Draymond reflects on GP2's journey, ‘honored' to present ring


Draymond Green forever will remember Gary Payton II coming up to him after a five-point loss to the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on April 17, 2021, and thanking him. Green was confused at the time, and smiles at the memory now. 

Payton's 10-day contract was coming to an end, thinking the same would be said for his time with the Warriors. Two of the team's biggest stars made sure that didn't happen. Green and Steph Curry pushed for Payton to stay with the team the rest of the season. Little did they know that Payton would end up being a key piece to bringing a Warriors championship back to The Bay. 

The way Payton did so wasn't an easy road, though. It never has been for his NBA career. 

"It wasn't quite done," Green said Friday to reporters after Warriors shootaround, hours before the Warriors take on Payton's Portland Trail Blazers at Chase Center. "He did that, played well and then had to come back and go through summer league and do all of that just to make the team.

"Spent all of training camp hurt. Plays one game and makes the team. And the rest is history." 

There's defying expectations, and then there's doing what Payton did for the Warriors last season. The career journeyman ended up playing 71 regular-season games for the Warriors, and started 16. He was a defensive menace who immediately made an impact on that side of the ball when his number was called. What made him even more reliable was the way his offense grew. 

In his one full season with the Warriors, Payton set a career high in points (7.1) while also shooting 61.6 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from 3-point range. He's 6-foot-3 but played the dunker spot for the Warriors, and also could stretch the floor when called upon. Over 12 playoff games, Payton, as he guarded some of the top scorers in the game, 6.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 65.9 percent overall and 53.3 percent from deep. 

That includes games after his miraculous comeback from a fractured left elbow as well.

But over the offseason, Payton found a new home. Though a handful of players and coaches pushed for Payton's return, he was able to sign a life-changing contract with the Blazers worth more than $26 million -- a figure the Warriors weren't willing to match. 

On Friday night, Payton will receive his championship ring in his return to Chase Center. Unfortunately for him, he'll be in street clothes. Payton still hasn't played a game for his new team as he recovers from abdominal surgery and getting into game shape. That won't stop Green and other former teammates from showing Payton a whole lot of love.

For Green, the night will hold even more significance. The four-time champion will be presenting Payton with his first championship ring.

"To understand all of that and to understand GP's journey, to see him go and get his money, but most importantly to see what he was able to contribute to a championship -- I'm extremely excited and honored to be the person that's presenting him something that will matter and that nobody can take for the rest of your life."

The Warriors against the Blazers will be looking for their first four-game win streak of the season to close out the 2022 calendar year. At 18-18, Golden State's record isn't where many predicted them to be at this point. One of the bigger problems has been trying to replace Payton's production. 

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He's a special player in more ways than one. Beloved in the locker room, there aren't many, if any, who share his exact skill set. There are a handful of players around the league who can come off the bench and score points in bunches. What Payton did was different. 

How often does a crowd get a spark from a player entering the game, primarily for defense? Payton was that kind of ignitor and he became even more valuable as his offense expanded. Along with Donte DiVincenzo, who looks the part of a perfect Warriors role player, the defending champions are using players nearly 10 years younger than Payton to help fill his shoes. 

"Making it in the NBA is hard," Green said. "It took GP until age 29, 28 to figure that role out and star in that role. Quite frankly, we're comparing a 28-year, 29-year-old to a 19 or 20-year-old. Eight years of life in general does something to us all, let alone eight years of playing basketball. 

"You're essentially talking about the growth of a 12-year-old to a 20-year-old, to put it into perspective." 

Payton being back on the Warriors' home court to shine in diamond will be both a remembrance and a reminder. It can serve as the greatest example of what hard work and perseverance brings, as well as the importance of players like Payton for a championship team. 

Long before the final score is determined, Green and the rest of the Golden State gang will take a moment to reflect and embrace someone who always will be a favorite among the Warriors and all of Dub Nation.

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