Rookie season can be tough in the NBA. Players go from playing about 30 games in college and two weeks per game to the 82-game grind of three or four games per week, if not five, and they are playing against the world's best players. It is not an easy transition.
Gary Payton hit those rookie doldrums pretty hard during his rookie season in 1991. He played in and started all 82 games, but averaged only 7.2 points per game while providing 6.4 assists per game.
It took the Hall of Fame point guard a little while to find his feet. The problems with Seattle's organization — K.C. Jones was the head coach for a 41-41 team that made the Playoffs — did not help.
It caused Payton to consider the impossible for a rookie — retirement. He spoke with Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com's Hang Time Blog.
I was thinking about it. I was like, ‘What am I out here for? This isn’t even what I want to do. I’m not happy.’ I didn’t want to do anything. . . .
The frustration really grew his second year. Jones was fired 36 games into the season and the Sonics had Bob Kloppenburg coach for four games. Then George Karl took over and the Sonics became a Western Conference power, making a Finals appearance in 1996.
And, of course, Gary Payton became a nine-time NBA All Star (nine consecutive appearances from 1994 until 2003, actually) and one of the best point guards of the 1990s. He did not win a championship until he latched on with the Heat in 2006 at the end of his career, but that did not take away from an outstanding career.
It all could have ended if Payton remained frustrated with the Sonics' precarious coaching situation in the early 90s.