The Golden State Warriors are the safe bet to win the Western Conference for the third straight year – that’s just the kind of overwhelming talent they have – but if they reach the Finals, they’re going to need more than four players.
“The four that’s one there are good basketball players with Curry, Thompson, Durant and Green, but I always think you got to play defense – and your supporting cast is the one that makes you win basketball games,” Gary Payton said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “So when these guys are not on, I think their supporting cast has to be the team that keeps them there. . . . They’re going to have to play because they’re going to have a target on their back.”
That’s what happens when Durant – one of the best players in the world – joins forces with the best regular-season team in NBA history. Payton, 48, wouldn’t have done that in his day.
“Me and Durant are very close, and I always tell people like this: In my era, I wouldn’t have left my team to go to another team,” said Payton, who led Settle to the 1996 NBA Finals. “I would want to play against Michael Jordan. I would want to play against John Stockton and Karl Malone and guys like that. I want to play against them and beat them, especially if I was up 3-1 and had an opportunity to beat them. That was in my era. You guys got to understand this is a different generation. These guys are together, they’re friends, they’re with each other a lot and they want to play with each other. That’s their preference in this era. If he wanted to go that way, then that’s his choice. It’s his choice to go there. So he might have not been happy with his situation. He might have said, ‘Hey, I want to try something new.’ That’s his choice. But in my era, I wouldn’t have left my team because I wanted to get a championship with my own team in my prime.”
Payton joined the Lakers in 2003-04 in search of a ring but came up empty. He eventually got one, however, with Miami in 2006.
“When I went to the Lakers and all that, I was at the end of my career, so it’s a little different,” Payton said. “I approve of what he did because it’s his era and it’s his choice, but in my day, I don’t think I would have went to another basketball team.”
Payton, of course, lost in the 1996 Finals to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. While many people want to compare LeBron James to Jordan, Payton does not.
“I’m not going to even compare that,” he said. “That’s not a comparison. LeBron did not play in our era when Michael Jordan was doing the same thing that he’s doing. He’s a great basketball player. I’m going to consider him one of the greatest basketball players to ever play, but I’m not going to compare him to Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan did the things he did. He won six championships on six tries. He’s had six MVPs. He did everything. I don’t compare guys like that. I wouldn’t even compare Michael Jordan to Magic Johnson, Kareem and Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. It’s just not fair to do that because these guys didn’t play against each other like that, so I’m not going to say that. LeBron is LeBron, and Jordan is Jordan. There will never be another Jordan and there will never be another LeBron because they’re only one person. So I’m not going to compare them. But I’m going to tell you that he’s going be one of the greatest basketball players to ever play this game. And that’s an accomplishment in and of itself. So I’ll just leave it at that.”