Can Warriors re-sign Gary Payton II? It might depend on coming weeks

After more than a half-decade living out of suitcases, Warriors guard Gary Payton II can finally say it: He is a bona-fide NBA player.

Anyone who still doubted Payton needed only to watch him thrive in crunch time of Wednesday night’s series-clinching win over the Nuggets in Game 5 of the first round at Chase Center. As he hit big shots and played stingy defense, he showed that he belongs—not only at the sport’s highest level, but in the Warriors’ closing lineup.

This should only help Payton when he enters unrestricted free agency this summer. Salary-cap experts expect him to command contract offers between $5 million and $10 million per year, a range that would rise with more playoff performances like Wednesday’s.

Payton’s ballooning market value places the Warriors in a tricky position: They want to lock him down long-term, but a team already deep into the luxury tax might struggle to justify such a steep price for a role player. This is a franchise that declined to use its $5.9 million taxpayer mid-level exception last summer because it wanted to keep its total payroll under $400 million.

The mid-level exception is now projected at more than $10.3 million next season, which could be around what Payton would need to re-sign with the Warriors. That deal would cost Golden State north of $40 million with luxury tax — a sobering number for a team poised to face a total 2023-24 payroll of at least $500 million.

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