By Jahmal Corner
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Prized Golden State acquisition Kevin Durant should not try to become the team leader at his new home, says Hall of Famer Gary Payton.
Instead, Payton suggests Durant take a back seat to his incumbent team mates and be a quiet if effective role player for the 2015 NBA champions when the new season begins on Tuesday.
Payton, one of the all-time alpha males of the NBA who once trash-talked Michael Jordan, believes in the perhaps old-fashioned idea of a team’s pecking order and is not convinced that just showing up at Golden State should lift Durant to leading man status.
“That’s not his team. That’s (Stephen Curry), (Klay Thompson) and Draymond Green’s team,” Payton told Reuters recently. “He’s supposed to follow suit. I don’t like when players (take a step back for a new player). “It’s your team. Let that man come in there and be a part of the team.”
Durant, 28, the 2014 NBA most valuable player, sent shockwaves through the league in July when he left the Oklahoma City Thunder for the already-powerful Warriors.
More than a decade ago, Payton formed his own super team when he joined Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2003.
The star-studded group, while not short of talent, famously fell short in the NBA Finals amid locker room dysfunction and Bryant’s legal proceedings after being charged with sexual assault.
Payton, 48, who was in Los Angeles to promote a first-year Dew NBA 3X basketball tournament put on by Mountain Dew and the NBA, can relate to the challenge of trying to mesh with large egos.
That said, Payton notes differences between his teaming with the Lakers and Durant latching on to the Warriors at the peak of his career.
“(Malone and I) weren’t in our prime (when we signed),” said Payton, who inked with Los Angeles just before his 35th birthday. “In my prime I never would’ve done it. Ever. Never in my prime would I go to a team with Jordan, (Malone), (John Stockton). None of them.” Like many retired greats, the notion of joining forces with a rival is offensive to Payton’s competitive sensibilities.
A nine-times NBA All Star, Payton terrorized opponents with both offense and defense while spending the bulk of his 17-year career with the now defunct Seattle SuperSonics. Nicknamed ‘The Glove’ for his smothering defense, a moniker given to him by his cousin after a dominating performance against All Star guard Kevin Johnson, Payton is the only point guard ever to garner the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year Award, in 1996.
His fearless approach was best defined that year in the NBA Finals when he squared off with Jordan and gave as good as he got from the league’s greatest player during a competitive series which the Sonics lost 4-2 in the best-of-seven with Chicago.
“I said anything I wanted to him, and that’s why he respected me so much (because) I stayed in his face,” Payton said. “Everyone says ‘he’s a great player’ but I’m a great player too. I didn’t think anyone was better than me when I played. I’m not going to be on the court saying ‘ohhh, ahhh, that’s Michael Jordan.’ I don’t care about that. I’m Gary Payton.”
(Editing by Andrew Both)