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Evaluating Cameron Johnson's Potential Extension, Salary With Suns

The Phoenix Suns have a financial decision ahead of them when it comes to Cam Johnson, yet it's a fairly easy one to make.

There's been a lot of talk of the Phoenix Suns and their financial situation heading into the offseason.

The Suns have six impending free agents to make decisions on and are already over the salary cap. Currently, nine players are under contract for the 2022-23 season with $129.1 million to the cap already. 

In short, Phoenix is bound to the luxury tax to fill out the remainder of their roster. Yet that's something Suns general manager James Jones has already said wouldn't be a problem. 

“That’s a part of the business. As your team improves, typically your payroll increases," said Jones in a Zoom meeting with reporters weeks ago. 

"We’re not talking about a luxury tax issue 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.”

Deandre Ayton headlines a list of free agents Phoenix will need to make decisions on sooner rather than later with the NBA's moratorium period set to begin July 1. 

While the Suns continue to discuss their immediate cap ramifications, Phoenix also has a set of moves that will impact the future. 

Cameron Johnson Due For Extension

Devin Booker's All-NBA selection earned him rights to a four-year, $211 million supermax contract extension that would begin in the 2024-25 season. The Suns will certainly negotiate close to that number, if not giving him the full amount. 

Cam Johnson also has entered the chat, as the Suns' sixth man is up for a rookie scale extension that would be max parameters of five-year, $186 million deal. If Johnson were to sign the max, his first season (2023-24) would see a rise from 2022's $5.88 million to $32.03 million. 

Now, the Suns are certainly not paying Johnson that sort of money. That's no slight to Cam, as he's been valuable for Phoenix since being drafted as a first-round pick in 2019. 

However, Johnson will surely see an upgrade over his current salary. It's only a question of how much. 

"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," said Jones on players such as Johnson, who are now up for upgrades in pay. 

Starting Money = Starting Cam Johnson

AZ Central's Duane Rankin wrote a fantastic piece on Johnson and discussed the possibility of Phoenix removing him from the bench (Johnson finished third in Sixth Man of the Year voting this season) and turning him into a starter. 

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," said Rankin.

Johnson has steadily increased his minutes per game since his rookie season (his 26 minutes per game was just two shy of Jae Crowder and three shy of Deandre Ayton) along with notable stats such as points, rebounds and assists per game. His progression can be spotted in the box score and on the court as well. 

However, who are you moving out of the lineup to insert Johnson? Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges have their presence stamped on the starting five. Crowder is too small to play at center and the Suns will likely find a replacement in a trade for Ayton if they don't keep DA around in Phoenix. 

The good news: Johnson's extension wouldn't kick in until 2023, the year Crowder is scheduled to become a free agent. Crowder will be 33-years-old by the beginning of his next contract and may depart Phoenix, clearing the way for Johnson to slide into his role.

Johnson just turned 26-years-old and still has years of his prime left to offer. In his 16 starts during the 2021-22 season, most of those came in place of Crowder at power forward. Phoenix carried a 9-7 record in those games, though that isn't indicative of Johnson's abilities.

He averaged 16.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists in those starts while shooting 49.2% from the floor, including 42% from three-point land. The Suns essentially don't have to worry about getting bang for their buck this season with Crowder's departure/Johnson's extension fluid. 

Potential Annual Value for Cam Johnson's Contract

Rankin offered this on Johnson's potential value:

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On Spotrac's 2021 NBA Valuation table that ranks value of a contract compared to production, Johnson ranked No. 16 for wing players in the league.

Last season, the average salary for a forward was nearly $9.7 million. Yet with the salary continuing to creep up and Johnson playing better than your average player, that price tag is more of a basement for his value. 

Rankin's suggestion of $15 million per season would have placed Johnson tied with Will Barton for No. 36 on the highest-paid forward list in 2021 in terms of annual salary and above names such as Thaddeus Young, Dorian Finney-Smith and Doug McDermott. 

$20 million places him at No. 28, just under Jerami Grant and above players in the likes of Domantas Sabonis, Bojan Bogdanovic and Duncan Robinson. 

Cam Johnson's Range of Salary is Reasonable

Cam Johnson's PER (player efficiency rating) of 15.26 puts him at No. 17 in small forward rankings for last season. He's a player that certainly needs to add strength and improve defensively, but the pieces are there for him to emerge in importance over the course of his career. 

In Phoenix's efforts to transition into more of a fluid roster, Johnson indeed finds himself worthy of an extension. The salary range Rankin tossed around would be fair for the Suns to bank on his continued growth while not overpaying him, keeping him on track with similar players at his position. 

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