Frank Kaminsky, and the Suns, are thrilled with his return to Phoenix.
When Frank Kaminsky walked into the Verizon 5G Performance Center on Christmas Eve, he felt like he had never left and had been gone forever.
He made the rounds, greeting the athletic trainers and strength and conditioning staff that helped him recover from a serious knee injury. And the coaches and executives who first believed in Kaminsky last summer, then worked quickly to claim him off waivers after he was released by Sacramento. And new teammate Chris Paul, a future Hall of Famer who noticed how Kaminsky’s presence had instantly lifted everybody’s moods.
“Chris was just telling me how everyone was happy that I was back, that there was a celebration,” Kaminsky said. “That was pretty cool.”
It would be understandable if Kaminsky came out of his first season with Phoenix feeling frustrated, like a quintessential example of how 2020 went wrong. He was often forced to play out of position. He suffered the first significant injury of his career. He did not see much game action during the Suns’ thrilling run in The Bubble. Twice before the 2020-21 regular season began, Kaminsky wondered where he would play.
Instead, the opposite occurred.
Kaminsky forged fierce bonds with the Suns, thanks to a light-hearted, people-loving personality that makes teammates smile at the simple mention of his name. He became a valuable resource even when he could not be on the court. He fell in love with Phoenix.
The Suns and the Valley, Kaminsky said, “just fit like a glove.”
“For some reason, people tell you, ‘Don’t let it be known where you want to go or where you want to play,’” Kaminsky said. “But I don’t care. I wanted to play here. I wanted to be with this team and with this group of people.
“This is the best team I’ve played on so far in my career, and I could see that coming and I wanted to be a part of it. I’m just happy I’m here, playing whatever role I get to play.”
Kaminsky has been visibly comfortable since his first public appearance as a Suns player, proclaiming “I’m so happy” at 2019-20 Media Day after signing with Phoenix as a free agent.
It was easy to see why during the preseason. As the backup power forward, Kaminsky stretched the floor with his outside shooting and kept the ball moving as a “connector” in coach Monty Williams’ quick-decision “0.5” offensive system. He averaged 11.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 22.5 minutes per game, while shooting 47.3 percent from the floor and 36 percent from 3-point range. He fanned himself with three fingers every time he buried a shot from beyond the arc, prompting teammates to mimic the celebration from the bench.
But with Deandre Ayton suspended for 25 games and Aron Baynes in and out of the lineup with minor injuries during the first stretch of the regular season, the Suns needed Kaminsky to play a lot more center. Meanwhile, he began to feel pain in his right knee. But he kept pushing, a mentality he acknowledges can be “a gift and a curse.”
“I’ll literally play myself into where I’m hurt and am playing hurt, and it just doesn’t look good for a lot of people,” Kaminsky said. “We had things going on with our team, and I felt like we were in a spot where, if I could help get through that little rough patch that we were going through, that we could potentially still make the playoffs and we could still do the things we talked about in the preseason.”
Last January, Kaminsky was diagnosed with a patella stress fracture. It was the first time Kaminsky “had to just sit down and basically do nothing for months.” He was diligent with his rehab routine because, if not executed correctly, the injury might have required surgery.
Kaminsky also embraced the opportunity to view games from a different perspective, giving teammates advice in the moment. He remained a guy who would playfully banter about college-career success and football in the locker room, and share deeper conversations over meals. Kaminsky appreciated the brewing team camaraderie, and the team appreciated him.
“Frank’s our guy,” second-year forward Cam Johnson said. “Everybody loves Frank. Just seeing him in the building is a good thing every day. … He just has an excitement about him. He loves being here, he loves hooping, and that’s always contagious.”
Added Kaminsky: “You can’t win every single game in the NBA, so there’s gonna be times where we’re gonna face adversity and things aren’t gonna be going our way. I feel like I’m equipped now to either talk to people and be able to see how they operate and what they do. Even if that helps win one game, that’s a big success for me personally.”
In a stroke of terrible luck, Kaminsky was cleared to return to basketball activities on March 12 — the same day the league shut down after Utah center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. With facilities temporarily closed and in-person contact prohibited, Kaminsky continued to rehab on his own with the help of an at-home plan created by the training staff. He did not participate in any live practice reps until arriving with the Suns in Orlando for the season’s restart, and never expected to play much as Phoenix made its stunning push for the playoffs.
Kaminsky then stayed in Phoenix during the offseason, contributing to the culture built by returning players during workouts at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. But with the pandemic shrinking the NBA’s salary cap for the 2020-21 season, the Suns needed to decline the team option on Kaminsky’s contract in order to execute the roster revamp that included trading for Paul and signing free agent Jae Crowder. Kaminsky “jumped on an opportunity” with the Sacramento Kings, joining them for an abbreviated training camp and preseason.
When the Kings released Kaminsky on Dec. 20, he texted one word to his agent: Phoenix.
“My mind was pretty much here the whole time,” Kaminsky said.
The Suns reciprocated by claiming Kaminsky off waivers less than two days later. Williams appreciated that Kaminsky was already familiar with the Suns’ systems. All-Star Devin Booker called Kaminsky’s addition “a perfect fit.” After clearing COVID-19 testing protocols, Kaminsky was thrust into game action on Dec. 27 at Sacramento, scoring 11 points in a Suns’ win against the team that had just let him go.
“I gotta be honest — that felt good,” Kaminsky said after that game. “… I’m not afraid to say it, this is a fun team. I enjoy being here. This team is way more fun, and that’s just for me personally.”
Yet Kaminsky stresses his excitement about returning to Phoenix goes beyond basketball.
He never thought about selling his Valley, because he envisions himself living in here following his playing career. After spending most of his life in the Midwest, he relishes Phoenix’s “amazing” weather during the winter months. When it is safe to gather again, he cannot wait to roam street festivals and attend outdoor concerts and Arizona Cardinals games. He noticed family members’ positive spirits when they visited before the pandemic hit.
“I just like the vibe here,” Kaminsky said. “It’s kind of laid-back. People are happy. … That all makes it comfortable for me, especially when I know all the people that I care about love being here, as well.”
On the floor, Kaminsky is tantalized by the opportunity to get back to the playoff stage, which he experienced as a rookie in Charlotte. He is ready to fill any role necessary to help the Suns reach that goal.
Because Kaminsky is back with the team, and in the city, that fits him like a glove.
“I missed everybody here (and) I was only gone for, like, a month and a half,” Kaminsky said. “ … I feel like I have a unique relationship with every single (person in this organization). Just being able to walk back in and see all those people and how happy they were to see me, that really was the big, satisfying part for me.
“That makes you feel like you’re welcomed and wanted, and that’s where you’re supposed to be.”