Warriors inexplicably lose Gary Payton II in free agency

The Golden State Warriors have lost key role player Gary Payton II to the Portland Trail Blazers — despite the fact that the Dubs could have paid Payton themselves and owner Joe Lacob had previously gloated about being willing to “do everything we need to do to stay on top and be the best that we can possibly be.”

according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Payton and the Blazers agreed to a three-year, $28 million contract. Because the Warriors had Payton’s early Bird rights, they could have offered him up to $10.8 million annually, which would have beaten Portland’s offer.

Yes, paying Payton would have resulted in an additional luxury tax penalty, but the Warriors are bringing in so much revenue these days they may soon surpass the New York Knicks as the NBA’s most valuable franchise. And no, the Warriors did not have to choose between Payton and fellow free agent Kevon Looney. They could have paid both and eaten the tax bills for the sake of keeping their championship team together.

The Warriors’ sudden concern for their luxury tax bill is hard to square with the aforementioned public remarks from Lacob and general manager Bob Myers speaking on Lacob’s behalf.

“You don’t need me to tell you what our payroll is. It’s pretty high,” Myers said in June. “So [Lacob] just wants to win. And we’ve spent a lot and we’ve kept all the players we want to keep, so I don’t see that changing.”

Payton — an elite, versatile defender who also has offensive upside — is undoubtedly a player the Warriors would want to keep. So either something changed, or the Warriors were not, in fact, willing to “do everything we need to do to stay on top and be the best that we can possibly be.”

The Warriors also reportedly lost Otto Porter Jr. to the Toronto Raptors. According to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, Porter will sign a two-year deal with a player option. Unlike the situation with Payton, the Warriors did not have Porter’s early Bird rights, meaning their options for retaining Porter were more limited. Unless Porter wanted to return to the veteran minimum salary, the Warriors would have to dip into their taxpayer mid-level exception.

But with Payton departing, the Warriors may desire to use the entirety of that exception on a player other than Porter.

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