Gary Payton II was ‘blindsided’ by trade but wasn’t surprised his physical was flagged by Warriors

Gary Payton II was ‘blindsided’ by trade but wasn’t surprised his physical was flagged by Warriors

LOS ANGELES — Gary Payton II is back where he wanted to be all along.

It all happened so fast, though.

Payton was “blindsided” when he learned about 10 minutes before the Feb. 9 trade deadline that he would be returning to the Warriors. He was excited, of course, since the Bay Area is where his family and heart is. But he also knew something that Golden State reportedly was not aware of when it made the deal that also sent former No. 2 pick James Wiseman to the Detroit Pistons.

Speaking with reporters Wednesday for the first time since the trade, Payton said he wasn’t surprised the Warriors medical staff flagged his physical, which had put the trade in limbo for three days. Payton said he has been dealing with “lingering pain” stemming from a surgery he had this summer to repair a core muscle.

The abdominal injury will keep him out until at least mid-March, but possibly longer. The hope, he and the team has said, is that he’ll be back before the playoffs.

“Just trying to get my body back, ready, so I can get back on the court, help my team and help get them back where they’re supposed to be,” Payton said. “… I know my body. I know when I’m ready to go out there, ready to be myself. It took longer than usual and my body wasn’t ready. Still isn’t ready. We’re going to take it day by day.”

Golden State had targeted Payton, hoping that his familiarity with its system as well as his defensive skill set would provide a much-needed jolt.

But the Warriors had to put a four-team trade on hold after a routine physical earlier this month revealed Payton, 30, could miss significant time due to a core muscle injury. The Warriors filed a complaint with the league office, alleging the Trail Blazers failed to disclose pertinent medical information during the trade discussions.

Rumors swirled about Payton receiving toradol shots to play, which Payton and his agent have since gone on the record to deny.

The Warriors ultimately proceeded with the deal, though the league’s investigation into their claims remains ongoing.

Payton missed the first 35 games of the season, but played 14 of the last 16 games for the Trail Blazers, including 22 minutes in Portland’s win over Golden State the night before the trade deadline. That’s part of the reason the Warriors were so caught off guard by Payton’s failed physical.

Payton said he made it a point to play against the Warriors Feb. 8 even if it meant playing through pain, which had been the case in other games.

“That was me being a competitor, just wanting to get out there,” Payton said. “No shots, though. Just had to get through it and get it done. The medical stuff wasn’t that big of a deal. I wanted to play and go out there and help my teammates and coaches. I was a bigger factor on the court than off the court. Me being 50% was better than nothing. I just had to get out there and help my team try to win.”

Payton is happy the days of uncertainty are far behind him and thrilled to be back with the Warriors. He’s doing straight rehab, which includes conditioning and strength training. When he does get cleared to play, though, Payton is hoping that he can help elevate the team’s defensive energy, which has floundered this season.

“I hope it’s just as easy as plugging me back in,” he said.

Payton remains optimistic that the 29-29 Warriors will pick up some momentum over the last 24 games of the regular season and hopefully move out of a play-in spot and into a top-six seed.

“[The] Warriors are the Warriors especially when you got your core,” Payton said. “Few things on defense we just got to turn up a little bit but offensively, they can control that.”

Payton believes the Warriors biggest issue defensively is their lack of aggressiveness, a similar sentiment Draymond Green shared before the break when he questioned some of the players’ will to defend. But that’s no problem for Payton, who’s the son of Gary Payton, one of the biggest stars and best defenders of the 90s.

“Coming from my background, it’s just kind of like riding a bike, brushing your teeth,” Payton said. “Part of the biggest thing is being more aggressive, find ways to be more aggressive in intelligent ways.”


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