Payton signs one-year deal to return to Heat
MIAMI -- Gary Payton finally got one championship but still wants to chase another.
The veteran guard signed a one-year deal Wednesday to return to the Miami Heat, meaning the defending NBA champions have every player from last season's regular postseason rotation under contract for the coming year.
Payton -- a 38-year-old, nine-time All-Star who played 16 seasons before winning his first title in June -- was expected to sign a deal worth about $1.2 million, or slightly more than the veterans' minimum salary.
Payton averaged 7.7 points in the regular season and then 5.8 per game in Miami's playoff run. He made 25 regular-season starts and was often the Heat's point guard of choice in the fourth quarter. Payton could be especially valuable early this season, with Jason Williams still recovering from offseason knee surgery.
The move was far from unexpected; Payton said often at the end of last season that he planned to return.
He averaged only 2.7 points against Dallas in the NBA Finals but was among Miami's biggest heroes in that series -- hitting two key late-game shots that fueled Heat victories.
In Game 3, with the Heat down 2-0, Payton hit a jumper from the right wing in the waning seconds to cap a 98-96 comeback win by Miami -- which wouldn't lose another game. In Game 5, his layup with 29.8 seconds left helped the Heat eke out a 101-100 win. Two nights later, the championship trophy was in his hands.
Miami is Payton's fifth team, but the first that asked him primarily to be a backup; he started all but six games in his career before last season. Over his career, he has averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 assists and 1.9 steals per game, plus he ranks among the league's all-time leaders in steals (2,402), assists (8,765) minutes (45,614) and points (21,455).
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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