Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was sitting with former teammate Gary Payton II on the training table when the latter got called into a meeting on Feb. 9. He did not know, at the time, that Payton was about to be traded back to the Golden State Warriors.
What followed in the days to come was unexpected.
From The Athletic breaking that Payton had failed his physical examination, to the Warriors announcing he would need three months recovery (later adjusted), to accusations about Toradol shots during his time in Portland (denied by his agent), to a waiting game to see if Golden State would accept the trade after all, to, finally, Golden State requesting investigation into Portland’s trade practices.
It was a whirlwind of misgivings that Lillard could only watch, having no direct knowledge of the situation and no cause to enter the fray. All he knew was he didn’t want to see Payton go.
He told as much to Chris Haynes and Marc Stein on the #thisleague UNCUT podcast over NBA All-Star Weekend. More importantly, he came to the defense of Portland’s performance staff and shared his perspective on the situation. Listen to the full podcast, here, or skip ahead to about the nine-minute mark for Lillard’s full comments on Payton.
And then, you know, the trade happens and all these things come out about performance staff, all of those things. I honestly don’t know the exact dynamic that it was. You just assume that they’re giving him a plan and he’s doing whatever that plan is. But what I do know is there was a lot of stuff that I did see that I don’t see that happening. I think Geoff Clark, who’s the head of our performance staff, has been around a long time. I’ve been around him my whole career; he’s always been on point. Even when he dealt with my surgery, when he’s dealt with all of my injuries, he’s always been on point and had the best interest of the player. Like I said, I don’t really know all the full details, but, you know, obviously it was a major disconnect and a lot of miscommunications that happened. But, obviously, with it being looked into and we’ve seen more facts come out, Gary’s still dealing with some pain and some stress, which is something that’s possible when you come off of surgery and you start playing. When you get back out there, you never know what can happen. But I just hope that he get healthy. I didn’t want to see him go back to Golden State because I know he makes (his team) better, so I didn’t want to see that happen.
Payton played 15 games in a Trail Blazers uniform over the course of a month. His final game with the team came against the Warriors themselves, in which he contributed nine points in 22 minutes of action. There were no external indications, at the time, that he was still too injured to play. He is now expected to miss at least one month before potentially suiting up for Golden State later this season.