By JIM COUR
SEATTLE — Hours after suspending All-Star guard Gary Payton one game for arguing with coach Paul Westphal, the Seattle SuperSonics lifted the sanction, saying Payton had apologized.
The Sonics said Payton would play in tonight’s game in San Antonio.
Team president Wally Walker issued a statement early in the day that said Payton’s suspension was "for conduct detrimental to the team."
"While this was an act that was not taken lightly, we believe that both Gary and the team will move forward positively upon Gary’s return," Walker said.
Late this afternoon, team spokesman Mark Moquin said the suspension had been lifted. He would not elaborate on the reasons for the change.
Payton had to be restrained after confronting Westphal during a timeout in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night’s game in Dallas, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported today.
The newspaper said Payton told Westphal in the huddle that he didn’t care "about this game anymore. You all can suspend me for the rest of my career."
Westphal offered to resign four games into the Sonics’ disappointing season. He refused to discuss Payton’s blowup.
"It’s a blip on the radar screen," Westphal said after Seattle’s 116-110 victory in Dallas.
The confrontation with Westphal came with 8:31 left after Westphal said something that set Payton off. Teammate Pervis Ellison and others held Payton back.
After the game, Payton said Westphal showed him a lack of respect by what was said. If Westphal does it again, Payton said, he no longer would play for him.
Payton would not disclose what Westphal said to him.
"He is going to respect me or I am not going to play for him," Payton told The News Tribune. "That’s just (it) period. If he is going to say something bad to me and I think it is bad, he is going to have to respect me before that. Or he won’t have me playing for him.
"I am not going to say anything else about it. I am going to be a professional about it, but that’s the way it is going to be on the bench. It is going to be respect. If I respect him, he is going to respect me."
Payton had 28 points on 10-of-25 shooting and nine assists as the Sonics improved to 5-7.
After the confrontation, Westphal wanted to take Payton out of the game, but Payton at first refused. Eventually, Ellison got Payton to leave the floor and come to the bench.
Payton returned to the game with 5:45 remaining.
After a loss Nov. 6 in Orlando, Westphal, frustrated by his team’s bickering and insubordination, offered to quit if his players thought he was the problem, but they wouldn’t let him.
The offer went unreported until Westphal told the media in Seattle about it after a practice last Thursday.
In the locker room after the Orlando game, Payton, Vin Baker and Patrick Ewing shouted at their teammates about their poor effort, newspapers reported.
Some players questioned Westphal’s ability. Westphal, who was in an office within earshot, came into the locker room and said he would step down if that was what they wanted, the newspapers said.
Payton said last week he didn’t want to be blamed for Westphal’s departure.
"I just said we don’t need to be talking about this," Payton said. "We need to be focused on the team, not whether he should be out or whether he should be here. I wasn’t going to have this come out in the media like we voted out a coach."
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