Defensive ace nearing Golden State Warriors return amid trade speculation

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns
Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

Golden State Warriors' guard Gary Payton II is nearing a return to the floor, with the defensive ace having missed 14 consecutive games since injuring his hamstring against the Orlando Magic on January 2.

In a statement from the franchise on Tuesday, Payton has returned to practice with the team and will be listed as day-to-day as he continues to increase his workload before a return to the court.

The Golden State Warriors desperately need the return of Gary Payton II to help overturn their defensive issues over the last month

While Monday's 109-98 victory over the Brooklyn Nets was one of their best defensive efforts of the season, the Warriors have largely struggled on that end in the absence of Payton and previously Draymond Green.

Golden State ranks 26th in defensive rating over the last 15 games, though that's an improvement on what was league-worst for a reasonable period of time. Payton, one of the league's best perimeter defenders, should boost a defense that's also been without Andrew Wiggins over the last game-and-a-half.

Although Payton's return is a major positive, there remains some queries on his body having missed a significant chunk of time with various injuries -- The 31-year-old has played in just 38 of a possible 129 regular season games since the start of 2022-23.

Gary Payton II, Luka Doncic
Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

Payton has played 16 games this season but just two of the past 29, averaging 5.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 16.3 minutes per game. According to ClutchPoints' Brett Siegel, Payton is still a name to monitor ahead of Thursday's trade deadline.

"If the Warriors are to make a move at the NBA trade deadline, it would likely involve smaller contracts. This puts Gary Payton II and veteran Dario Saric in the discussion to be moved."

Brett Siegel

Payton is on a $8.7 million deal this season and has a $9.1 million player option for 2024-25. Given the health issues since signing his current deal, one would expect Payton to pick up that option once the offseason hits.

While Payton remains out, Wiggins is probable to return against the 76ers in Philadelphia on Wednesday, while Green has been listed as questionable with a right knee contusion.