The Golden State Warriors just reunited with Gary Payton II, but one analyst thinks the veteran guard could be a potential trade target for the Denver Nuggets this offseason.
Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report believes the Nuggets, who just swept the Los Angeles Lakers in four games and are heading to the NBA Finals, may need to find a replacement for guard Bruce Brown Jr. Denver boasted the best record in the West (53-29), but in order to assemble a roster that includes the likes of two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray, the team has gone over the salary cap by $65 million.
“The Denver Nuggets will have a hard time re-signing Bruce Brown Jr. if he hits free agency via the early termination option in his contract,” Hughes wrote on May 20. “Unless they clear cap space, the most they can offer him using non-Bird rights is a starting salary of $7.8 million in 2023-24. Brown has dramatically outperformed that figure, which means Denver is likely to need a replacement.”
He thinks GP2 is the best option for Denver.
Warriors Have Cap Issues of Their Own
Golden State is in a more dire position than Denver, salary cap-wise. The Warriors are $101 million over the cap and that will only change after contracts are re-negotiated and/or players leave. Could Payton be one of those players?
“There aren’t many comps for Brown, a former point guard who has also played as an undersized roll man and a three-and-D wing during a constantly evolving career,” Hughes noted. “But Gary Payton II comes pretty close. Like Brown, GPII is a reformed point guard who plays big. Payton is probably an even better defender, particularly on the ball, and he’s quietly become a respectable shooter, especially from the corners. He’s at 36.8 percent from deep across the 88 games he’s played for the Golden State Warriors since 2020-21.”
After the 2021-22 season concluded, Golden State let Payton go in free agency, and he signed a three-year contract worth over $26 million with the Portland Trail Blazers, but he wasn’t gone long.
As part of a four-team trade in February of 2023, the Dubs sent their No. 2 overall draft pick in 2020, James Wiseman, to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Payton (Saddiq Bey went to the Atlanta Hawks and Kevin Knox headed to Portland to complete the trade).
Golden State did this knowing Payton was still recovering from core muscle surgery he had last offseason. His recovery forced him to miss some time over the 2022-23 season, so the team values his contributions greatly.
Dubs Likely Won’t Let Payton Slip Away Again
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Payton averaged 5.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game after he was traded to Golden State in February (stats via ESPN) and his defensive contributions are highly regarded. A fan favorite, Payton also won’t break the Warriors’ bank.
GP2 is set to make $8.7 million next season and $9.1 million in 2024-25, with a player option after that year. A defensive specialist and solid all-around player, the Warriors would likely want a player of equal value in any deal, and Denver doesn’t have one.
“With Gary, you know what you’re getting,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said about Payton in April of 2023, per Monte Poole of NBC Sports. “He’s smart, he does a little bit of everything a winning team needs, and he fits our team really well. I’ve been in basketball most of my life, and I haven’t seen many players like him.”
Change may be coming for the Dubs this offseason, but it would be surprising if Golden State let Payton go a second time, unless the team gets an offer it can’t refuse.