Gary Payton II ‘blindsided’ by Warriors trade, hopes to be back by playoffs

GP2 ‘blindsided’ by Dubs trade, hopes to be back by playoffs originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

LOS ANGELES — Gary Payton II is where he always wanted to be: Back with the Warriors playing in front of Dub Nation.

“There’s nothing like the Warriors organization,” Payton said Wednesday after Warriors practice in his first time speaking since his trade back to Golden State from the Portland Trail Blazers. “Being in the Bay around my family and everything, I’m happy I get to see my family more.”

The Warriors on Feb. 8 played Payton and the Blazers in Portland, one day before the NBA trade deadline. He played 22 minutes, scoring nine points while grabbing three rebounds and recording one steal as the Blazers beat the Warriors 125-122. That would be his last time in a Portland jersey, a surprise to himself and everybody else.

The very next day, minutes before the trade deadline, the Warriors acquired Payton, a key member of last season’s championship squad, as part of a four-team, four-player deal that also sent former No. 2 overall draft pick James Wiseman to the Detroit Pistons.

When the news was announced, Payton was as shocked as everyone else. Though he never wanted to leave the Warriors in the first place, he couldn’t believe he was coming back seven months after signing a three-year contract with the Blazers.

“Blindsided,” Payton said. “Shocked me just like it shocked everybody else. Ten minutes before the trade deadline I was notified.”

His return to the Warriors, however, came with a catch — one that stunned the Warriors front office and sent the NBA into a frenzy.

Payton failed his physical, despite playing the Warriors the previous night. He had played through pain in four straight games and had appeared in 14 of the Blazers’ previous 17 games before being dealt. All signs suggested he was good to go, and would be the defensive presence the Warriors have badly needed in defending their title.

The unfortunate news also didn’t come as a surprise to him.

“Not really,” Payton said. “I kind of knew where my body was, how it was and everything. It was out of my hands. I just had to tell them what it was and go from there.”

The 30-year-old underwent core muscle surgery over the offseason, and was expected to be ready by the start of the season. Lingering pain kept pushing his return date further and further. He eventually missed the first 35 games of the regular season before returning on Jan. 2 in a blowout win against the Pistons.

But Payton then missed the Blazers’ next three games, and clearly hasn’t been right physically.

News of his failed physical put the trade in jeopardy, with the Warriors still badly wanting it to work. Payton was seen sitting with president of basketball operations Bob Myers and VP of basketball operations Mike Dunleavy Jr. at Chase Center on Feb. 11 during the Warriors’ loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Golden State had until 6:30 p.m. PT on Sunday, Feb. 12 to complete the trade.

That of course was the final result, with the Warriors also pushing for an investigation into the Blazers’ handling of Payton’s condition and what was revealed before agreeing to the trade. With the trade complete, Warriors fans gave Payton a loud standing ovation at Chase Center on Feb. 13 in Golden State’s win over the Washington Wizards.

“I missed Dub Nation,” Payton said. “Dub Nation, there’s nothing else like it with the fans and their loyalty and love for guys, so it was good to be back.”

The Warriors will not re-evaluate Payton until mid-March. Currently, he isn’t doing any basketball related activities. He calls his day-to-day activities “pretty normal” with rehab, strength and conditioning being his main focuses, which is what will continue until he’s able to practice with the team.

Trading for Payton was a clear win-now move for the Warriors, whose defense has taken major steps backwards without him this season. The Warriors are 20th in defensive rating (115.0) and 27th in points allowed per game (118.5). Last season, they finished with the best defensive rating (106.9) in basketball, and allowed the third-fewest points per game (105.5).

RELATED: Bringing GP2 back checks multiple boxes for Warriors

When Payton is able to play again, he believes he’ll be able to slide seamlessly into his role again. His versatility as a point of attack defender unlocks the Warriors, along with him cutting in the dunker spot at 6-foot-2 and continually improving as a 3-point threat.

The goal remains the same: Get healthy enough before the playoffs as the Warriors, with a 29-29 record, look to make a triumphant push with and without Payton, starting Thursday night against the Lakers.

“I would hope so,” Payton said. “Just have to take it day by day. When the medical staff and I agree that things are good and it’s safe for me to get back out there and be able to be myself and my body feels like itself, we’ll come up with a decision.”

Waiting won’t be easy with the way the Warriors’ season has gone thus far. Payton and the team also believe patience can help bring the ultimate reward once again.

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