July 14, 2024
Since rejoining the Warriors at the 2023 trade deadline, Payton has played in 63 of 122 possible games.

When presented with a $9.1 million opportunity, defensive specialist Gary Payton II didn’t take a charge; he just played it straight.

According to Anthony Slater of The Athletic, Payton, 31, intends to pick up his player option. It’s an obvious decision for a player who has struggled to stay on the court. Since rejoining the Warriors at the 2023 trade deadline, the guard has played in just 63 of a possible 122 games. He logged 44 games last season, dealing with calf, ankle and hamstring issues.

Although the decision seemed like a no-brainer for Payton, he expressed interest in declining the option and re-signing with the Warriors for more years — which would have given him long-term security at a lower annual salary — at his end-of-year interview.

That didn’t come to pass, so Payton’s $9.1 million will hit Golden State’s books at a time in which they’re trying to shed salary. Owner Joe Lacob said on The Athletic’s TK Show earlier this year that the club’s Plan A will be to dip under the luxury tax to avoid being a repeat offender.  According to ESPN expert Bobby Marks, Golden State paid a league-high $176.9 million in luxury taxes alone last year, a total more than many clubs’ entire payrolls.

With Payton back, the Warriors are at roughly $174 million in salary commitments. That’s before potentially waiving Chris Paul and Kevon Looney — which would save about $35 million — and trying to re-sign Klay Thompson, who will likely command upwards of $25 million per year. The luxury tax threshold is set at an estimated $171 million.

Golden State could also look to move Payton and his $9.1 million expiring contract in a trade.

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The Warriors let Payton walk in free agency after 2022, and he signed a three-year, $28 million pact with Portland. But he didn’t fit with the rebuilding Blazers, and an offseason abdominal injury limited him to 15 games.

Portland traded Payton back to Golden State at the deadline as part of a four-team deal that included Golden State sending former No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman to Detroit. The Warriors pushed the trade through despite Payton flunking his physical, reportedly filing a complaint to the league that Portland withheld medical information about Payton’s abdominal injury.

When he’s healthy, Payton is a valuable player. An elite point of attack defender, Payton also knows how to play within Golden State’s read-and-react offense as a screener and cutter. By far his best stretch as a pro came in the 2021-22 season, when he played 71 games and helped the Warriors win their fourth title of the Steph Curry era.

Payton averaged 5.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in 15.5 minutes per game last year.