WALTHAM -- It took a private jet chartered by the Celtics to finally bring Gary Payton from Los Angeles to Boston. A Gulfstream IV with Payton, his wife Monique, his agent Aaron Goodwin, and executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge on board touched down at Hanscom Field at 9:25 p.m. Sunday.
According to owner Wyc Grousbeck, the special travel arrangements represented "the way a first-class organization would treat a Hall of Fame player who has to get coast to coast." Ainge said the six-hour charter flight presented a valuable opportunity to speak at length with Payton and those closest to him, noting he did not fly to LA to convince or plead with the veteran to report on time. But according to Goodwin, "There was doubt and thoughts of retiring all the way up to [Sunday]" if another situation did not present itself. Goodwin credited Ainge with reminding Payton "it was about basketball first and foremost."
After assuring fans and reporters that Payton would be present for training camp and finally gaining confirmation that he was coming, the Celtics clearly did not want to take any chances with travel arrangements. While coach Doc Rivers never doubted Payton would show and the veteran point guard claimed his reluctance to join the Celtics was misreported, Rivers and Payton sitting side by side at media day represented a quasi-coup for the organization.
Wearing No. 20, Payton officially talked for the first time as a Celtic yesterday afternoon. At the age of 36 and with 14 years in the league, he knew exactly what to say.
Asked when he made the decision to come to Boston, Payton said, "When they traded for me. There's always a lot of uncertainty when it's flipped on you like that. I had a lot of family issues that I had to deal with. A lot of things that I had to work out first. I don't know where everybody got that [I wasn't coming] from because nobody heard me say that I wasn't coming. I just had to work out things first. I'm here, so we're going to go forward from there."
Payton later alluded to his unwillingness to move his teenage daughter to a new high school and added: "The [biggest] problem was my family. I got to get that straight first. Doc knew it. Danny knew it. They just let me take my time and let me make my decision on when I was going to get here and all that stuff. This is training camp. I've got to be here, so I made it here. Now we have to focus on what we have to do to make this team better. And I'm here to do that."
With his remarks, Payton echoed the themes of the day: Starting fresh and moving forward. Paul Pierce worked the phrase "fresh start" into nearly every answer. Marcus Banks talked about the Payton trade machinations that bounced Banks from Boston to Los Angeles and back to Boston as part of the past and pronounced himself ready for a new start with his once and future team. Raef LaFrentz eagerly spoke about his hopes for a healthy (and fresh) start after season-ending right knee surgery last December.
Whether moving on from a disastrous season that featured a midseason coaching change or from an offseason trade, the presence of Rivers in his first year at the Celtics' helm helped encourage thoughts of a fresh start. Rivers also fostered confidence in Payton.
"I played against [Rivers] a couple of years, and knowing what kind of basketball player and competitor he is, all I can do is just come out here and give him all I've got," said Payton. "I'm here to play for him now. We're going to make it as fun as possible. And while we're doing that, we're going to try and win basketball games. That's all we're here for. They came and got me for a reason, and I'm going to try and make it the best [situation] that I can."
Although in town for less than 24 hours and still not acquainted with many of his teammates, Payton sounded very much like the Celtics' senior statesman, and at times an assistant coach, when evaluating his new team.
"We've got a lot of young players, so it's going to be interesting for Doc and it's going to be interesting for me," said Payton. "You've got to groom these young guys. Some of these young guys that come in today are really talented and they want to get out there, but [they] really don't understand the game yet. That's where we come in. We try to get leadership with them. And try to teach them as the days go on and the games go on, but it's not going to be easy."
Payton on Paul Pierce: "I've been playing against Paul for a couple years and just watching him, and I think he's the type of guy that he wants to win so bad that he wants to put a lot of things on his shoulders. With me being here, and knowing how to play the game and being the point guard, I can take the stress off him. He doesn't [need] to score 25, 30 points. When he can focus in, I don't think he should be a player who will shoot 40 percent. I think he should shoot 45 to 46 percent, average 20 points, get about six or seven rebounds and go to the line like he always does. I don't think they'll be able to guard both of us on the post, especially out here."
On Marcus Banks: "What I've been hearing about Marcus is he's been frustrated a lot of times last year with a lot of guys getting on him. With young kids like that, you've got to take them under your wing. There's a lot of guys you can go at in a different way. I think all he needs is a little guidance. If you teach him how to play basketball, instead of yelling at him, I think he'll adapt to that a lot quicker than if somebody's on him all the time. Since I know him a little bit better [from living in Las Vegas], I'll probably be on him a little bit more."
On last season with the Lakers and looking forward to this year with the Celtics: "Last season was a system that I wasn't comfortable with. It wasn't me and I didn't get to play the type of basketball that I wanted to play. We had four guys that were really superstars and focal points of their team when they were with their own team [Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone, and myself]. It didn't work. It's just something that happened. I move on now. That's over with. I feel comfortable coming here. I know it's going to be different. It will be back to my days where I'm given free range to do the things that I can do."
Payton boarded another charter flight early last night, this time with his teammates, to Burlington, Vt., for training camp. Now that Payton has joined the team, the Celtics will see just what they have beginning today.