At this point in his young NBA career, all Cameron Payne wants is an honest opportunity, a fair shot to prove that he can be a solid player in this league, even if things didn’t go as well as he hoped in his first three stops.
Payne, the 14th pick in the 2015 draft, played for the Oklahoma City Thunder until they traded him to Chicago on Feb. 23, 2017. The Bulls subsequently waived the 6-3 point guard on Jan. 3, 2019 and he eventually signed a pair of 10-day contracts with the Cleveland Cavaliers before the two sides went their separate ways in late January.
Since then, Payne has been looking for a new home. And now he’s a member of the Dallas Mavericks’ summer league team with high hopes of turning this experience into something long-term.
So how did Payne fall from grace so quick?
“I’ve been banged up three of the (four) years, and then kind of was just in a bad situation and I ended up with the Bulls and they let me go,” Payne said following Tuesday’s opening day of summer league workouts at the Lympo practice facilities. “I feel like it’s just all an opportunity at the end of the day.”
Payne, 24, believes the Mavs provide him with the best chance to resuscitate his career.
“I got interest from other teams, but I felt like the Mavs really wanted me to be here for their summer league team,” Payne said. “I just felt like they showed the most interest.
“Me and my family felt like this was the best option for me.”
Payne also wants people to know: “That I’m a hard-worker and that I’m very coachable.”
And the former Murray State standout found his way to Dallas: “Just to prove I’m being coachable and just to let people get a different perception of who I am, and just to get everybody involved and make everybody better and win.”
Payne has played in 153 games NBA and made 26 of his 28 starts while he was with the Bulls. Overall, he’s averaged six points and 2.5 assists in 16 minutes per game for his career.
“We know Cameron well,” Mavs summer league head coach Mike Weinar said. “Obviously we’ve played against him through his travels in the NBA, and he’s talented.
“I’ve known him for a long time since his college days back at Murray State. I’m familiar with his game and familiar with what he does.”
And what exactly is Payne’s strong suit?
“He’s an attacker,” Weinar said. “I like his presence off the ball as well.
“We’ve got a nice combination there with him off the ball.”
With nine of the players on his roster possessing no NBA experience, Weinar may lean more on Payne, who has the most NBA experience of any player the Mavs will take to Las Vegas for the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League this weekend.
“He understands what it takes to compete at that level,” Weinar said. “He’s certainly trying to get a foothold in (the NBA) again. He’s been through some battles on the NBA level, so that’s valuable for us.”
Said Payne: “A lot of guys are out here competing and going hard. We’re just out here really trying to get better and get ready for summer league.”
It’s even been a joy for Payne to work through the language barriers while trying to communicate with the five foreign players – six counting Canada’s Dyshawn Pierre – on the Mavs’ summer league roster.
“It’s kind of tough, but it’s fun because they’re trying to pick up on a lot of things,” Payne said. “It’s good to be out there as the point guard helping them. It actually makes me feel better to actually know some people from overseas.”
Payne also feels better that he’s getting to learn some valuable things from Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who is heading into his 12th season with the organization and is widely considered to be one of the best in the business.
“They’re great, they’re very hands-on,” Payne said. “Honestly, they’re just trying to make you a better player, and I like that.”
Asked about possibly making the Mavs’ final roster next fall and playing alongside Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, Payne’s eyes lit up like fireworks on the Fourth of July.
“Obviously that’s great, but right now my focus is on this team we’ve got right here,” he said. “It would be a blessing. That’s why I’m working hard and (what I’m) working towards, so I hope it happens.”
Payne then reminisced back to the 2015 draft, when he was the 14th overall pick and had the pleasure of walking across the stage to meet NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
“It was cool getting drafted, cool to shake Adam Silver’s hand,” Payne said. “It was just a dream come true.
“Everything panned out for me. Now I’m just trying to get right back at it.”
And hope things pan out for him again.