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A walk down Payton lane

Elfrid Payton once had a 19-game stint with the Phoenix Suns and Devin Booker

NBA: Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

I froze when the reports first came out last week that the Phoenix Suns had targeted Elfrid Payton to a contract.

Elfrid Payton? Really?

The Elfrid Payton who was once a promising young player on the post-Dwight Orlando Magic, but then dumped on the Suns for a second-round pick as he approached restricted free agency?

The 23-year old Elfrid Payton who posted a pair of triple doubles in spring 2018 with a talent-starved Suns team, but was quietly released a month later?

Maybe that’s because the Suns lost 18 of the 19 games Payton played in the spring of 2018, despite him averaging 11.8 points, 6.2 assists and 5.3 rebounds.

Ok, sure, it wasn’t all Payton’s fault. The Suns starting lineup in their lone win of that stretch included Devin Booker, rookie Josh Jackson, second-year forward Dragan Bender and wily 25-year old vet Alex Len.

Still, Payton was no savior. And he and the Suns mutually agreed to sit him the last two weeks of the year despite his impending restricted free agency in lieu of Tyler Ulis.

Before, during and after the Suns stint, Payton has had an interestingly consistent career. He’s always been a starter, always averaged about 10 points per game on 43% shooting (less than 30% on threes) and always dished about 6-7 assists per game. Those assists went down last year in New York under Thibodeau, but that was likely the offense more than Payton.

Here’s a game from last December where Payton scored 27 points and dished 7 assists.

I just included this so you can see he’s gotten a hair cut.

Still, teams keep letting him go, but not as fast as fanbases do. When word got out that Payton was not being re-signed in New York after starting 63 games in their own cinderella year, our SB Nation brother site,, reported the news with a subheader that reads: ‘Our nightmare is really over!’

Hello, friend. I have some good news for you—news that will hopefully quell the nightmares you’ve been experiencing over the past year or so...

It seemed clear that the much-maligned point guard would not be returning once the front office signed Kemba Walker, but we couldn’t be quite sure. What if somebody got hurt mid-season and Elf was just sitting there, un-signed, beckoning coach Tom Thibodeau to bring him back?

But that’s over now. Payton is going to the Phoenix Suns to be the third-string PG behind Chris Paul and Cameron Payne. The Suns’ player development crew is top-notch, so maybe they’ll get something out of Payton that the Knicks never could. Maybe Elf will even win a ring with his new squad.

Whatever. Good riddance. Elf was one of the most hated players of the Dolan Era, joining an illustrious list of players like Jerome James, Eddy Curry, and Andrea Bargnani. Just think, Kemba will be taking those starter’s minutes now. Life is good, my friend.

—Joe Flynn,

Payton is no one’s good answer to starting point guard. That magical Knicks season was buoyed a great deal by Payton’s backup Derrick Rose and rookie combo guard Immanuel Quickley, which meant the fans’ wrath would be wreaked on anyone taking their minutes. Y’all know about this phenomenon in Phoenix.

And yet, the more I think about Payton as the third-string point guard in Phoenix, the more comfortable I am with it. He has agreed to sign a one-year, league-minimum contract. He and everyone knows the pecking order: Chris Paul first. Cam Payne second. Elfrid Payton third.

As a third point guard, he’s a good option. Payton is a better floor general than E’Twaun Moore, who was thrust into the role last year any time Paul or Payne missed time. He’s bigger than Jevon Carter. He can’t shoot, but Monty Williams made it work with Ricky Rubio a year ago, so he will have to do it again with Payton this year.

It’s okay, folks. Really.

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