Gary Payton II was already one of the feel-good stories of the 2021-22 NBA season before the playoffs began. His journey from being a G-League mainstay to getting cut by the Golden State Warriors before the campaign to finally capturing his spot and emerging as a dunk machine and a defensive ace was incredible to behold.
After the events of the last two months, we may have a full-scale Hollywood biopic on our hands.
Despite fracturing his elbow in the West semis against the Memphis Grizzlies, missing significant time and then having to scrap for minutes upon his return, Payton nonetheless managed to be one of the Warriors’ most impactful postseason players en route to becoming a first-time champion.
The 29-year-old shot a blistering 65.9% from the floor and 53.3% from deep while playing lockdown perimeter D. As a result, the Warriors outscored their playoff opponents by 11.5 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, the No. 2 mark team-wide.
But can Dub Nation count on him being back in the fold and providing the same kind of production in 2022-23? The second-generation baller addressed that very question during his exit interview on Saturday.
Payton Sounds Off on His Warriors Future & Free Agency
Asked point-blank if he would like to return for another go-round in the Bay Area next season, Payton needed just one word to relay his thoughts on the subject.
“Absolutely,” he deadpanned before nodding and flashing a toothy grin. However, he couldn’t speak to the likelihood that a renewed partnership would actually happen or what that would look like from a financial standpoint.
“I’m not- I’m not sure. You know, it’s kind of new to me so, um, I don’t know what to do from this point on.”
Payton will be an unrestricted free agent in a matter of weeks and, for the first time in his career, he’ll have no shortage of suitors for his services. Moreover, he’ll be in a strong position to command a multi-year, multi-million dollar salary. It’s a process he’s excited to finally be a part of.
“Hopefully,” Payton said of inking a multi-year pact. “I get to choose this time, I think. So, it’s going to be interesting. Looking forward to it, though.”
However, given their incredibly luxury tax situation, the Warriors may have to do some soul-searching in determining Payton’s future, even if he does want to come back.
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The Tax Situation Is Real (& It’s Gnarly)
While a fan wouldn’t flinch at giving Payton, say, the midlevel exception, any signing that the Warriors make is compounded by repeater tax penalties.
In fact, the club’s decision to keep Payton on with a minimum, rest-of-season deal in ’21-22 after he battled to stick with the team was much, much costlier than it would have been for other clubs due to the luxury tax.
Said team president Bob Myers in the wake of the Dubs’ title win, via The Athletic:
“GP was a 15th guy that cost us $12 million… That was a debate. A lot of owners would never have done that. We went into camp saying we’re not signing a 15th guy. That’s $12 million. We’re not doing that. It’s not a minimum contract. But Gary was so good. We went to Joe and said it’s going to cost us $12 million.”
Perhaps more than any other owner in the Association, Lacob has shown a willingness to reinvest in his team and pay whatever is necessary to keep it together. That said, the chances of Payton playing for the minimum again next season are exceedingly slim. And that $12 million number is going to jump exponentially with even a fair-market deal.