Gary Payton II is expected to make his re-debut for the Golden State Warriors on Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The team announced on Thursday that Payton had "intensified his on-court workouts over the last week" and was listed as probable for Sunday's game after he practiced on Saturday.
On Saturday evening, Bleacher Report's Chris Haynes reported that Payton will, indeed, play on Sunday.
Golden State Warriors guard Gary Payton II will make his season debut for the defending champs Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, league sources tell @NBAonTNT, @BleacherReport.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) March 26, 2023
Payton broke out for the Warriors last season and helped them win a championship, but they elected not to re-sign him because of luxury-tax concerns. The 30-year-old signed a three-year, $26.1 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers, but he had abdominal surgery in July and didn't make his season debut until January. He had only appeared in 15 games this season when Golden State reacquired him at the trade deadline in a four-team deal that included former No. 2 pick James Wiseman.
At the time, the Warriors were under the impression that Payton would give them an immediate boost, but he failed his physical and, for a few days, the trade appeared to be in jeopardy. Golden State went through with it, but ruled Payton out for a month due to "right adductor rehabilitation" and filed a complaint against the Blazers.
If Payton can move the way he did last season, he'll immediately improve the Warriors' defense, which ranks 18th in the league (third at home, third-worst on the road, mostly because of opponent 3-point shooting). At his best, he might be the NBA's top point-of-attack defender, and he's strong and athletic enough to switch onto bigger players.
Golden State needs Payton, and he needs the coaching staff to put him in lineups that make his skills pop. Last season, the Warriors were able to use him as a roller on offense and put him in the dunker spot, with bigger players like Otto Porter and Nemanja Bjelica stretching the floor. Those guys aren't around anymore, and while JaMychal Green (37.4%) and Anthony Lamb (37.8%) are shooting just fine from 3-point range, they don't have the same kind of gravity on the perimeter. For the Warriors to maintain their spacing, they might need to use Payton in smaller lineups.
This is a much better problem to solve, however, than simply not having Payton available all season. If he comes back on Sunday, then he could potentially play in seven regular-season games with his new/old team. (There are no back-to-backs remaining on the schedule.)
That is good news, particularly with Andrew Wiggins still away from the team for personal reasons. If Golden State is going to rediscover its championship form, it needs everybody available, and at this point it doesn't even have a secure playoff spot. At 38-36, the Warriors are sixth in the Western Conference, just one game out of the play-in, and no team from No. 4 (the 38-34 Phoenix Suns) to No. 12 (the 35-37 New Orleans Pelicans) feels comfortable with where it stands.