Moments before last Thursday’s NBA Trade Deadline commenced, the Orlando Magic agreed to trade starting point guard Elfrid Payton to the Phoenix Suns for a 2018 second round pick.
The Magic will be receiving the second most favorable selection out of Memphis, Charlotte, and Miami’s ‘18 second round picks.
The 23-year-old fourth-year guard played over 280 games for the Magic, serving primarily as Orlando’s starting point guard since his rookie season. Payton is averaging career-highs this season in scoring, overall shooting efficiency, finishing at the rim, and three-point shooting. Showing comfort so far in his new surroundings, Payton has averaged 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists through two games with the Suns.
Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said in a press conference after Payton was traded that “we had to weigh the marketplace this summer, what Elfrid could command and where we are (and if that fits into our plans moving forward). Elfrid is a good player and we wish him the best. He gave us everything he had, and sometimes those interests just don’t align.”
“We were concerned about locking ourselves in financially,” Weltman said. “It was fair (Payton bringing back just a mid-second round pick) because the league and the market deemed it to be fair.”
However, not everyone around the league shared Weltman’s sentiment regarding the trade and Payton’s value around the league. One member of the media in particular voiced his opinion about the trade through his Twitter account:
Getting Elfrid Payton for just a second-rounder is a steal for the Suns.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) February 8, 2018
Elfrid Payton is showing why Orlando shouldn't have traded him for a second-round pick. That was such a strange deal.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) February 13, 2018
Kennedy, a writer for HoopsHype, conducted a one-on-one interview with Elfrid Payton to discuss being traded by the Magic, his first impressions of the Phoenix Suns, and the likelihood that Payton stays with his new organization long-term. Below are a few key excerpts from Kennedy’s interview with Payton. You can find the entire transcript of his interview here.
Kennedy: In the days leading up to the deadline, did you expect to be traded or did the move catch you off guard?
Elfrid Payton: Well, my mindset this whole season has been to be ready for whatever happens. I knew a trade was possible, especially having a new GM and president of basketball operations in Orlando. Because they didn’t draft me, I always understood there was a chance that they’d want to bring in their own guy. So the whole year, I was basically prepared for anything.
Kennedy: When you saw that you were traded for a second-round pick, what was your reaction? Did you feel disrespected at all?
Payton: I mean… A little bit. I think a lot of other people were more upset about it than I was, though. Others took it to heart more than I did, but that’s just because of the type of person I am. I’m pretty nonchalant and I don’t really get worked up, so it wasn’t really that big of a deal to me. I’ve always felt underrated and felt like I have to prove myself. I’m the kind of player who feels like you have to prove yourself every single night – no matter what you’ve done or who you are – because in this league everyone is thinking, “What have you done for me lately?” So it wasn’t too big of a deal to me.
(Long pause) It was kind of crazy, though. I’ve seen a lot of people say that it was a steal for Phoenix and stuff like that; I guess time will tell. I heard they were offered a lot more than a second-round pick [from other teams], but they just didn’t decide to do one of those other trades… I don’t know all of the details, but I know they had offers from a team in the East and a different West Coast team other than Phoenix.
From Payton’s answer, one can somewhat derive a sense of what the vibe in Orlando’s locker room has been this season. Outside of a handful of players that were acquired this past off-season, the majority of Orlando’s roster was brought to the organization by former management. It would seem natural for players of all status and stature to feel a little insecure about their long-term standing with an organization under those kind of circumstances, especially during certain points in the year (trade deadline, draft/summer).
It was also pretty interesting that Payton hinted at the fact that Orlando had received other offers; offers that according to Payton were “a lot more than a second-round pick.” I wonder if he’s referring to the rumor that the New York Knicks were very interested in acquiring Orlando’s former starting point guard.
Kennedy: You were close with a lot of your teammates in Orlando. How did other Magic players react when they heard about the trade?
Payton: Man, a lot of guys were upset. The timing of this wasn’t the best, for a lot of reasons. A lot of the guys let me know that they were disappointed, but they were very encouraging. I think every single player on the team texted or called me to offer me encouragement or say that it was a pleasure playing with me, so that meant a lot. They were torn because they were upset about the trade, but happy for me because they knew that this was a good opportunity for my career. I also got texts and calls from a lot of people who worked within the organization, like members of the training staff and other employees. They wanted to wish me well too. I really appreciated all of the support.
Payton’s answer is consistent with what I’ve always heard and seen during my very brief time around the organization. Payton was very close with many of his teammates, namely Aaron Gordon (Gordon and Payton go back as far as 2011, they both played for Team USA U-19), Mario Hezonja, and D.J. Augustin (Augustin and Payton are both natives of New Orleans).
“It sucks, because I was really close to him,” Hezonja said (last Thursday) of Payton being traded. “We were out everyday, out to dinner. Our families are close. But I’m extremely happy for him because (Phoenix) is the right spot for him.”
“Elfrid was like a little brother to me,“ Augustin said (last Thursday) of the departed point guard. “He’s from New Orleans and I’m from New Orleans, and we spent a lot of time together off the court. It’s tough to see him go, but at the same time, the NBA is a business.”
Kennedy: In your first two games with the Suns, you’ve averaged 24 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds while shooting 61.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. Did you want to send a message that the Magic made the wrong move by trading you, or are those numbers just a result of you fitting better with Phoenix’s system and players?
Payton: I think it’s a combination of those things (laughs). I’ve always tried to play with a chip on my shoulder and this trade just added a little more fuel to my fire. But a lot of it does have to do with this system, my new teammates and the fact that the coaches are putting the ball in my hands and asking me to make something happen.
Kennedy: You’re a pass-first point guard and you’ve never averaged fewer than six assists per game in a season. Looking at this Suns squad, you’re going to have a lot of weapons at your disposal.
Payton: This team’s potential is really intriguing. They have so many talented, up-and-coming guys like Devin Booker, TJ Warren, Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, plus great vets like Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler. I’m just excited to help them and put the ball in their hands. I’m obviously still learning where they each like the ball and all that, but I’m excited for the All-Star break because I’ll be able to get a few practices in with these guys. We can start figuring things out and get rolling.
Payton will take a lot of pressure off of Devin Booker, who has been asked so early in his career to shoulder such a heavy offensive load for the Suns. I believe the pace that Payton plays at will really bring out the best in young players such as T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, and Josh Jackson.
Yet, I can’t help but wonder how poor a defensive back-court of Payton and Booker will turn out to be?
Kennedy: What has been your first impression of the Suns organization?
Payton: This organization is full of really nice people. Since I got here, they’ve been great to me and made me comfortable. They took me on a big tour and set me up in a nice hotel [while I look for a place to stay]. Everything has been super positive. It’s been great.
Kennedy: I know the trade just happened, but when you look at the roster, the organization and the city, could you see yourself potentially staying in Phoenix long-term?
Payton: Yeah, I really could. Obviously, it’s not only up to me and I understand the business side of the NBA, but this is definitely somewhere I could see myself being for a long time.
I wish Elfrid the best in his career. I really hope things work out for Payton in Phoenix, there are certainly worse situations in the NBA that he could have been traded into. In fact, I’m happy for how this deal worked out for all parties involved. Phoenix had some of the worst point guard depth and talent in the league, now they have Payton. Payton gets a fresh start with a new organization that is comprised of multiple lottery picks already on the roster. And the Magic helped (in the short term) a team they are competing with in the lottery get a little better this season.
Perhaps now there’s one less lottery team (in Phoenix) interested in drafting Trae Young this summer? Only time will tell.
You can follow Alex Kennedy on Twitter @AlexKennedyNBA.