How GP2 already has made impact on Warriors before playing

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Starting 6-9 through their first 15 games didn't help. Neither did losing their first eight road games and struggling away from Chase Center all season. A training camp punch leaked to the entire basketball world was a factor that can't fully be measured. 

The Warriors' vibes this season were off from the start, and have felt lifeless at times. 

Donte DiVincenzo rightfully called out the lack of energy in Portland when the Warriors needed a poster dunk from him for the Warriors to get off their seats and show a spark on both sides of the ball in a three-point loss to the Trail Blazers. 

"I think the biggest thing about that is afterwards, everybody was hyping each other up, and I think that's something that we need moving forward and to keep doing that," DiVincenzo said on Feb. 8. "Celebrate each other and celebrate each other's successes on the court. It'll go a long way for us." 

DiVincenzo concluded: "If we can put our energy towards one another and have that good spirit, that good mindset and not 'me' but be about 'we,' it goes a long way." 

His sentiments were seen from results on the court. DiVincenzo's slam sparked a 17-4 run for the Warriors in the last four-and-a-half minutes of the first half. The Warriors' defense caused four turnovers in that span. Though they lost the game, DiVincenzo's vicious dunk and the domino effect the bench created should have been an example the Warriors could learn from. 

The next day, they brought back a fan-favorite and instant energizer in acquiring Gary Payton II from the Blazers as part of a four-team, four-player trade where the Warriors sent James Wiseman -- a 21-year-old former No. 2 overall draft pick who wasn't getting the playing time he desired and spent most of his time on the bench -- to the Detroit Pistons. 

Payton's impact as a player for the Warriors hasn't been seen this season. He surprisingly failed his Warriors physical due to a right adductor/core muscle issue stemming from offseason surgery. Payton admitted to using the painkiller Toradol orally to play through pain in Portland. The wait could be over very soon.

On Thursday, the Warriors announced Payton could make his long-awaited return Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Payton has intensified his on-court workouts over the last week. He's expected to practice Saturday, and his status for Sunday's game will be determined after that. 

The moment Payton was back in the building, though, a shift was in the air. His old teammates and coaches knew that would be the case. DiVincenzo is in his first season with the Warriors, but could feel it right away. 

"Just first and foremost that fun aspect -- a laugh and a joke and a smile and a celebration," DiVincenzo said on March 14 when asked after Warriors practice. "I think a little bit early in the season we lacked that a little bit. I think everybody was so tense. Everybody's trying to figure out rotations, trying to figure out playing minutes and everything like that.

"And when he got here, it just lightened the mood a little bit."

Despite sharing the same name as his Hall of Fame father, Payton has paved his own way and earned everything along his basketball journey. From junior college to going undrafted out of Oregon State, to bouncing around teams and grinding through the G League, Payton has dug his way out of ditches. 

He broke his left shooting elbow in the second round of the playoffs last season. The Warriors don't lock down the Boston Celtics defensively and lift the Larry O'Brien trophy without him. 

Kerr badly wanted Payton back over the offseason. A former role player himself, Kerr knew the difference Payton brings to the Warriors. The numbers show the best season of his career. What he means to Golden State's system and culture alike surpasses the stats. 

What a new teammate noticed most from the start when being around Payton didn't surprise Kerr. It's only more proof of what the coach has known since Payton earned his second 10-day contract for the Warriors one season, and then the 15th and final roster spot the day of the opener the next season. He's exactly what the Warriors' bench has missed most this season.

"Yeah, he brings a lot of really good energy," Kerr said. "He's engaged, he's talking to guys when they come to the bench, about what he sees -- but he's up and he's cheering and that's what you want.

"You just want your bench to be active and engaged with everything that's happening."

Payton is active and engaged with everything that's happening. He's talking to guys in real time and during timeouts. One is who many pointed to being Payton's replacement this past offseason. 

In multiple ways, DiVincenzo has been even more than the Warriors could have hoped when they signed him to a modest two-year, $9.3 million contract with a player option for the second year. He's not a Payton replacement. He never wanted to be. From afar, though, DiVincenzo saw how important Payton was to the Warriors winning it all last season.

Why does anyone come to the Warriors? To the win. DiVincenzo has done so in college and the NBA and wants to be back to the mountain top. Payton climbed his way there a year ago, and DiVincenzo is all ears as an eager listener around him. 

"For me personally, we're picking each other's brains," DiVincenzo said. "I think it's gonna be super fun to play full-court defense, me and Gary. I look forward to it. And you know, with all these matchups I have, we're always talking in timeouts. 'What would you do? What did you see here?'

"It's really helping me, for sure."

RELATED: Warriors' bench flying high right in time for playoff push

Even after being fitted for championship rings, the Warriors turned their eyes towards the future when they didn't re-sign Payton. They recognized their mistake and made a win-now move bringing Payton back home. His chance to prove himself yet again is there for the taking.

Players know it, and coaches know it -- Payton's impact already has gone a long way before playing in a single game.

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