LOS ANGELES -- Gary Payton will remain with the Los Angeles Lakers next season, exercising a $5.4 million option despite struggling throughout his
first year with the team.
"It's something we expected," Lakers spokesman John Black said Tuesday. Payton, who turns 36 next month, had until Wednesday to make a decision.
Payton's decision assures the Lakers of having at least one of their four stars back next season.
Kobe Bryant opted out of his contract late last week to become an unrestricted free agent and Shaquille O'Neal has requested a trade. Karl Malone, who
joined the Lakers last summer with Payton, has said he will only play next season if he is 100 percent healthy. He re-injured his right knee during
the NBA Finals and will learn in the next couple of weeks how severe it is.
Payton joined the Lakers last summer, taking a huge pay cut in hopes of winning the first championship of his career. But the Lakers were beaten in
five games by the Detroit Pistons in the Finals, and Payton struggled -- shooting 9-of-28 and averaging 4.2 points.
The nine-time All-Star admitted after Game 2 against the Pistons that he had lost his confidence.
Payton had a difficult time with the Lakers' triangle offense, but started all 104 games the team played -- 82 in the regular season and 22 in the
He averaged 14.6 points -- his lowest since the 1992-93 season -- and a career-low 4.2 assists in the regular season and 7.8 points and 5.3 assists in
the playoffs. He averaged 18.3 points over his first 13 seasons.
Payton's decision to return was no doubt made easier by the Lakers' announcement Friday that Phil Jackson wouldn't be back as coach. Asked during the
playoffs about playing for Jackson, Payton refused comment.
The triangle offense is one that revolves around passing and spacing, while Payton likes to run the offense himself.
"I'm more of a (guy who) wants to handle the ball, control the ball, penetrate, get eight or nine assists and take 10 or 11 shots off floaters and
runners," he said before the Finals. "That's my game. I'm not a shooter. I'm more of a scorer."
Payton played more than 12½ seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics before being traded to Milwaukee during the 2002-2003 season. He played 28 games
with the Bucks.
Payton joined the Lakers as their midlevel exception for $4.9 million. One of his best performances came in his very first game, when he had 21
points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a 109-93 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, which Bryant sat out with a sore knee.
Bryant, in Colorado on Tuesday for a hearing in his sexual assault case, can't sign with anyone, including the Lakers, until the middle of next month
at the earliest. To trade O'Neal would be extremely difficult because he is under contract for $27.9 million next season. General manager Mitch
Kupchak has said he hopes O'Neal can be persuaded to stay.
Black wouldn't comment on the coaching search. Former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich was reportedly meeting with owner Jerry Buss and Kupchak
on Tuesday to discuss the job. Kupchak said Monday he planned to interview more than one person and fewer than 10.