Gary Payton has decided against pushing for a buyout or trade in the wake of the Shaquille O'Neal deal and intends to return to the Los Angeles Lakers next season, the guard told ESPN Radio on Wednesday.
"I had a big pow-wow with my agents and my attorneys and everybody today," Payton said in Wednesday's interview. "You guys know I came out here to play with Shaq ... and now he's [been] traded. It was a big question in my mind, should I stay here? But, you know, I think I made a commitment. I made them a commitment to come back to the Lakers and I'm going to go and play."
Shortly after the Lakers were ousted by Detroit in the NBA Finals, Payton bypassed free agency and exercised a $5.4 million option for next season. Yet league sources told ESPN.com on Sunday that Payton, so disturbed by the idea of O'Neal being dealt to the Heat without an established power player coming in return, was planning to push for a buyout of his contract this week.
In Tuesday's editions of the Riverside (Ca.) Press-Enterprise, Payton expounded on his displeasure by saying that only the return of Karl Malone could make him want to play for the Lakers next season.
"If they don't sign Karl [Malone] back, then I'll probably get up out of here," Payton told the paper. "They're going to buy me out or trade me, or something. If Karl don't come back, I ain't coming back."
On Wednesday, Payton credited new Lakers coach Rudy Tomjanovich for his change of heart.
"Rudy T. has made a big difference in that, too," said Payton, who played for Tomjanovich at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
"Becoming the coach, he says he's going to give me the freedom to play the way I played in Seattle. So I'll be OK with that, so as long as we get a team together.
"The three guys we got [from Miami] are going to help us a lot. We're going to run, and if we get Kobe back, it will be even better."
Payton's initial reaction to the acquisition of Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler and a future first-round pick was less than enthusiastic. In the Press-Enterprise, in reference to the Lakers' sudden lack of size up front, Payton was quoted as saying: "I mean, what team are they going to put on the floor?"
Payton, who turns 36 on July 23, started 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, but struggled mightily in the playoffs in Phil Jackson's triangle offense, a system he never embraced.
Essentially reduced to a spot-up shooter, Payton averaged just 4.2 points and missed 19 of 28 field-goal attempts in the postseason, but Tomjanovich believes his up-tempo system will rejuvenate the player known as The Glove.