SAN FRANCISCO — Friday will mark the official end of a chapter for Gary Payton II.
A key rotation player on last season’s championship team, Payton will return to Chase Center with his new team, the Portland Trail Blazers, and be presented with his championship ring during a pre-game ceremony.
Draymond Green will have the honor of handing Payton his championship bling.
“[To] understand GP’s journey and 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 no one can take for the rest of your life,” Green said Friday after shootaround.
That moment will be the only one Payton spends on the court Friday night. Payton had surgery in September to repair a core muscle injury and has yet to play a game for Portland, which signed him to a three-year, $28-million free-agent deal in July.
Payton, 30, reportedly has been cleared to play, but the call is his to make.
Payton became a Warriors fan favorite last season not merely because of his clutch play, but because of his story. He was kicked around the NBA and G League like a tin can for over five years. He signed numerous 10-day and two-way deals with six organizations after going undrafted out of Oregon State.
Payton figured it was about to happen again last April. With his 10-day deal expiring the next day, Payton approached Green to thank him for his support and kindness.
Green remembers it vividly.
“I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?… I don’t quite think it’s gonna be the last day of your 10 day. You’re helping us win games and that can help us in the long run.’”
A little more than a year later, they were dousing one another in champagne.
Payton wanted to return to the Warriors this season, but he’d earned a payday too big for the Warriors’ taste. Their payroll already at $350 million, the Warriors let Payton go.
In his absence, the Warriors turned to their young players, and it has been a struggle.
“Making it in the NBA is hard,” Green said Friday. “It took GP until age 28 to figure that role out and star in the role. We’re comparing a 28, 29-year-old to a 19 or 20-year-old. Eight years of life in general does something to all of us, let alone eight years of playing basketball… I don’t think they really measure up, you look at GP’s road to his success, you can’t skip over that road.
“GP did what he had to do to make a career that he can be proud of and you got to be proud of him for that.”
Green said he has no doubt the young players will figure it out.
“You just got to stay committed to your process and understand that it’s not going to happen overnight,” Green said. “Even the guys that it looked like it happened overnight, it didn’t. There was so much work that went on behind the scenes to get to that point.”
Payton’s story is a prime example of that.