GP2 trade fits only Warriors timeline that truly matters


Inhale, exhale. The craziness of the 2023 NBA trade deadline deserves a nice, long, deep breath. 

Especially with the Warriors' shocking move Thursday of bringing Gary Payton II back to The Bay, while simultaneously putting an end to the James Wiseman experience

A source confirmed Thursday that the Warriors acquired Payton from the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Kevin Knox and five second-round draft picks. The deal is pending a physical for Payton, who has played 15 games this season after undergoing offseason abdominal surgery.

The Warriors were able to maneuver their Payton reunion by first sending Wiseman to the Detroit Pistons for Knox and Saddiq Bey, the latter of which was then flipped to the Atlanta Hawks for five second-round picks. What the decision does is right a wrong in letting Payton walk last summer in free agency, and admits a mistake in selecting Wiseman with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. 

It also serves as a seamless fit in the only timeline that matters: Steph Curry's. 

For a franchise that can't escape its own self-made "light years ahead" label, the Warriors followed a fourth NBA championship in eight years with a roster that tipped too heavily one way or the other, never exactly striking the right balance while trying to act like the smartest person in the room. Injuries to Curry and Andrew Wiggins haven't helped this season, and there probably was too much pressure and expectations placed upon Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody -- a 21-year-old and two 20-year-olds. 

Starting over is exactly what Wiseman needed. He has played 60 games in two-and-a-half seasons since being drafted, 22 fewer than one full season. The 7-footer should get a chance to get game reps in Detroit and learn from his mistakes in a low-pressure situation for a 14-win team. 

Payton never wanted to leave the Warriors and was hoping the front office would push harder to keep him before he signed a three-year contract worth over $26 million for the Blazers. The 30-year-old has fans galore inside and outside of Chase Center, and having him back should put a smile on the face of Steve Kerr and the players alike. Let's start with Steph. 

Creating a Curry-Wiseman duo sounded right on paper with Wiseman being a lob threat and feeding off the greatest shooter in NBA history. The results were abysmal.

In 69 minutes this season, a Curry-Wiseman two-man lineup produced a negative-15.0 Net Rating. When Wiseman was a rookie, the two had a negative-8.1 Net Rating together. That's quite the opposite of how Curry functions with Payton on the floor. 

Steph and GP2 spent nearly 598 minutes together on the floor last regular season. The results were Curry's best two-man Net Rating of any combination. Per 100 possessions, Curry and Payton created a 16.9 Net Rating with a 115.2 offensive rating and 98.3 defensive rating. 

Jordan Poole should be equally as happy, too. Payton and Poole had an 8.7 Net Rating last season together, which was Poole's second-best two-man lineup behind only playing alongside Steph.

“GP’s a lot like me in his undersized-ness, if you will, if that’s a word, is his weapon,” Draymond Green said to NBC Sports Bay Area on Monday night after the Warriors' blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Because they don’t realize how long he is. You can affect shots, you can get steals that your opponent may think, ‘Oh, that’s open,’ but then an arm goes up, an arm goes out. Those are things that you can’t teach. 

“He just has a knack for the ball, that’s why he comes up with offensive rebounds and steals. He just has a knack for the ball. Me and Loon used to call him a small five.”

When it comes to five-man lineups, Payton's name was included in three of Curry's top-five units for Net Rating and two of the top three. His versatility at 6-foot-2 slashing to the basket as a dunker offensively, putting his body on the line as a screener and guarding multiple positions defensively lets him fit like a worn-in glove.

He also brings the kind of grit the Warriors have been lacking this season, an area that has been called out by Kerr and his players. Payton is willing to be a pest. The son of a Hall of Famer, Payton didn't take the easy road. No, he grinded through multiple G League stints and fought for every chance the Warriors gave him, before earning the biggest contract of his life.

Even in the Warriors' loss Wednesday night to Payton and the Blazers, he was smiling after being called for a foul with Green animated and irate from his former teammate being all over him and locking arms. Draymond is someone who you want on your team, and who opponents despise. Payton can relate.

Then there's the Warriors' defense. Or lack thereof. 

Golden State, entering Thursday's slate of games, ranks 26th in opponent's points per game and 18th in defensive rating. A season ago with a healthy Payton, they finished the regular season with the best defensive rating in basketball and allowed the third-fewest points per game.

RELATED: Warriors admit mistake, abandon vision by trading Wiseman

The Western Conference now features Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, a revamped Los Angeles Lakers squad and two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets still looking down at everybody else. The Warriors didn't go out and make a blockbuster move like the Phoenix Suns or Dallas Mavericks. Instead, they did what they know by bringing in someone will have no problem in their system and amplify those around him and grin at the chance of guarding some of the game’s best scorers.

Only a few months ago, the Gary Payton II era in San Francisco seemed to be over. That was an error, one that didn't sit right with those who helped form one of the best dynasties in basketball history. Bringing him back benefits Curry as much as anybody, which always should remain the top priority. 

There still are a handful of Warriors pups looking to find their way around the building. Adding a familiar, grizzled dog to the group is just what the defending champions needed.

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