Los Angeles Lakers guard Gary Payton, frustrated by what he said was both limited playing time and the team's triangle offense under Phil Jackson, said on Saturday that he may leave the team after the season. Payton signed a two-year deal with the Lakers but has an option to get out of the deal after the season.
"If that's the way [Jackson's] going to be, that's the way he's going to be, and I'll probably have to move on," Payton said.
With no rancor, Payton expressed frustration with his role in the team's offense. He isn't the focal point of the Lakers' attack, which features Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Payton goes minutes at a time without shooting. And while Jackson juggles minutes among Bryant, Payton, Derek Fisher and Kareem Rush, Payton said Saturday that he shouldn't be the one who has to sacrifice his game.
"They're going to have to satisfy Shaq and Kobe," Payton said. "They get 40 [minutes]. So we don't know. Whatever way [Jackson's] gonna do it, he'll do it. But I'm just going to state that I'm not pleased with my minutes I'm getting, because I don't think I'm productive being that way. And a lot of people see that. They see that I'm not comfortable with this. And it's affecting my game. My game is me playing minutes, and as the minutes go on, I get more productive and more productive. And I can't do that."
Payton's agent, Aaron Goodwin, told the Los Angeles Times on Friday that Payton had some regrets about signing with Los Angeles. The 35-year-old guard didn't use that word on Saturday, but agreed with the basic sentiment, and hinted that a decision on whether he returns next season may hinge on whether Jackson is re-signed after this season. Jackson and the team decided last month to end negotiations on a new contract until after the season.
"It's [Jackson's] offense," Payton said. "I'm used to coming off picks, screen and rolls, back to the basket, doing things like that. I've never played in this offense, the triangle offense. For my whole career, I played with a coach that let me go off pick and rolls, shoot when I can. This is not the offense for me to do that. This is not the typical offense for me. And that's basically it. I've already conceded to it, that this is not my offense."
Payton said that earlier in the season, the Lakers ran more screen-and-roll offense. But since Karl Malone suffered a knee injury in December, Payton said, his scoring opportunities have diminished, and the Lakers haven't run as much.
"Karl could pass the ball, and he could get you layups," Payton said. "Me and him was in pick and roll, and we was running, and we were getting the ball out. Now, we're getting the ball, and we go straight to the offense. We're not running. We're not running as much, and that was where I was getting my easy baskets. Now, we don't run."
Asked what he wanted to do in the offense, Payton said, "I need to be coming off picks, when people go at us with pick and rolls, screening, stuff like that, and point guards do that, we should come back and do the same thing with them. But we basically run the triangle, [Jackson] has won championships with it, he's going to stick with it, and he's the coach."
Jackson spoke with reporters prior to Saturday's game against Washington and suggested that Payton was frustrated, in part, by Thursday night's loss to the Sacramento Kings, when counterpart Mike Bibby scored 31 points, including two three-pointers down the stretch.
"I think that's probably one of the things (play defense) that he wanted to do more than anything else ... is that he wanted to have an influence on Bibby, so he couldn't get going," Jackson said. "He wanted to wear at him when he did get going, early in the ballgame, and he didn't have that opportunity. And (Bibby) hit a couple of shots down the stretch that were big. And then acted out on court like an a------."
Jackson said that he didn't think Payton would be a problem, but that it would be difficult to get minutes for Payton, Derek Fisher, Kareem Rush and Kobe Bryant.
"All these kids have egos," Jackson said. "But then I tell them that I have one, too."
Payton said he hadn't talked to Jackson in a month about his frustrations. Jackson said he had to play a lot of people to get the Lakers ready for the stretch drive of the season.
"It's tough to balance it out," Jackson said. "Fish needs at least six or seven minutes out there on the floor if he's going to contribute the way he's going to contribute, and Gary needs a little bit of a blow to come back and have a little influence on the ballgame."
After playing 34 minutes in the Lakers' 122-110 victory over the Wizards, Payton is averaging 33.7 minutes per game, a little more than three minutes per game fewer than he had averaged in 14 previous NBA seasons. He is third on the Lakers in scoring at 14.4 points per game, almost four points fewer than his career average of 18.3.