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Payton Will Be Back, Fisher May Opt Out

June 23, 2004|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

Though his first season with the Lakers was the most difficult and least productive of his NBA career, Gary Payton has chosen to spend a second with them.

Payton opted to extend his contract through next year for $5.4 million, a decision made easier when Laker owner Jerry Buss told Phil Jackson on Friday he would not be asked back as coach.

Payton, who will be 36 next month, averaged 14.6 points in the regular season and 7.8 points in the playoffs. He was heavily criticized for his failure to defend for much of the season and then his assignment, Detroit's Chauncey Billups, was most valuable player of the NBA Finals.

Still, Payton was adamant that his lapses were due as much to Jackson's system and a lack of defensive help as to his advancing age. So, on Tuesday morning, a day before his deadline, Payton notified the organization he would be back.

In a statement released by his agent, Aaron Goodwin, Payton said, "I joined the Laker organization last season to win an NBA championship and that is still my goal. I look forward to the opportunity to return to play like the GP of the past; the GP that Dr. Buss brought here in the first place.

"My family and I have made a home here in Los Angeles and we look forward to another season of Lakers basketball. I want to thank Dr. Buss and the Laker organization for their faith in me as well as the fans for their continued enthusiasm and support.

"With this decision, it is my hope that the team will stay intact and together we can bring a championship back to the city of Los Angeles."

Apparently, the team will not stay together, however. Shaquille O'Neal, who recruited Payton last summer, has requested to be traded.

And, after receiving an extension on his deadline, Derek Fisher is expected to opt out of his Laker contract by Thursday morning, a decision perhaps made easier by Payton's.

In a reserve role for the first time since the 1999-2000 season, Fisher struggled early but played better as the season went on.

The Lakers would like to re-sign Fisher, but they will be challenged by a few teams, the Houston Rockets for one.


The Lakers lost center Jamal Sampson to the Charlotte Hornets in Tuesday night's expansion draft.

The organization had hoped to protect Sampson, but could not when Kobe Bryant waited until Friday to notify the club of his intention to opt out of his contract.

The Lakers' list of eight protected players was due Thursday.

Sampson, 21, averaged 2.9 points and 5.2 rebounds in 10 games for the Lakers, then suffered foot and ankle injuries that eventually required surgery.

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