Cam Johnson enjoys reading about what exists outside of his residence.
“The earth is very insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe,” Johnson said, after Phoenix’s final regular-season game in April. “There’s so much out there and so much that we don’t know. I had an astronomy class in college that I really enjoyed and the topic piqued my interest.”
When it came to the Suns this year, Johnson was a huge part of their historic season that resulted in a franchise-record 64 wins in the regular season.
He established career-highs in almost every offensive category.
Averaging 12.5 points on 46% shooting, Johnson shot 42.5% from deep to rank fourth in the NBA in 3-point shooting. He scored a career-high 38 points, hitting nine 3s with his final one at the buzzer off the glass to stun the Knicks, 115-114, March 4 in Phoenix.
The sharp-shooting forward out of North Carolina finished third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting behind winner Tyler Herro (Heat) and runner-up Kevin Love (Cavaliers).
His production dipped a bit in the postseason, though.
Johnson averaged just 10.8 points on 46.5% shooting (37.3% from 3), but he started three playoff games All-Star Devin Booker missed with a hamstring injury.
Suns coach Monty Williams has repeatedly said Johnson is a starter who just happens to come off the bench.
So will Phoenix move Johnson into the starting lineup this season? Signing him to a major rookie extension would be viewed as a move in that direction.
The Suns have placed a high priority on player development under Williams.
So giving Johnson a rookie extension seems likely.
Phoenix gave Mikal Bridges (four years, $90 million) and Landry Shamet (four years, $43 million) rookie extensions last season that kick in this season.
Can’t see the Suns paying Johnson the same as Bridges, but he would likely get $15 million a season for sure, if not close to $20 million.
Johnson will be a restricted free agent in 2023 if he and the Suns don’t agree on a rookie extension.
Read more:Monty Williams working 1-on-1 with Cam Johnson on post play
As ESPN’s Bobby Marks has asked, “is Phoenix willing to pay starter money for a player who finished third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting?”
Making Johnson a starter changes that narrative.
Suns General Manager James Jones addressed the idea of paying Johnson and Booker, who is eligible for a supermax deal (four years, $211 million) after making first-team All-NBA this season.
“That’s a part of the business,” Jones said last month in an exit interview. “As your team improves, typically your payroll increases. We’re focused on improving the team and those guys, they deserve the credit. They deserve the accolades and the financial rewards that come with being good players and productive players. It doesn’t preclude us from doing anything. We’re not talking about luxury tax issues or avoiding those things. That’s not something that’s going to prevent us from continuing to build this team and keep this team together.”
Veteran Jae Crowder started all 80 games he played, regular season and playoffs, but is entering the final year of his three-year, $30-million deal.
Jonson’s extension wouldn’t kick in until the 2023-24 season. So this feels like an ideal move to make on both fronts for Phoenix to extend Johnson and start him next season.
Crowder has come off the bench before in his career, but he’s proven, a leader, and Williams has major trust and faith in him.
The 6-6, 235-pound forward defends and rebounds better than Johnson.
At 6-8, 210, Johnson has improved his strength since his rookie year, but he’s averaging just 2.9 rebounds for his career (career-high 3.5 this season).
For subscribers: Suns’ Cam Johnson recreates iconic Nike Air Jordan ads for Phoenix shoe cleaning company
Crowder averaged 5.3 boards this season. He had 20 games with at least seven rebounds with three coming in the playoffs (eight in Game 1 versus Mavs, seven in Game 2 and Game 3 vs. Mavs).
Johnson grabbed at least seven boards in just 12 games with only one coming in the postseason (nine in Game 5 vs. Pelicans).
Johnson didn’t reach double figures in rebounds in a single game this season.
Crowder did so five times with a season-high 14 in a win at Philadelphia in which he didn’t score, but impacted the game in a huge way on the glass.
The intangible plays of coming up with 50/50 balls, being the primary inbounder and defending multiple positions has made Crowder a key player for Phoenix the past two seasons, but he shot just 39.9 from the field (34.8% from 3) this regular season .
Crowder was 0-of-14 from 3 through the first three games of the first round against New Orleans.
He wound up going 3-of-26 in that series the Suns won in six games, but found his stroke against Dallas in going 11-of-18 from deep through the first three games of the conference semifinals.
A streaky shooter, Crowder came back down to earth from deep in that series.
He connected on only 3-of-12 threes in the final three games of the series Dallas won in seven.
Crowder scored a total of 17 points in those games on 5-of-19 shooting (26.3%) after averaging 15 points on 21-of-38 shooting (55.2%) through the first four games of the series.
Johnson has cold spells as well with his shooting, but he’s a better shooter from 3 than Crowder and has greater upside in terms of creating off the bounce to score and create for others.
He has improved defensively, but still has much room to grow in that area. He struggled defensively against first-team All-NBA pick Luka Doncic and the Mavs.
Johnson running in transition benefits Phoenix because he can spot up for 3s, but gaining possession is the most important thing.
There’s certainly room there for improvement on the glass, too, for him.
Deandre Ayton’s future in Phoenix is the biggest topic of discussion with him being a restricted free agent.
Sign-and-trade talks are in the atmosphere heading into free agency regarding the big man.
Since the Suns can match any offer sheet from another team (four years, $131 million) and pay him more than anyone else (five years, $177 million), they’re still in the driver’s seat when it comes to Ayton.
Whatever the Suns wind up doing, this won’t be the last situation they face in putting a team together after having their season abruptly end in the conference semifinals.
Johnson is part of that plan. How much so is the question.
Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at email@example.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.
Local media journalism. Start your online subscription.