In the past year, just elected Hall of Famer Gary Payton has been working with John Wall. Outside the obvious reasons one might want to work with the best defensive guard of his generation, there was another reason Wall sought out Payton — both guys struggled at the start of their career.
“First of all I struggled for three years,” Payton told ProBasketballTalk back in January. “Really for two years, and then when George Karl got there (to Seattle) my struggles ended because I got a basketball coach that let me do what I wanted to do.”
Payton’s frustration went deeper than anyone realized, to the point he almost quit the NBA, something he told Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com.
“I was thinking about it,” Payton said in a phone conversation from his home in Las Vegas. “I was like, ‘What am I out here for? This isn’t even what I want to do. I’m not happy.’ I didn’t want to do anything….
“If we wouldn’t have changed coaches (from K.C. Jones to George Karl),” Payton said, “I would have probably said, ‘Yo, you know what? I want to end this. I don’t want to do this anymore because I’m not happy.’ If they would have stayed with the same coach, I would have probably just shut it down. They would have tried to trade me or I would have told them I don’t want to play there anymore.
“I went to my agent, I went to my father, I just said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m good enough to play in this league. I’ve got a coach who wants to play me in the first and the third quarter. He has no confidence in me.’ They told me the same thing. ‘You’ve got to stick it out. You’ve got to be the guy who you’re supposed to be. You’re tough. You’re this.’ My father was like, ‘Are you crazy? If you quit, I’m gonna get in your (body).’ Stuff like that.”
We talk about how talent wins the day in the NBA, and to an extent that is true — if you are LeBron James or Kevin Durant you’re going to be good irrespective of who the coach may be. But for most of the players in the NBA fit does matter. You put an aging, big, plodding center on a Mike D’Antoni team and the results will leave nobody happy. (And no, I’m not talking Dwight Howard there, he’s not plodding.)
Payton needed to be in a system that worked for him, and when he was he flourished. That worked for a long time, but remember he chaffed trying to be a point guard in Phil Jackson’s offense back in 2004 — that was a bad mesh of styles again.
It’s something players need to learn to fight through to get what they want. Even if you’re a Hall of Famer like Gary Payton.