Payton will get a look at his former team for the first time since being traded in the offseason to Boston when the Celtics and Lakers resume play following the All-Star break.
Last season, his first and only one with the Lakers, Payton averaged 14.6 points, 5.5 assists and 34.5 minutes, his lowest totals in 11 seasons.
The Lakers’ offense revolved around Shaquille O’Neal—now with Miami—and Kobe Bryant, two stars with an uneasy relationship. So even when Payton did bring the ball up and pass it, he didn’t get it back as much as he would have liked.
“Last year it was tough for him to get tired because of the way they were playing. He was standing in the corner by himself without the ball a lot,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said in October. “Gary’s a guy that likes to run the show and that’s why we brought him in here.”
Despite Payton’s frustration with the Lakers’ style, the seven-time All-Star exercised a $5.4 million option with them for this season. However, the Lakers were broken up following their five-game loss to Detroit in the NBA Finals and Payton was traded to Boston, along with Rick Fox, in a deal that sent Chucky Atkins, Chris Mihm and Jumaine Jones to Los Angeles.
Initially, Payton wasn’t ecstatic about leaving the West Coast, but the 14-year veteran reported to Celtics training camp on time.
Even though Payton, averaging 12.2 points and 6.1 assists, isn’t scoring like he once did, the Celtics have shown improvement on the offensive end with him at the point. Boston is seventh in the NBA with 100.9 points per game and shooting 46.6 percent from the floor, third overall.
Last season, the Celtics averaged 95.3 points and shot 44.3 percent in finishing 36-46.
The Celtics are clearly not the best team in the Eastern Conference, but with wins in six of their last eight, they own a one-game lead atop the weak Atlantic Division.
Payton had 13 points and six assists in the Celtics’ 90-88 win over Memphis on Wednesday.
The Lakers, meanwhile, are in disarray, having won just twice in seven games since Rudy Tomjanovich suddenly resigned on Feb. 2.
With a one-game lead over Minnesota for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Lakers only recently got Bryant back from an injured ankle which forced him to miss 14 games.
After looking a bit rusty in a loss to Cleveland on Feb. 13, Bryant shot 12-of-19 from the floor and 15-for-19 from the foul line for 40 points in the Lakers’ 102-95 win over Utah on Tuesday.
“I needed to get a game under my belt to get my legs back, get my rhythm back,” Bryant said. “And it’s back.”