|Tuesday, July 8
Updated: July 11, 12:48 PM ET
Payton to 'follow dream' with Lakers
ESPN.com news services
Gary Payton, in the words of his longtime agent Aaron Goodwin, has decided to "follow his dream."
Payton has verbally agreed to sign a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Lakers on July 16, despite L.A.'s financial limitations, according to Goodwin.
As a team well over the NBA's salary cap, which is expected to fall between $40-42 million for next season, the Lakers are limited to offering Payton a starting salary of $4.9 million next season. It is believed Payton, who turns 35 on July 23, will sign a multiyear deal with the dethroned champions, who received word of Payton's plans just two days after the franchise and its fans were rocked by sexual-assault allegations against Bryant.
"He could have taken a lot more money to go somewhere else," Goodwin told ESPN.com Tuesday, referring to efforts by the Portland Trail Blazers to acquire Payton in a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee. "But he's going to Los Angeles to follow his dream."
The Lakers have been negotiating with Payton over the past several days, general manager Mitch Kupchak said Tuesday.
"It is the Lakers' intention to enter into a contract with Gary Payton once the moratorium period ends. Due to NBA rules regarding free agency I am unable to further comment at this time,'' Kupchak said in a statement.
The Blazers reportedly offered Milwaukee a package featuring Jeff McInnis and Arvydas Sabonis, which could have taken the starting salary of Payton's next contract into the $10-million range. But the lure of the Lakers -- described by Goodwin over the weekend as "absolutely" Payton's first choice -- prompted the nine-time All-Star to resist substantial overtures from Portland and Miami, according to Aldridge.
Milwaukee is thus left with no compensation for Payton, who came to the Bucks at the February trading deadline in a blockbuster trade with Seattle for Ray Allen. Payton spent the first 13 1/2 seasons of his career with the Sonics, then reunited briefly with Bucks coach George Karl until Milwaukee was eliminated by New Jersey in the first round of the playoffs.
Karl is the only prominent figure left from the Bucks team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001. Glenn Robinson was traded last summer, Allen was dealt away in February and Sam Cassell was traded to Minnesota the day after last month's NBA draft.
After lengthy negotiations with Michael Jordan, Bucks owner Sen. Herb Kohl elected to take the franchise off the market. Payton's departure significantly reduces the Bucks' payroll, but Milwaukee likely faces a long rebuilding process now, with only youngsters like Desmond Mason and Michael Redd for new general manager Larry Harris to build around.
For the Lakers, of course, the outlook is suddenly brighter, in the wake of the Bryant controversy and a tumultuous season in which L.A. started 11-19 and saw its run of three consecutive championships halted by a second-round playoff loss to San Antonio. Payton is precisely the sort of long-limbed, defensive-minded guard who can thrive in Jackson's system while helping to ease the scoring burden on O'Neal and Bryant.
The Lakers, furthermore, hope to secure a similar commitment Wednesday or Thursday from Utah's Karl Malone, who has indicated a willingness to accept a starting salary of $1.5 million in exchange for the chance to make it four future Hall of Famers in Jackson's starting lineup.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.