SAN FRANCISCO — The Warriors’ wait for Gary Payton II’s return could soon be over.
Six weeks after he rejoined his former team via trade, Payton might finally suit up for Golden State this weekend.
Payton scrimmaged Friday and went through a light practice Saturday, coach Steve Kerr said. He’s listed as probable for Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, meaning he’ll warm-up with the intention of playing. Kerr anticipates Payton will play under a minutes restriction.
“It feels good,” said Payton, who also said Saturday is the best he’s felt since his July procedure. “I’m starting to feel like myself, I’m excited to get back out here.”
Payton has been limited to just 15 games this season and hasn’t played since Feb. 8 as he’s dealt with what he called lingering pain from an offseason surgery to repair a core muscle — an issue that was flagged during a physical that put the four-team trade on hold.
It was initially feared Payton could miss months with the injury, and his unknown recovery timeline prompted the Warriors filed a complaint with the NBA alleging the Portland Trail Blazers withheld pertinent medical information in the pre-trade process.
But news broke Saturday afternoon that Golden State has decided not to go forward with its grievance.
Payton will have seven games — four at home and three on the road, including a regular-season finale against his former team — to reintegrate himself with the Warriors before they take another crack at an NBA title. His familiarity with the Warriors from previous seasons should help with his transition back into the rotation, though Kerr anticipates it won’t be a seamless process.
“While it’s great to have Gary back, it does mean he’s going to eat into some minutes of other players and that’s not easy to handle,” Kerr said. “Biggest thing for our group is just to understand that it’s all hands on deck, every game kind of feels like a playoff game now and every game is going to be different.”
This two-week period before the playoffs is vital for Payton’s conditioning as well as getting him acquainted with players he hasn’t had a chance to share the floor with such as Donte DiVicenzo and JaMychal Green.
“It’ll be great to have these seven games,” Kerr said. “Hopefully that puts us in a good position heading into the postseason.”
Payton said he’s gotten accustomed to the younger bench mob by watching their tendancies over the last 20 games.
“I know what guys like to do, or where they like to be, so [it’ll be] just like riding a bike,” he said.
Payton signed a three-year deal with the Trail Blazers this season, but his season debut was delayed after it took more time than anticipated from him to recover from his July procedure. He averaged 4.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 15 games.
Payton played 72 regular-season games last season for the Warriors and averaged 7.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals while also converting on 35.8% of his 3-point attempts.
Payton’s versatility and familiarity is why the Warriors felt comfortable moving on from former No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman, whom they traded to the Detroit Pistons as part of the deal. The Warriors believe Payton will provide an instant spark on defense. Kerr also hopes he’ll help with them scoring in transition.
The Warriors average 1.13 transition points per possession and 21 points off turnovers per game — both stats put them near the league average.
“[Payton’s] ability to finish with force and quickness before the shot blockers can get there, we’ve missed that this year,” Kerr said. “We’re one of the weakest teams in the league with transition points per possession, which when you’re a fast-paced team like us, it’s not a great stat. So we’ve got to do a better job here down the stretch and into the playoffs with converting in transition and Gary will definitely help with that.”
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