2.08.2008

The Glove Admits He's Out of Shape

GARY PAYTON still sees the court, still dissects strengths and weaknesses and, of course, offers commentary. Inactive but not retired, Payton studies several NBA teams, one of which is the Warriors.

At age 39, he even imagines himself on coach Don Nelson's roster.

"I like Nellie, the kind of ball they play," Payton said during a recent phone interview.

The Warriors, meanwhile, are open to the idea.

"You know what he would bring," vice president of basketball operations Chris Mullin said. "So ... possibly. We're open-minded. There are some ifs on both sides."

Rumors have circulated for a couple weeks that Payton, who has not played since last season in Miami, is pondering a return. Given the circumstances, the Warriors are a logical option.

"(Oakland) is my home," Payton said, "so I'm looking at it. We've talked back and forth a little bit. They're doing what they have to do and I'm doing what I have to do. I have a some things to think about, and so do they."

With point guard Baron Davis among the league leaders in minutes played, the Warriors are living dangerously. A dependable backup point guard would allow Nelson the luxury of reducing Davis' minutes.

Mullin and Nelson have several options. They can stick with C.J. Watson, the Developmental-League call-up who has five days remaining on a 10-day contract. They can continue to shop. They can make a trade. Or they can reach a deal with Payton.

The Skyline High product ain't what he used to be, but would seem to fit their needs.

He's experienced, familiar with the league and anticipates playing limited minutes. Though Payton's natural mentality is that of an outspoken leader, he has reached the point where he would embrace a backup role. He could spell Davis as needed, allowing him to stay fresh during the second half of the season and, perhaps, into the postseason.

It's significant to note Payton has BD's endorsement.

"He's from here and he's got that veteran leadership," Davis said. "He's got that swagger. And he's a defensive-minded (player) who's won a championship."

The Dubs would not be getting -- nor do they need -- the Payton of old. In his prime, The Glove was an All-Star who rarely left the floor, playing lock-down defense, controlling tempo and talking the filthiest trash in the league.

Does Payton have the wheels to merge with the high-speed Warriors? He ought to be able to go 12 minutes per game, for half a season.

"I think so, but I'm not sure," Nelson said. "It's not impossible. But there is risk involved."

The primary risk of signing a player approaching his 40th birthday is the higher likelihood of injury. Payton, naturally wiry, concedes he is some work to do to get in "game shape."

Once Payton is ready to return, he has to determine whether he's willing to commit to his hometown team or make himself available to another team he follows.

"One reason we never announced his retirement is that Gary hadn't decided whether he would come back," said Aaron Goodwin, Payton's Oakland-based agent. "There are a couple situations that are starting to look pretty good to him."

Another of which would be Boston, which rebuilt itself last offseason and owns the best record in the league. The Celtics, who also need a veteran point guard, are attractive because they are one of three teams -- with San Antonio and Detroit -- in every championship conversation.

Payton spent most of the 2004-05 season with the Celtics, knows coach Doc Rivers well and has friendships with Paul Pierce as well as Oakland Tech and Cal product Leon Powe.

Goodwin acknowledged Payton is likely to return. He did not deny the possibility of Payton joining the Warriors -- or, for what it's worth, the Celtics -- saying only that money would not be an issue factor in Payton's destination.

Geography, however, might be. Payton, his wife, Monique, and their children own a primary residence in Las Vegas, a short flight from Oakland. Moreover, joining the Warriors would allow Payton a chance to finish his career under unfamiliar conditions -- playing before family and friends.

After accepting a scholarship to St. John's -- only to have then-coach Lou Carnesecca renege -- Payton signed on at Oregon State. He stayed for four years, becoming an All-American and graduating with a degree in broadcast communications before being taken second overall by Seattle in the 1990 draft.

Though Payton's career has taken him from Seattle to Milwaukee to Los Angeles (Lakers) to Boston and Miami, he always has considered himself an ambassador for Oakland.

He is close to his father, Al Sr., who tutored Gary during his youth, and his mother, Annie, a cancer survivor who is "doing pretty well," according to her youngest son.

Gary has observed several Warriors home games this season, felt the passion running through Oracle Arena. He knows Mullin well, likes the team and has evolved from a demanding teammate to one who plays his role.

"I wouldn't go to a team that's struggling," Payton said. "But I'd have to get my workout on. If I'm gonna play, I'd have to get ready."

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