Steve Kerr’s bout with COVID-19 and a 39-point Game 5 loss notwithstanding, the Golden State Warriors continue to be in the driver’s seat against the Grizzlies. In order to survive the West semifinal series, underdog Memphis would still have to win two more games without star Ja Morant. And Steph Curry and Co. will undoubtedly be extra fired up for Game 6 in San Francisco.
Still, Golden State has some major issues to contend with going forward. Topping the list is Gary Payton II’s absence as a result of the elbow fracture he suffered during Game 2.
Although Payton is averaging just 15.8 minutes per contest in the postseason, he has been incredibly impactful when he has been on the court. Through seven games, he’s shooting 72.7% overall and 75% from three while rocking the team’s No. 3 D-rating at 106.3.
If you’ve been watching Warriors basketball this season, though, Payton’s playoff performance is hardly surprising. All year long, he has essentially been the king of NBA role players.
With that being the case, one writer just placed him in a group alongside some of the league’s sneakiest free-agent prizes this summer. However, a grim proclamation — for Warriors fans, anyway — was also made about the baller’s Bay Area future.
B/R: Payton Among Most Underrated Free Agents
Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale just dropped a list of underrated free agents who could be steals on the open market this offseason. It was a group that included Raptors big man Chris Boucher, Clippers wing Amir Coffey and pivot-man Isaiah Hartenstein, Magic wing Gary Harris, Grizzlies point Tyus Jones, Hornets wing Cody Martin and, finally, the Warriors’ glue guy in Payton.
Wrote Favale of the latter:
While he’s received plenty of shine for cementing his place in the league, we’re not talking nearly enough about just how big-time his impact has become.
The fractured left elbow he suffered in the Western Conference semifinals against the Grizzlies should’ve driven that point home. Not only was he starting key playoff games for a title contender, but his absence left people scrambling to figure out how the Warriors would defend Ja Morant, the reigning Most Improved Player and top-10 MVP candidate.
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The Money Problem
Of Payton’s prospects as a free agent, Favale added: “Don’t be surprised if Payton prices himself off the Warriors. And continue to remain unsurprised if the next contract he signs, no matter where it comes from, ends up being a bargain anyway.”
As it stands, Golden State is looking at a repeater tax payment on a $171-plus million payroll next season — with several spots still left to fill in the summer. So, there’s a lot to consider with every dollar that is spent. And that’s not the only issue that arises where keeping Payton is concerned.
Given his incredible effectiveness as a perimeter defender, dunk spot maestro and streaky three-point shooter, other teams around the league may feel inclined to offer Payton more than the maximum 105% of the league-average salary, or approximately $10 million, the Dubs can pay him via Early Bird rights.
And considering how much he’s struggled to get to this point, it would probably behoove the now 29-year-old Payton to take advantage of his financial opportunities while he can.