The Gary Payton II trade has been completed, but the Warriors still face many questions

The Warriors roster still faces many questions after the GP2 trade originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO — The Warriors interrupted Super Bowl Sunday with news that has fans and the franchise on pins and needles.

Despite Gary Payton II’s physical bust, the Warriors completed their four-team, four-player trade that returns Payton to Golden State from the Portland Trail Blazers and sends former #2 draft pick James Wiseman to the Detroit Pistons, a source confirmed at NBC Sports Bay Area.

After much frustration and confusion, conclusion was the only right answer. For all sides.

Payton wants to be with the Warriors — he’s never really wanted to leave free agency — and he feels more comfortable with their training staff. He has experience with them, is comfortable with them and has seen them help him come back from a broken left elbow in the playoffs to play a big part in the 2022 NBA Finals. That everything should matter and be a priority, with Payton who he is expected to miss a significant amount of playing time with an abdominal issue despite playing in 14 of the Blazers’ last 17 games and three in a row.

Even the Warriors want him here. Payton had a large contingent of people in the building who were fighting for him to stay in San Francisco during the offseason. They had a 56-27 record in games Payton played last season. They went 47-24 with him in the lineup in the regular season and then 9-3 in the playoffs.

“I love Gary Payton,” Klay Thompson said Wednesday night after playing Payton in the Warriors’ loss to the Blazers. “Just a great professional and a champion. He’s just a good guy.”

Payton had the highest net rating (16.9) of anyone in a two-man lineup with Steph Curry last season, and he unlocks Draymond Green’s defensive greatness to another level. The Warriors had a 97.7 defensive rating with Payton on the field and Green in center last season. His addition shows a shift in thinking, a game-winning move with their highest draft pick since picking the No. 1 overall pick in 1995 walking out the door.

And he was expected to be a perfect fit, helping the Warriors get closer to their own NBA champions.

That’s not even taking into account the financial side of it all. Moving on from Wiseman would save the Warriors millions. Payton is also not a one year rental. He’s on a three-year contract, someone he’s expected to help in the present and future of the team’s championship window with their veteran stars.

Then there’s Wiseman. The change of scenery should be a situation where the grass is greener on the other side for the young big man. He played in just 60 NBA games in two and a half years and would not have made the Warriors’ rotation. Wiseman is a 21-year-old center who will finally see some regular playing time and can make mistakes and develop through them in a low-pressure environment.

The last thing his career needs is to go back to the place he has already said goodbye.

But starting with determining exactly how long Payton will be sidelined, the Warriors, at 28-28, have a lot of questions to answer.

Golden State’s roster is 14 players, giving them an open 15th spot. One of them (Ryan Rollins) is occupied by a second-round pick who is expected to miss the rest of the season with a broken Jones in his right foot after playing in just 12 NBA games. Andre Iguodala, who has played in three games this season and has now missed 14 in a row with right hip pain, has another one. And now Payton is wearing civilian clothes.

Sophomore Moses Moody stepped in and earned Payton minutes in the Western Conference Finals last season as a rookie when Payton was injured. Right now, he’s seeing limited minutes or DNP (Did Not Play).

Rookie Patrick Baldwin Jr. had 23 points for the Warriors with nine rebounds, three assists and was plus-7 on Saturday night. Correction: the Santa Cruz Warriors. Internally the Warriors are very high on Baldwin. He also turned 20 less than three months ago and is in need of coaching, after missing nearly his entire senior year in high school with an ankle injury and then playing in just 12 games as a college freshman.

Anthony Lamb also had 23 points with nine rebounds and three assists, as well as three blocks and a plus-11 on Saturday night for Santa Cruz. It was his first G League game of the season. Before the season, that wasn’t the plan. The two-way player has been active in 42 Warriors games this season and has become a mainstay of the rotation.

His contract only allows him to be active for 50 NBA games, with 26 remaining in the regular season. Lamb was inactive in four straight games, all following Curry’s lower left leg injury. Point guard and contract two-way partner Ty Jerome has played in five straight games and has only 14 left as a two-way player.

Both are still candidates for the Warriors’ open roster spot.

“We’re sneaking up on the total, so with Steph out we’re using them for Ty,” Kerr explained ahead of Saturday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “We’ll hang on to Lamb’s for later if possible.”

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Payton’s injury wrinkle could make the Warriors harder to find even in the buyout market. Do they still prioritize a big man there, or more a guard/wing now? The Warriors do not have a single player taller than 6-foot-9 with Wiseman traded.

All this without even mentioning Curry. An injury update won’t come again until after the All-Star break. It is not yet known when he will return to the games. He was not seen on the sidelines and a large walking crutch was leaning against his locker before Saturday’s game.

Curry has historically come back from extremely bad injuries and without missing a beat. His first few games after an injury earlier this season were mixed results, but he came back to looking like himself before going down against the Minnesota Timberwolves and was averaging 28.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists while shooting 41.2% on 3-point attempts in 12 games since returning from a left shoulder injury.

How long Payton will be out and which player he will be when he returns is the biggest unknown of all. In the end, bringing him back to the Bay was the right decision for countless reasons.

It’s fitting that Payton going home is the Warriors’ last turnaround for a season-long headache.

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