The stormy relationship between the Seattle SuperSonics and longtime star Gary Payton ended in a thunderclap of drama yesterday when the Sonics dealt their disgruntled point guard to the Milwaukee Bucks for shooting guard Ray Allen.
The five-player deal, which also sent Desmond Mason to Milwaukee and Kevin Ollie, Ronald Murray and a conditional first-round draft pick to Seattle, was negotiated right up to the NBA's 3 p.m. trade deadline and capped a busy day of dealing around the league. Also packing suitcases last night were New Orleans center Elden Campbell, sent to Seattle for guard Kenny Anderson and cash, and Boston guard Shammond Williams, who was swapped along with a second-round draft pick for Denver's Mark Blount and Mark Bryant.
The man with the most baggage, though, was clearly Payton, 34, who in a strange scheduling twist will spend his first game as a Buck watching his new team play his old team tonight in Seattle. All players involved in yesterday's trades must pass physicals before getting back on the court. Playing or not, the experience will be a surreal one for Payton -- same court, same fans, different locker room. At least when crossing over to the other side, Payton will already have a relationship with his new coach, George Karl, who used to coach the Sonics and has remained an ardent admirer.
Milwaukee General Manager Ernie Grunfeld apparently is also a fan. "Seldom do you have the opportunity to add a Hall of Fame player to your lineup," he said of Payton yesterday. "Gary is one of the league's best players at both ends of the floor, and he has a competitive nature matched by very few players in this league."
Even without the high praise, it would be hard for Payton to have a worse relationship with Bucks management than he did with the Sonics, who declined to renegotiate Payton's contract this past summer, opting to let him become a free agent at the end of this season. The blow was crushing to Payton, who had spent his first 12 seasons in Seattle, and he skipped the first day of training camp in protest. Since then, the two sides had been locked in an uneasy silence, only taking occasional shots at each other through the media.
Last month, Sonics President Wally Walker said he was listening to offers from several teams around the league, a notion General Manager Rick Sund reinforced a few days later by stressing "no one is untouchable." Some reports had the Sonics ready to trade Payton to the Knicks in a deal that could also have involved Latrell Sprewell, but Sund apparently didn't feel New York could offer him enough value for Payton, an nine-time all-star who this season is averaging 20.8 points, 8.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds a game.
Milwaukee, on the other hand, was offering Allen, one of the league's purest shooters and, at 27, a player with a large chunk of his career still in front of him. This season, Allen is averaging 21.3 points, 3.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds; he is a three-time all-star who has already been tagged as a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team.
The only downside for Seattle (22-30) was the hole the trade creates at point guard; Brent Barry is expected to step into the role. Conversely, Milwaukee now has a plethora of players at the point. Payton's arrival will likely force veteran Sam Cassell into a reserve role, and while Michael Redd is the top candidate to replace Allen at shooting guard, that job could also go to Mason, who was perhaps the Sonics' best bench player, averaging 14.1 points and 6.4 rebounds.
Still, it's unclear whether all of the rearranging can help the Bucks (27-26), who have struggled for the last-year-and-a-half after coming within a game of the 2001 NBA Finals. At the very least, dumping Allen's contract -- and having Payton's expire this summer -- sinks Milwaukee below the luxury tax threshold, an attractive notion to owner Herb Kohl, who has announced he'd like to sell his majority interest in the team.
Meantime, the Sonics added size in Campbell, who was expected to be a starter this season but was felled early with a knee injury and never regained his spot in the lineup. He is hoping to find more playing time with Seattle, who barely got to know Anderson before swapping him to the Hornets for Campbell. In his 12th NBA season, Anderson was traded to the Sonics earlier this season by Boston for Vin Baker.
At least Anderson is accustomed to moving around. He played half the 1995-96 season with the Hornets when they were still in Charlotte.
Williams was also part of the Vin Baker deal. He was averaging 7.3 points and 2.5 assists in 22.9 minutes per game with the Celtics.