Gary Payton II's unique skill set and long road to the NBA finally found a home this past season in the Bay Area with the Warriors. But now, the champion could pack his bags for another team in free agency.
The two sides -- Payton and the Warriors -- feel like a perfect match. Steph Curry and Draymond Green begged the Warriors to bring Payton back on a second 10-day contract in the 2020-21 season. He played one preseason game before the 2021-22 season, and earned the final 15th roster spot on the same day as the regular season. Then, it was clear what a difference-maker the 29-year-old is.
Payton's playing style is peculiar, to say the least. How many 6-foot-3 (maybe) players are used as their team's dunkers on offense? At the same time, Payton can pick up the other team's best scorer or ballhandler up and down the court. And how many teams know how to utilize that the right way?
After grinding through the G League with five different teams and finding short stops in the NBA before last season, Payton has earned the right to test the market and see how other teams value him. A reunion with the Warriors at least feels like the ideal situation for both sides. Plus, the Warriors hold Payton's Early Bird rights, which allows them to offer Payton a two to four-year contract with eight percent raises and a starting salary up to 105 percent of the league average salary.
But what if his time wearing a Warriors jersey has come to an end? Here's what the Warriors can do next.
As Payton rehabbed and worked to return from a fractured left elbow in the playoffs, Moody essentially was given GP2's minutes at 19 years old in the Western Conference finals. He averaged 12.8 minutes per game for the series vs. the Dallas Mavericks and averaged 4.6 points while making half of his 3-point attempts.
When the Warriors' backups, including Moody, nearly pulled off a wild fourth-quarter comeback in Game 4, Moody scored eight points and made two 3-pointers in the frame. He also had two steals in the fourth and four deflected passes. His 10 minutes in that fourth quarter opened a lot of eyes.
Moody is 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He plays the game smart with plenty of hustle. Coaches and players alike trust him. Expect a big leap in Year 2.
Jonathan Kuminga already is a highlight waiting to happen. The 19-year-old automatically becomes the Warriors' dunker with his floating-like bounce the minute he steps on the floor. He needs to continue to keep working on his outside shot from deep, just like Payton, and he isn't close to the same kind of smart defender that Payton is.
He also is 10 years younger. That comes with time. Both players are expected to have larger roles next season, and the combination of the two helps form what the Warriors asked of Payton.
There isn't one free agent who plays the game the exact same way as Payton. In his own right, he would be somewhat impossible to fully replace. A few names come to mind, though.
If the Warriors want to take a crack at another defensive-minded player who is a great athlete, former first-rounder Josh Okogie comes to mind. Okogie struggles with his shot, big time. He also is 6-foot-4, has a 7-foot wingspan and is a strong perimeter defender. That's one avenue.
If the Warriors want more shooting, Bryn Forbes makes sense. Forbes has a winning pedigree with his time on the San Antonio Spurs, and then won a championship with the Milwaukee Bucks. The 6-foot-2 guard shot 41.4 percent from deep last season, which is essentially his career mark. He also scored 22 points and made four threes against the Warriors with the Denver Nuggets in a Golden State loss last season.
If the Warriors want to resurrect a former star, perhaps they try to persuade Victor Oladipo to come win a ring. Oladipo is now 30 years old. Injuries have changed the path of his career, and he only played eight regular-season games in 2021-22. In the playoffs, he scored over 20 points twice and hit double digits six points. Worth the risk?
Other In-House Options
It's really too bad second-round pick Ryan Rollins won't play in summer league after his mandatory physical showed a stress fracture in his right foot. Steve Kerr is a big fan of his, and the Warriors feels they got a steal in the draft. Just looking at his arms hang to the ground, it's easy to see a possible Payton replacement in the future.
Rollins turns 20 on July 3. He's still young and needs time to develop. He also is slightly taller than 6-foot-3 and has a 6-foot-10 wingspan with the athleticism to play great defense one day. Even if the Warriors bring Payton back, Rollins could step into his spot in the rotation down the road.
The last player to keep your eyes on is Quinndary Weatherspoon. When given his chances, the two-way player looks the part of an NBA contributor. He's bouncy, plenty athletic enough and knows defense is his first ticket to playing time. A big summer league showing will only help his case, especially if he can knock down shots at a strong clip.
There isn't a perfect Payton replacement out there. That's one reason why the Warriors wish to bring him back. If he's wearing a different jersey next season, there's avenues to go down -- some more creative than others.