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April 20, 2014

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Retired hoops standout Gary Payton ready for NBA return — on the sidelines

Las Vegas resident enjoys life as the everyday suburban man in Summerlin, but is ready to resume his life in the pros

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Leila Navidi

Former NBA star Gary Payton

Gary Payton: Things I Love

Former NBA point guard Gary Payton says Lion King, Golden Tee and no taxes are just a few of his favorite things about Las Vegas.

More from Payton

  • Payton on which NBA player he'd love to coach: Deron Williams. I would love to coach him. To me, I'm really a fan of his right now. I think he's the best point guard in the NBA right now. He reminds me of myself. He goes back at guys, he doesn't back down, he's a bigger type of guard, he gets wherever he wants to, takes big shots, makes big shots, I would like to see him with his back to the basket on the block like I did a lot. I don't think anybody in the NBA could guard him right now. The only one is maybe Derek Fisher, because he knows how to do that. Other than that, I think he passes the ball well, leads the team well, he reminds you of (John) Stockton. I don't think he will be better than Stockton. I think he can be just like him, plays for the same team. As the years go on, he'll get better and better.
  • Payton on what he would do this summer if he were in LeBron James's shoes: I would make everybody wait. My opinion, where you're at right now, you're not going to win anymore basketball games if you go to another team. The only place you could do that would be if you went to Boston or the Lakers. You're with a team that needs something to help them out. They're always having the best records and everyone's talking about how they're going to win, then they falter in the playoffs. So why would you go to a New York team that's struggling to win 20 games and have to rebuild? Why would you go to Chicago? OK, it's a little bit better, but you've still only got one guy — Derrick Rose — who's going to become a basketball player and you don't know what's going to happen. Miami? It probably would be a good choice. You'd play with Dwyane Wade, with (Jermaine) O'Neal, who's becoming an older guy. (Michael) Beasley is a good basketball player. ... I would make everybody wait. They've already been waiting this long. I would go and see what teams do, who they put together, what they get and see where would be my best option. I would tell them to leave cap space open and then go there with the best team. He's got enough leverage to tells teams that, that if you go and get somebody, go and put A'mare Stoudamire on Miami with a D-Wade, I would probably come to you, too. We could get a 3-man game going like that and we'd have no problems ... I don't think he's going anywhere in the West. I think the best option is the East, because the East is the weakest. Right now, I wouldn't even think of New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, none of that, because you'd be rebuilding. I would think about Miami, Cleveland ... I probably wouldn't think about Chicago. It's just something everyone is saying. I don't know how much better he would get with that team.

During what is the in-between time in his adult life, Gary Payton has found the ideal home in Las Vegas.

What he's between is what was a hall-of-fame-caliber playing career in the NBA and what he hopes will be an equally successful run as a professional coach in the coming years.

"I basically said that when I was going to retire, I was going to take my time — I wasn't going to jump back into basketball," he said. "Now, it's about time for me to get back to what I want to do. I want to get a good job in coaching, move to a city where I think I can help younger kids and I think that'll be my next thing to do in the next year or so."

When Payton ultimately does move on, he'll be able to say that the three years since his retirement have been nothing short of fulfilling.

Spending the brunt of that time in his Summerlin neighborhood with his wife, Monique, and their kids, he's become the everyday suburban man.

The couple goes out for drinks here and there, enjoys eating and bowling at Red Rock and has friends over often for games of pool, darts and Golden Tee.

He's done some work on the side, helping out during the 2008-09 season as a studio hoops analyst on NBAtv and TNT. Payton also hosted his own show, 'Payton's Corner,' on BetUS.com.

In a town where he could easily stand out, life away from the Strip has proven to be nice.

"I'm not a big profile guy," he said. "Basketball was what gave me a profile because of how I played. Everybody knows I live here, but I don't try to be out all of the time. You get a little bit older, you grow a little bit out of that, you don't want to be in all of that flamboyant stuff. I don't walk around with diamonds on or jewelry on anymore. I get into my 40s, that's beyond me.

"They gave it to me, now it's over, now it's time to just chill and be a father."

But Payton's nest is continuing to empty.

The second oldest of his four kids, Gary Jr., will head off to the University of Washington this fall. His daughter, Raquel, just graduated from St. John's University, and he feels he's ready to help develop the young NBA stars of today in his free time.

One area where Payton sees himself as being potentially quite valuable to younger pros is in teaching defensive principles.

Payton played the brunt of his career in a different era, even though it really wasn't that long ago.

While his 21,813 career points and 8,996 career assists — most of which were recorded as a member of the Seattle Sonics from 1990-2003 — were beyond impressive, what he was best known for was his defensive prowess, earning him the nickname "The Glove." Payton was a nine-time member of the NBA's All-Defensive team — a record he shares with only Michael Jordan — and his 2,445 career steals rank third in NBA history.

He also was known during the 1990s as one of the league's few players who could consistently lock Jordan up on the defensive end. As one of the game's loudest personalities and biggest trash-talkers, he made sure everyone knew it.

The cap to a stellar career came by sacrificing his role as a leading man to play as a reserve for the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers in search of an elusive NBA title. He tasted that success in 2006 with the Heat.

Payton played his last NBA game in 2007, and in the later years of his career, he saw defense become devalued.

"That's gone — I talk about it every day now," he said. "I hate it, because what the NBA has done has made it an offensive-minded game."

He said players noticed the changes more and more following a lockout in the late 90s, which forced NBA commissioner David Stern to take action on making the game more exciting by increasing offensive star power.

The legalization of zone defense was one of several steps that helped to pick up the offensive numbers.

"That's why he's probably the best commissioner in sports right now," Payton added. "He went and saw what it would take to get fans back, and that's what it takes."

Payton, though, said he believes the art of defense is not lost.

And after a short stint away from the game, what he accomplished during a 17-year NBA career still resonates pretty vividly with the league's younger generation of standouts.

That's where he sees himself again fitting into the fraternity.

"With me, you've got to understand, those younger guys who are in the pros now were watching me when they were 5 or 6 years old," Payton said. "They look up to me and say 'What can I get from that? What can I get out of him?' Once you get a guy like that in a point guard or any young kid like that, it's very easy to work with him. With the talent that they have, they can do it.

"That's all I want. I want to go to some place where I can have a kid who will want to listen, will want to work with it and want to get the job done."

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