Why Warriors won’t find next Gary Payton II with final NBA roster spot

Why Warriors won't find next Gary Payton II with final NBA roster spot

The photos of Gary Payton II attending Draymond Green’s wedding surely struck a few melancholy notes among Warriors fans. He already is missed.

GP2’s rise from 15th man to fan favorite was so incredible that his departure has some of the most devoted disciples within Dub Nation engaging in a new parlor game.

Guess who?

Guess who might snag the 15th and final roster spot during Warriors training camp, which opens in less than six weeks?

The answer is, in all likelihood, no one. With a luxury-tax bill heavy enough to crater Chase Center, the Warriors are not inclined to go 15 deep. With 13 players already holding guaranteed contracts, there is room for one more.

Understand, now, if Andre Iguodala returns, coach Steve Kerr not only would open the door but also buy him dinner. He’ll be No. 14. Andre’s value to the Warriors as a player/mentor is exceedingly high. It’s how he made an impact last season despite playing only 38 of 104 games, postseason included.

If Iguodala wants another year, it’s his. Case closed.

If not, well, have pity on the next dude who snags the final roster spot, whether it’s a Mac McClung or one of the two-way signees, Quinndary Weatherspoon or Lester Quinones.

Whomever he is might dream of a GP2-like breakout season. But there is a near-zero chance of it becoming reality because the circumstances of the 2022-23 Warriors are dramatically different from those of 2021-22.

2021-22: The Warriors were coming off consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance for the first time since the first two seasons under the ownership group led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. Even with two rookie lottery picks, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, the franchise was desperate to get back onto the big stage.

2022-23: The Warriors are coming off a championship season. There is desire, of course, but no desperation. Kuminga and Moody have a year of experience. Moreover, there is more overall confidence in the roster now than was the case a year ago.

2021-22: Klay Thompson was going to miss a substantial portion of the season. And even when he returned, there would be limits on playing time. Minutes were available. Enter Jordan Poole and GP2. They thrived and continued to do so even after Thompson returned at midseason.

2022-23: For the first time since 2018, Klay’s summer is not dictated by a schedule rich in rehabilitation, recovery and more rehab. He expects to be ready from Day 1 of camp, projects to be in the starting lineup on opening night and start at least 70 games. Poole will get his minutes. Donte DiVincenzo and Moses Moody won’t be far behind.

2021-22: The Warriors studied the Western Conference and realized their chances of making a deep postseason run would greatly increase with an elite perimeter defender. Someone who could harass the likes of Phoenix’s Chris Paul, Memphis’ Ja Morant, and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell. That presented an opportunity for Avery Bradley or GP2. GP2 seized it.

2022-23: Thompson should be better next season than he was last season. Perhaps good enough to return to the defensive role he once embraced, that of guarding the opposing point guard. It’s a lot to ask, but he’ll pursue it. Moody and DiVincenzo will get opportunities. And don’t count out rookie Ryan Rollins,

2021-22: The Warriors hoped to go eight or nine deep, with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney as starters, along with Jordan Poole, Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica and Andre Iguodala in the rotation. They’d be followed by Damion Lee, Juan Toscano-Anderson, GP2 and the rookies – and we should include James Wiseman in the latter group. Kerr and the members of his staff had their fingers crossed.

2022-23: The Warriors expect to have 10 to 12 players capable of contributing on a regular basis. Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green and Looney are starting five. Poole, DiVincenzo, Moody, Kuminga, JaMychal Green and Wiseman represent six others, with Iguodala making it seven. To be clear: Kuminga, Moody and Wiseman will be in the rotation.

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as much excitement as McClung generated during his time in the Las Vegas Summer League, please do not saddle him being the next “discovery.” The encore to GP2. The Warriors have bought more time to examine and evaluate McClung to see if he can be a part of their immediate future.

GP2’s season was a fantastic journey the likes of which rarely occur in the NBA. It was a product of the right player finding the right team and with impeccable timing. How often does an undrafted 29-year-old, waived six different times, become an essential member of a championship team?

Payton was a meteor, and the Warriors needed everything they got from him. Had he returned, GP2 still would have made an impact – but not nearly at the level of last season.

Make no mistake: The Warriors are investing in youth. Knowing there is no “next GP2,” the team’s front office wouldn’t dare let the next Mr. 14th Man slow that train.

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