Extend GP Mission Statement

Gary Payton is the heart and soul of the Seattle Supersonics. He is the symbol of the team to the outside world, the only visible player to the outside world, the only player whose jerseys are available outside the city of Seattle. GP has played his entire 12-year career in the city of Seattle, and he should have the opportunity to finish his career as a rare one-team player. He is the next Mr. Sonic, following in the footsteps of his mentor and current coach, Nate McMillan. Like McMillan, Payton deserves the chance to retire in Key Arena and see his jersey raised to the rafters while still a part of the organization, perhaps joining McMillan as a fellow coach.

A year ago, Sonics fans faced the possibility that Payton would be traded as he was left dangling by Sonics owner Howard Schultz and CEO Wally Walker, who refused to declare him off-limits to trade offers. Now, a Payton trade does not seem a viable possibility, but he may again be left dangling. This will be the final season of the seven-year contract that Payton signed after the 1995-96 season, leaving him a free agent during the summer of 2003.

Although Payton and his agents, the Goodwins, have repeatedly noted their desire to have Payton remain here with a contract extension, the Sonics have made little if any progress towards the goal. Instead, it appears they intend to leave Payton's future up in the air throughout next season prior to a possible run at free agents like New Jersey's Jason Kidd. Does a future Hall of Famer deserve this fate?

In today's modern NBA, with loyalty from teams to their players a thing of the past, the player who, like McMillan, spends his entire career with one team has become a rarity. After Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon went to Toronto last summer, there remain only four players in the NBA with longer tenures with one team than Payton with the Sonics: Reggie Miller, Indiana; David Robinson, San Antonio; John Stockton and Karl Malone, Utah. No other player besides Payton drafted between 1988 and 1992, a five-Draft span, is still active and has played his entire career with one team.

During the 2001-02 season, Payton did everything that was asked of him by the Sonic organization. In addition to continuing his All-Star caliber play on the court, improving on his 2000-01 numbers, Payton demonstrated the leadership which the franchise desired from him. In an ESPN.com chat, Sonic swingman Desmond Mason attributed 75-80% of the team's improvement to Payton's attitude.

Payton has held up his end of the bargain. Now it is the time for the Sonics to hold up theirs and negotiate in good faith a contract extension that will allow Sonics fans to enjoy Payton every night until he decides to hang up his jersey.