Former Warriors Guard Gets Early Chance to Face His Old Team

Gary Payton II

Getty Gary Payton II reacts to a play in a Golden State Warriors game.

The Golden State Warriors won’t have to wait long before getting a reunion with last season’s surprise star.

The team released its preseason slate of games this week, which includes a visit from Gary Payton II and his new team, the Portland Trail Blazers. After a breakout season in 2021-22, Payton got an offer that the Warriors couldn’t match, allowing him to land with a conference rival.

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Payton Returns to the Bay

Warriors fans get the chance to see Payton when the Trail Blazers visit the Bay on Tuesday, October 11. While it may not be as high-stakes as a regular season game, the appearance will allow Warriors fans to show some thanks to the player who helped push the team to a title during an unexpected breakout season.

Payton had been an NBA nomad for his first six years in the league, spending significant stretches in the G League and playing no more than 29 games in any season for any of the five teams that employed him. After he impressed during a 10-day contract for the Warriors in the 2020-21 season and continued to perform well through the preseason, Payton earned a contract from the Warriors and filled the 15th and final roster spot last season.

Payton eventually found his way into the rotation, averaging a career-high 7.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in 17.6 minutes per game. Though he suffered a fractured elbow that kept him out a long stretch of the playoffs, Payton played a key role during the NBA Finals, drawing some of the most difficult defensive assignments.

Warriors Couldn’t Afford to Keep Payton

The strong season put Payton out of the price range for a Warriors team already deep in the luxury tax. After making $1.9 million from the Warriors last season, Payton fetched a three-year, $28 million deal from the Blazers.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob told The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami that Portland’s offer was far above what Golden State would have been able to pay to keep Payton.

“No surprise to us that if these guys got … like Gary Payton had a good year and if he got a big offer, it was going to be very unlikely we were going to re-sign him, no matter how much we love him,” Lacob told Kawakami. “And we did like him a lot. He got a much bigger offer, in fact, than we thought he would get. Way beyond. And I’m not saying he’s not worth it or is worth it. But it is a lot. And it’s not something we really could entertain doing.”

The Warriors certainly tried to keep the defensive-minded guard. As the San Francisco Chronicle’s Ron Kroichick reported, Steph Curry and Draymond Green tried to call Payton to stay, but Curry said it was a fait accompli. While the Warriors also lost big man Otto Porter Jr., Curry was happy that they were able to re-sign Kevon Looney.

“We all knew how difficult it was going to be to keep everybody, but we tried,” Curry said. “It speaks to how much we value him, Loon, Otto. We tried to keep them all; thank God we got Loon back. …

“The league changes so fast, and obviously when you win, good things happen to good people. We’re going to miss all five of those guys, but there’s opportunity for other guys. Some of the draft picks from this year and last year, plus (James Wiseman), all of them get a chance to step up.”

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