NBA

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

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The photos of Gary Payton II attending Draymond Green’s wedding surely struck some wistful notes among Warriors fans. We already miss him.

GP2’s rise from 15th man to fan favorite has been so incredible that his departure has led to some of Dub Nation’s most dedicated followers embarking on a new parlor game.

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Guess who?

Guess who could claim the 15th and final place during the Warriors training camp, which opens in less than six weeks?

The answer is, in all likelihood, nobody. With a fairly hefty Chase Center crater luxury tax bill, the Warriors aren’t inclined to go 15 deep. With 13 players already holding guaranteed contracts, there is room for one more.

Understand, now, that if Andre Iguodala returns, Coach Steve Kerr would not only open the door for him, but also buy him dinner. He will be No. 14. Andre’s value to the Warriors as a player/mentor is extremely high. That’s how he made an impact last season when he played just 38 out of 104 games, playoffs included.

If Iguodala wants another year, this is his. Case closed.

Otherwise, well, pity the next dude to land the final spot on the list, whether it’s a Mac McClung or one of the two-way signatories, Quinndary Weatherspoon or Lester Quinones.

Anyone could dream of a breakout season at GP2. But there is a near-zero chance of that becoming a reality as the circumstances of the 2022-23 Warriors are radically different from those of 2021-22.

2021-22: The Warriors were coming off back-to-back seasons without a playoff appearance for the first time in 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 on the big stage.

2022-23: The Warriors have just completed a championship season. There is desire, of course, but no despair. Kuminga and Moody have one year of experience. Additionally, there is now more trust in the list than there was a year ago.

2021-22: Klay Thompson was going to miss a significant part 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 mid-season.

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

2021-22: The Warriors studied the Western Conference and realized their chances of making a deep playoff run would increase dramatically with an elite perimeter defender. Someone who could harass Chris Paul from Phoenix, Ja Morant from Memphis and Donovan Mitchell from Utah. This presented an opportunity for Avery Bradley or GP2. GP2 took it over.

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

2021-22: The Warriors were hoping to go eight or nine from 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 would be followed by Damion Lee, Juan Toscano-Anderson, GP2 and the rookies – and we should include James Wiseman in this latter group. Kerr and his team members had their fingers crossed.

2022-23: The Warriors expect to have 10-12 players capable of contributing regularly. Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green and Looney start five. Poole, DiVincenzo, Moody, Kuminga, JaMychal Green and Wiseman represent six others, Iguodala making 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 don’t saddle him as the next “discovery.” The encore at GP2. The Warriors have bought more time to vet and assess McClung to see if he can be a part of their immediate future.

The GP2 season has been a fantastic journey as rarely happens in the NBA. It was the product of the right player finding the right team and with impeccable timing. How often does an undrafted, six-time waived 29-year-old become a vital member of a championship team?

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

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

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