 points while hitting an incredible 48.8% of his
three-pointers on a high volume of attempts. Johnson has hit two or
more three-pointers in 20 straight games.
After the Suns’ emphatic 106-89 win over the Los Angeles
Clippers at the Footprint Center on Thursday, head coach Monty
Williams let it be known that Johnson has the ultimate green light
within their pass-happy “0.5” system.
“I just want him to shoot and make plays,” Williams said
postgame. “He had the one spin dribble where he spun into traffic,
I thought that was the only negative play he made on offense. I
liked the fact that he went to the basket — we tried to run an ATO
for him, fake handoff and got him to the basket, he tried to dunk
it, got it blocked by Serge (Ibaka), but Serge is one of the best
shot blockers in the history of the game. But I just like when Cam
is aggressive and attacking, not just shooting threes but getting
to the paint and making plays.”
When the Suns inevitably sign Ayton to a max rookie-scale
extension this summer, Phoenix will officially be deep in the
luxury tax. A true rarity during the ownership of Robert Sarver,
he's rarely had to fork out that much money for his team. However,
the real question becomes how willing will Sarver be to potentially
wade even deeper into tax territory for this roster?
With the way Johnson is playing as of late, he’s likely going to
earn close to $20 million per year on his next contract thanks to
his blossoming offensive game, headlined by his status as one of
the NBA’s best three-point shooters.
The future of the Suns’ long-term core is already set. Booker,
Ayton and Bridges are the three foundational pillars. Johnson,
however, is making it known he could deserve inclusion on that list
of core players as well.
Jae Crowder and Saric’s contracts are up after the 2022-23
season, which would coincide with the first year of Johnson’s new
deal. The timing works out well, and it’s hard not to envision how
fun a Phoenix starting lineup of Paul, Booker, Bridges, Johnson and
Ayton over the next three years would be. Outside of Paul, those
four would form a lethal quartet throughout the 2020s in
During the Seven Seconds or Less era, Sarver let Joe Johnson
walk as a restricted free agent because he refused to pay the
luxury tax. As we all know, Johnson went on to put together an
illustrious, Hall of Fame-worthy career elsewhere.
History could soon be repeating itself with Cam Johnson. This
time around, though, the Suns need to pay up to keep a perennial
title contender in place. His contributions are instrumental to the
Suns’ success, a fact that's now finally being displayed for the
whole Association to see on a consistent basis.