Injury-plagued guard a fascinating subplot to Warriors' free agency

Golden State Warriors v Dallas Mavericks
Golden State Warriors v Dallas Mavericks / Sam Hodde/GettyImages

The Golden State Warriors are set for a big free agency period headed by franchise legend Klay Thompson, along with fellow veteran Chris Paul should they waive the 12-time All-Star's $30 million non-guaranteed contract.

While that pair are expected to grab the headlines, the Warriors could also have a deal to orchestrate with defensive-minded guard Gary Payton II. The 31-year-old was hampered by injury again this season, but that could prove to help the franchise at the negotiating table.

Gary Payton II could prioritize his long-term security while aiding the Golden State Warriors hopes of reducing their payroll for next season

Payton has a $9.1 million player option for next season. Given his injury issues over the last two years -- which has seen him play in 66 of a possible 164 regular season games -- it's unlikely that the Warriors or any other rival would pay more were he to opt out and become a free agent.

So Payton would just opt in right? Not necessarily. As hinted towards in his end-of-season press conference, he could opt out and negotiate a longer-term deal with the Warriors that would benefit both parties. The 2022 NBA champion would secure longer-term security at a lower annual salary, providing the franchise some tax relief as described by The Athletic's Anthony Slater on Friday.

"If he opts out and extends at a lower number, that’ll generate extra space for the Warriors to operate under the second apron or tax, while providing Payton (who has struggled with injury issues) with some more long-term security."

Anthony Slater

What would a new contract look like? After playing a key part in Golden State's championship two years ago, Payton signed a three-year, $26.1 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers. The array of injury issues would suggest he wouldn't get that number again, but perhaps the two sides could land at something in the three-year, $18-20 million range?

Giving Payton threes years would be a risk for the Warriors, yet when healthy he still plays at far greater value than that contract would suggest. The eight-year veteran averaged 5.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 44 games this season, though missed the last three and Golden State's Play-In elimination game against the Sacramento Kings.

While the Thompson and Paul negotiations will provide a forecast of the Warriors' payroll moving forward, Payton's free agency will also prove a subplot that will impact the franchise's ability to round out their roster.