Gary Payton: This Lakers team is nothing like ’04 Lakers
LBS had the pleasure of speaking with former NBA Defensive Player of the Year and nine-time All-Star Gary Payton last week. Our conversation covered a wide range of topics. I asked him what it was like to guard Michael Jordan in the 1996 NBA Finals, how his talented ’03-’04 Lakers team compares to the current Lakers, and what it was like trying to learn the triangle offense. We also discussed whether trash talk ever goes too far on the court, as many felt it did in the Kevin Garnett-Carmelo Anthony spat.
Payton spoke to us to promote his participation with Thuzio. Thuzio is an online service that helps connect athletes with fans for unforgettable experiences. For instance, you can go here to book Payton for a lunch or dinner, fantasy draft, pick-up game, appearance, speaking engagement, or even to provide personal coaching instruction. You can see the other athletes Thuzio has available for booking at their website.
Before the NBA season began, many people saw similarities between the current Lakers team and the 2003-’04 squad. The ’03-’04 team brought in Payton and Hall of Famer Karl Malone to join Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. When the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash over the offseason, it looked like the team was assembling another star-studded cast. Payton doesn’t see it that way.
“I don’t see any similarities,” Payton said bluntly. “People have to understand basketball and have to understand this team is nothing like what me and Karl Malone did. When Malone and I joined the Lakers, we started off the season 19-3*. When Malone got hurt, that’s when our season went down the pits. But it didn’t even go down the pits — we made it to the NBA Finals.”
Payton says that Lakers team had multiple distractions that made it difficult to achieve what they wanted to.
“People don’t understand that Kobe Bryant was going through the stuff that he was going through, and it was taking a toll on him,” Payton said of Bryant, who was going through his sexual assault case at the time. “If we’d had the Kobe Bryant of now instead of the one who was going through problems, it would have been a little bit different.
“Shaquille (O’Neal) was going through a lot of things with the organization at the time, too. He was fighting with the organization about a lot of different stuff and he really did not want to be there.
“When Karl Malone got back, he re-injured his shoulder, and that hurt us in the long run. We ran into the Detroit Pistons who were hungry. They made a push and they beat us,” Payton told Larry Brown Sports.
“I don’t see any similarities from our team to this team. This team is not is going to be in a championship. They got to get a lot of things together. We had a great coach in Phil Jackson and we still struggled. He still made us become a basketball team that made it to the playoffs and finals.”
Payton said he struggled adjusting to the Lakers’ offensive system that season. I asked him how difficult it is to try learning the triangle offense for the first time.
“It’s very difficult. When you’ve been playing basketball for long and you’ve been in a pick and roll offense, and then you come into a triangle offense for one year, it’s very difficult. Shaq and Kobe were in it for a long period of time and got adjusted to it. It was very hard for a point guard who had been doing so much in his career [to go to] a structured offense where you couldn’t do this, couldn’t do that. It was very difficult.”
Kevin Garnett has been criticized for going too far with some of his trash talk. Many felt like him telling Carmelo Anthony, who reportedly is going through some struggles with his wife, that she tastes like Honey Nut Cheerios, was going too far. He also has been called out for his trash talk with Tim Duncan and Charlie Villanueva.
I asked Payton, who was notorious for being one of the best trash talkers in the league, whether there is such a thing as crossing the line.
“There is a point where you can go too far,” said Payton. “A lot of the kids nowadays are not going to take too much of this stuff. When we were in our day and Kevin (Garnett) was playing we could probably take that. And we would probably come back at him in the same way. But a lot of these kids right now are not taking that type of stuff. They’re more personal and more into their families and stuff.
“[Garnett's] been doing it so long that he’s not going to change his ways. He’s got to understand that if he wants to do that, he’s going to have some kick back with some of these kids that are going to want to go back at him. And they’re going to want to go back at him in a different way. He’s got to understand that if he’s going to say something that he isn’t supposed to say, he’s going to have to deal with the consequences.”
When asked if he had ever crossed the line with trash talk during his career, Payton reflected and said he had.
“Me and Lamar Odom had gotten into it about a situation and it was very disrespectful from me. I didn’t understand his situation and his life at the time. Sometimes you have to understand that it’s nothing but a basketball game. You’re [just] talking. It’s not that serious about life like that about saying things about people that really hurts them. It really messes you up sometimes if you have a kid that’s been watching you since they were young and you say stuff to him and it messes up his whole mentality. You have to think about that sometimes.”
Payton thinks players need to let the trash talk go and leave it on the court.
“This is a basketball game, and when you get off the basketball court you have to go to life. A lot of these kids don’t understand that and they take it really personal. So you have to stay away from certain things. Sometimes I said a lot of things that were disrespectful to people. I thought about it, and I said, ‘that’s what I do,’ but sometimes you have to understand boundaries of things.”
Payton’s Seattle SuperSonics lost to the Chicago Bulls in the 1996 NBA Finals 4-2. Michael Jordan averaged 31 points on 46 percent shooting in the first three games — all wins for Chicago. Payton began guarding him for the final three games of the series. Jordan’s average dropped to 23.67 points on 36.7 percent shooting in Games 4-6 with Payton guarding him. The Bulls went 1-2 in those games. I asked him what it was like to guard MJ.
“It was no big deal. I had been playing against him for six years at the time — I knew what I had to do,” said Payton. “With Michael Jordan, you can’t stop Michael Jordan. All you can do is contain him and slow him down to give your team an opportunity to win if he’s not making great plays and having [40 and 50-point games]. I was hurt during that series and I didn’t get to guard him until Games 4, 5 and 6. It was one of those things where I wish I could have started on him in Game 1 and see what happened, but that wasn’t the case.”
What was Payton’s strategy when defending Jordan?
“I tried to slow him down. You try to tire a guy like that out and make him fight for the ball a little bit more and get him in a little bit more foul trouble. When you’re denied the ball, it makes it hard for you. The referees were giving me a lot of leeway because I had just gotten the Defensive Player of the Year award. So he was getting a little bit frustrated because I was doing the things that I did and I was getting away with it. He got a little frustrated, I got him in foul trouble a little bit, I tired him out, and Phil being the coach that he was saw the situation and started giving the ball to Scottie (Pippen) and (Toni) Kukoc and they started making big plays.”
Payton explained what the key is to defending a great player.
“I had a great time doing it. Every time I played him, I didn’t give him respect like that. When you give a basketball player respect, that defeats the purpose of guarding him because you respect him too much. I never respected anybody. I thought I could guard anyone in my era. That was just the way I played basketball.”
Payton’s stellar defensive play — he was named to the NBA All-Defensive Team nine teams — helped him earn one of the best nicknames in sports. The Glove says he loves his nickname, which was given to him by his cousin.
“I love it. When my cousin gave it to me in ’93, I was shocked. I didn’t know who he was talking about,” Payton said of his nickname. “Then he explained the situation to me. I love it. That’s what I did — I was just like a baseball glove. Put a ball in a baseball glove and I covered you up just like a glove. That’s just the way it was.
“When he came up with that name, I thought it was the greatest name to ever come up.”
Payton managed to transition from being a star to being a role player later in his career. He even earned a ring playing limited minutes with the Miami Heat in 2005-2006. Some former All-Stars are unable to successfully transition into being a bench player. I asked him what the secret is to doing that.
“You have to get the pride out of your system. You have to understand you’re not the same player you were when you were 21 and you’re turning 37, 38 years old. Players have to realize that. When you realize that, you can play your role. If you don’t want to play a role, then go do what you have to do — retire. But people have to understand you’re not going to be the same player all your life.”
Of all the current players in the NBA, Payton says that Deron Williams is a guy whose game he really likes.
“I really don’t like watching basketball but I watch it at a certain point. There’s one basketball player that I like and that’s Deron Williams. I like what he does because he reminds me of an old school basketball player. I haven’t liked the way I’ve been hearing the reports about him complaining about coaches. You’re a basketball player — go out and play the game you’re supposed to and don’t worry about who’s coaching you. If they want to make a decision on firing the coach, then let them fire the coach. Not you. Don’t say nothing about firing a coach.
“I’ve liked his game ever since he got into the league and I like the way he goes about it the old-school way. He doesn’t do anything fancy, he doesn’t want to go around his back and through his legs. He just gets the job done.”
Payton says that after being bugged about it for a few years, he has finally decided to write a book. He’s hoping to make the Hall of Fame this year and have the book go up to that point in his life. You can expect the book to be out in a year.
*They started off 18-3