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Gary Payton probable!? Warriors welcome back another champion
Golden State hosts Timberwolves, as more firepower comes online
Two weeks from today, the regular season ends for the Golden State Warriors. That’s just 14 days and 7 games away for a team that is starting to look a whole lot like they’ve finally figured it out. Was there doubt? Sure. It’s been a rocky season, and while I’m sure the Warriors are satisfied with how it’s all shaken out in the end, this has been one challenging ride.
However, riding a three-game winning streak and playing at home, Golden State has finally gotten a lot of their arrows pointing in the right direction - just in time to welcome back much-loved returning Warriors for life, Gary Payton II.
On the Minnesota Timberwolves side, rumors are indicating that Anthony Edwards might be returning from his recent ankle injury - a big boost for the team locked up with the Los Angeles Lakers directly behind the Warriors in the crowded Western Conference playoff race.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (39-36) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (37-37)
WHEN: Sunday, March 26th, 2023 // 5:30pm PST
“I'm just ready to get back out on the court with the guys and wrap this up”
Gary Payton is a unique player and a unique situation. After letting him walk for a better deal over the previous offseason, the Warriors made the unusual move of getting non-buyers remorse and swinging a trade for him at the deadline in exchange for ill-fitting center, James Wiseman.
But the heart wants what the heart wants, so it is with great pleasure all around that Payton is poised to return to action tonight - presuming all goes well during warmups. Payton, for his part is feeling great, and will be ready to help lift this team into the playoffs.
Payton scrimmaged on Friday and was a full participant at the team's light practice Saturday afternoon. He will warm up on Sunday with the intent to play. The final decision will come before tipoff.
"I'm starting to feel like myself," Payton said. "I missed a lot of games this year so I'm just ready to get back out on the court with the guys and wrap this up for the homestretch."
I think we can all agree with Payton that it will be nice to wrap this season up and start into the postseason… whatever that’s going to look like. Payton hasn’t played since early February and only managed to appear in 15 games total so far this season due to an offseason surgery and some lingering abdominal issues.
After initially rattling the franchise swords about filing a grievance with the league regarding the Portland Trail Blazers’ handling and non-disclosure of Payton’s status ahead of the trade (that shipped out former #2 pick, James Wiseman in a four-team deal) it seems that the Warriors are dropping any formal appeal. I guess the team was satisfied with the amount of slander unleashed to date? Or maybe because Payton came back soon enough it just wasn't worth pushing - or just wasn't a viable case.
Anyways, in the immediate future, it’s not clear exactly how many minutes Payton will be playing, or what parts of the rotation will be most directly affected. In that ESPN article linked earlier, they were kind enough to transcribe some of coach Steve Kerr’s comments about how Payton’s reintegration is likely to have ripple effects for a lot of the roster.
"He's so good on the ball, but he's also good off the ball and playing in the passing lanes," Kerr said. "Felt like last year we got out a lot more in transition off steals than we have this year, and Gary is also a great finisher in transition. And we're either last or near the bottom in transition points per possession this year, which should not be the case."
Payton's presence will also "eat into some minutes of other players," Kerr said. He didn't specify where exactly Payton's minutes will come from but said "a lot" of players will be impacted by it.
"So the biggest thing for our group is just to understand that it's all hands on deck," Kerr said. "What I've learned is on teams that are successful, everybody is able to sort of submit themselves to the group for the greater good, which is not easy to do.
With Wiggins still out and Jonathan Kuminga beginning to look like a shoe-in for playoff rotation minutes, Golden State has an established top 7. Here’s the list of players sorted by total minutes played this season, via basketball reference:
While their similar size and relatively similar play style would seem to indicate that Donte DiVincenzo might by the most natural trade-off for Payton’s minutes, there might be some synergy there. A mega defense lineup that feature both DiVincenzo and Payton paired with a big man (either Looney or Draymond Green) would seem like a whole lot of trouble - or maybe even a useful lineup balance in combination with Poole or Curry.
The possibilities are endless!
Payton will obviously be on some sort of minutes limitation in these first games back, but it’s going to be super interesting to see what combinations mad scientist Kerr is going to try to plug Payton into first.
Payton’s homecoming is going to be a huge emotional lift, and the Warrior are going on a win streak!