No, really. After some deliberating, count me in. I'm drinking the Kool-Aid. Despite my preseason reservations about a comeback for GP, this is a move that could make very legitimate sense for the Celtics if they can make it happen at a reasonable price.
The link above will take you to my piece on Payton from back in September, when he was looking to find a contending team, presumably as a starter. Make no mistake: Payton isn't a top-tier starting point guard in this league right now, nor is he anything close to it. His numbers and production have dropped considerably, and his ego appears to be just as big as ever, making him more of a hindrance than a help for any team looking to bring him in as a starter. Those were the issues in a nutshell from back in September.
But as Celtics fans are no doubt aware, the Celtics wouldn't bring Gary Payton in as the starting point guard. And that changes everything.
A recent e-mail brought up the possibility that Payton is trying to latch on to a contender as he did in Los Angeles with the Lakers back in 2003-04. Once again, however, latching on isn't the issue. The role of he who latches is. In Los Angeles, Payton entered the scene to be one of four stars. Maybe they weren't all equals, but GP, Karl Malone, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant were expected to be on the same plane. They were all to be starters, and they were to win a championship together. Payton, of course, didn't have what it took that season to be the starting point guard on a title team, and his ego eclipsed his game by a long shot as the year progressed. His refusal to take a minutes cut or to be receptive to the idea of a reduced role hurt that team greatly in the playoffs, and by the time Phil Jackson made a change, it was too late. Though he was moderately effective in his stint with the Celtics and wound up contributing to a title-winning team in Miami in 2006, it was clear by last season that Payton was definitely not going to be able to hold down the fort as a starter on a big-deal team.
What he can do, however, is get the ball over the timeline. He can also provide years and years of experience playing the point guard position at a very high level, some veteran savvy and perhaps just a bit of defense at this point. For a few possessions a few minutes at a time per game, Payton can run this offense and be a steadying leader on the floor. Though Rajon Rondo has made great strides in a short time, his free throw shooting remains suspect at 54 percent on the season (a could-be major issue at the end of games), and he is a young player who could certainly use the guidance. Eddie House has quickly become a fan favorite (and deservedly so), but he isn't a natural point, and late in games he serves the team far better as a gunner than a ball handler. With two open roster spots and a bench that continues to face questions regarding depth, the Celtics have the room on the roster and in the rotation to bring Payton in while not hurting House's contributions.
The most important issue would be making sure that both Payton and the Celtics understand his role going in. That's the whole point here: Bringing him in as a starter or any sort of savior is a foolish idea for any team. Bringing him in with an understanding of his job as a supporting piece makes sense for the Celts. His ego will have to be checked at the door right away, and if he can't live with that, he won't be brought in to begin with. If he becomes a problem once he is in town, this is the type of team that will be able to deal with it. The group has become very close knit in a rather short time, and Kevin Garnett is as strong a leader as any in the game, never mind that he is supplemented by Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. If Payton steps out of line or gets mouthy, he will be sternly rebuked and put back into place. He will be forced to comprehend the situation if he comes to Beantown at all, and if he is willing to come on the Celtics' terms, it will demonstrate an understanding that this is about the team winning and nothing else.
Maybe this comes down to the old case of the word fan being rooted in fanatic. Or maybe there is something to the idea of bringing Gary Payton back to Boston. Either way, word is that he wants to come to town, and if nothing else, that campaign has at least one supporter in this space. Here's hoping Danny Ainge will soon be adding to that total.