NBA Payton's future in doubt in Seattle
The 13-year veteran isn't worrying about it as he prepares for Sunday's All-Star tilt.
ATLANTA (AP) -- Gary Payton lounged in his chair and popped a potato chip into his mouth as a scene of All-Star bedlam unfolded some 40 feet to his left Friday.
Payton didn't even notice the media horde trying to squeeze around Yao Ming at a circular table built to accommodate eight.
Payton, of course, has already seen it all. Almost all, anyway.
Making his ninth All-Star appearance, the only thing making this year different for Payton is the distinct possibility that he could be wearing a different uniform in the not-too-distant future.
In the final year of his contract with the Seattle SuperSonics, Payton will be a free agent at the end of the summer.
Trade deadline nears
And with the Feb. 20 NBA trading deadline approaching, it's open season for speculation on whether the Sonics will trade their best player, a lifer who has worn nothing but green and gold for 13 seasons.
"I can't predict that right now, so I'm not going to talk about it," Payton said. "We're not doing well, and I'm trying to make the team better. So until something comes up and occurs, I can't worry about it."
Payton tried to duck and dodge every question related to his future in Seattle and his endlessly analyzed relationship with Sonics owner Howard Schultz, but otherwise he was quite talkative for someone so prone to shy away from extended conversations with the media.
Payton weighed in on Jason Kidd's future and whether he'll leave New Jersey to sign with San Antonio over the summer, along with Vin Baker's return to Seattle next Tuesday night.
Payton spoke glowingly of the strong team fundamentals that the influx of foreign players are bringing to the NBA.
He recalled playing in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics and reflected on the changes he has seen since he entered the league in 1990 as the No. 2 overall pick out of Oregon State.
"Me and Shaq are the only two guys left off that Dream Team," Payton noted of this year's 24 All-Stars, 19 of whom are not yet 30. "The ages are changing."
Sunday's All-Star game, which tips off around 8:30 p.m., figures to be the most watched version of the event ever.
The Nielsen ratings in the United States might not be the highest in All-Star history, but there are more than 1 billion reasons why those ratings are insignificant in this case.
All-Star tilt on cable only
For the first time, the game will be shown only on cable in the United States, reaching 85 million households on TNT.
Outside of America, it will be broadcast in 41 languages to 212 nations and territories around the world -- including 287 million households in China. Most of those folks will be watching for one player, the 7-foot-6 starting center from the Western Conference by way of the Shanghai Sharks.
Yao wore a Team China warmup suit Friday and was trailed by some 40 television cameras as he walked from the doorway to his seat.
"It's to show that I really miss my audience and friends back in China," Yao said.
The league even brought in an extra interpreter to help handle the questions from a media mob that numbered 120 by one estimate.
"This guy can handle simultaneous translations. I can't do that," said Colin Pine, Yao's regular interpreter with the Houston Rockets.
The hoopla surrounding Yao, the emergence of international All-Stars and the evolution of the game all came up for discussion at the next table over. Payton had a take on each subject, a procession of sometimes profound thoughts from a man often considered the most underrated player in the NBA.
With averages of 20.6 points and 9.0 assists, the 34-year-old point guard has shown almost no signs of slowing down.
Payton remains true to his basketball roots, a tenacious defender as unafraid to shoot the lefty or righty as he is to talk trash with an opponent.