- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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League sources told ESPN.com on Sunday night that Payton will push this week for a buyout of his contract if the Lakers complete the proposed trade with the Heat that would bring Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler and a future first-round pick to Los Angeles.
"I mean, what team are they going to put on the floor?" Payton asked of the acquisitions the Lakers are to receive for Shaq, according to a Riverside Press Enterprise report.
Payton, sources said, has serious reservations about what the Lakers can achieve without a recognized power player joining them in O'Neal's place. Without O'Neal, sources added, Payton has lost the teammate who lured him to Los Angeles. Lakers sources, however, indicated that the club would be reluctant to let Payton go without getting something back in a trade.
"If they don't sign Karl [Malone] back, then I'll probably get up out of here," Payton told the Press Enterprise for Tuesday's editions. "They're going to buy me out or trade me, or something. If Karl don't come back, I ain't coming back."
Although the root of Payton's discontent in his first season as a Laker was Phil Jackson's triangle offense, there were also questions from the start about how he would mesh offensively with Kobe Bryant, because both Payton and Bryant like to dominate the ball.
The Lakers have a busy week ahead no matter what Payton does. First, they must complete the O'Neal trade, and then comes their foremost assignment of the summer -- getting Bryant officially re-signed. Wednesday is the first day free agents can sign new contracts and the Lakers hope that Jackson's exit and the forthcoming O'Neal deal will convince Bryant to promptly ink a new seven-year contract worth an estimated $130 million. Bryant's other option is bolting to the cross-town Clippers in a six-year deal.
Payton, who turns 36 on July 23, exercised an option for next season worth $5.4 million, realizing that his spotty playoff production made it dicey that he could command a similar salary in free agency. To get away from the Lakers now, Payton must ask to be waived -- a request that would require negotiations between player and team to determine how much of that $5.4 million he'd receive as a payoff.
Payton could also ask to be traded, as O'Neal did, but sources say he'd prefer the buyout scenario, which would then free him to sign with another team of his choosing. The Lakers, though, could rebuff Payton and elect to keep him as a trade asset, because his salary-cap number might be attractive to teams looking for players in their final year of their contracts.
Payton told the paper he'll discuss his situation with his agent, Aaron Goodwin, and decide if it's better to ask for a trade or a buyout of his contract. He said he had not yet spoken to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak about his plans.
Payton's season-long struggles to adapt to Jackson's offense deepened as the playoffs progressed. In the NBA Finals against Detroit, basically reduced to a spot-up shooter, Payton averaged just 4.2 points and missed 19 of 28 field-goal attempts.
Payton, though, did start in every game for the Lakers: 104 including his 22 playoff starts. He averaged 14.6 points and 5.5 assists during the regular season, and the Lakers were hoping for a rejuvenated Payton next season, after Jackson's departure and the arrival of Rudy Tomjanovich. Payton played for Tomjanovich at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and is said to be a big fan of the noted players' coach.
Should the Shaquille O'Neal trade to Miami go through, as expected, you can safely expect Gary Payton to seek his own escape from the Lakers.