The events occurred during the team’s recent road trip through Texas, beginning Tuesday night in Dallas and resuming Wednesday in San Antonio. Payton was suspended Wednesday morning, then reinstated in the afternoon in time to play against the Spurs.
Team president Wally Walker was in Hawaii at the time, scouting the Maui Invitational basketball tournament, and was involved in deliberations via telephone.
There is, Walker said Friday, “no recipe here” for handling a volatile player like Payton. And he denied that Payton has been put on a short leash regarding future infractions.
“I don’t think that’s how I’d characterize it,” Walker said. “The way I explained it to him, ‘Gary, you can’t do what you did.’ … Every situation is different. You have to look at it case by case. Yet at the same time, it’s not the first time that it’s come up and you can’t look at it in a vacuum either.”
Clearly, Walker was unhappy with the entire incident, just as he is displeased with Seattle’s 5-8 record.
“We have to get better as a team,” Walker said, his tone suggesting an air of urgency. “We have to show progress. We have to get better every game.”
With Lewis missing, Westphal shuffled his lineup, moving Ruben Patterson from shooting guard to Lewis’ small forward position and putting Brent Barry in the starting lineup at shooting guard. This is very close to the lineup Seattle used for most of last season, with the exception of Patrick Ewing starting at center in place of Horace Grant.
Johnson, fondly known as DJ when he was a Seattle backcourt star, helped the Sonics to their only NBA championship in 1979. A year later, though, he had become “a cancer on the team,” in the immortal words of then-coach Lenny Wilkens, and was swapped for Westphal in a one-for-one trade.
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