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Wednesday, November 29, 2000
Payton suspension reversed


SAN ANTONIO -- Hours after suspending All-Star guard Gary Payton one game for arguing with coach Paul Westphal, the Seattle SuperSonics lifted the sanction, saying Payton had apologized.

Payton started Wednesday night's game at the Spurs.

"I made the call," Westphal said before tipoff. "The reason for the suspension was to make things better."

The two met for 90 minutes and "things got better," Westphal said. "There's no reason for the suspension anymore.

"The easiest thing in the world would be for me to act like a tough guy and flex my muscles. But the fact is, things got worked out, and I feel great."

Wed, November 22
I think Gary Payton and Paul Westphal can coexist even after the situation that resulted in Payton's one-game suspension. Payton is a very hardheaded player who has run the Sonics on the floor for years. Westphal is trying to get him to be more of a team guy.

Gary Payton is an extremely talented player. If you look at his numbers across the board, it's evident he can do it all. But along with that he has to be willing, at times, to put the team ahead of himself. That means coming out of the game every once in a while -- something Gary never wants to do. Sitting for a minute or two can't be something that sets him off like this.

Suspension is the only disciplinary tool a coach has that matters anymore. The ability to take away games is one of the only things he can do that will grab a player's attention. In this case, suspension is the right thing to do. You can't permit that kind of public display to go unaddressed.

The coach has to be in charge of the team. If he takes a player out, that's his decision. The player doesn't have to agree with him, but he does have to abide by the decision. For all of Gary Payton's skill, he is being unreasonable in this situation.

This is also very important to the rest of the team as well. If Westphal is to keep control of this team he must be willing to sit a star when he acts up.

I understand that when Westphal offered to resign, Payton stood up for him. I don't think this current problem signifies a growing rift between them. Payton is an extremely emotional, stubborn player. In an NBA season these things happen. They only become a bigger problem if they're not dealt with immediately. It would appear that Westphal and the Sonics have done so.

Payton declined to be interviewed before the game. He scored a team-high 18 points in Seattle's listless 112-85 loss to the Spurs.

Earlier in the day, team president Wally Walker issued a statement saying the suspension was "for conduct detrimental to the team."

"While this was an act that was not taken lightly, we believe that both Gary and the team will move forward positively upon Gary's return," Walker said.

Payton had to be restrained after confronting Westphal during a timeout in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night's victory in Dallas.

A source close to Payton claims Westphal said to his point guard, "shut up. You play; I'll coach." But Westphal, who did not return ESPN calls seeking comment, has denied to others saying "shut up."

Two people in the huddle claim they did not hear Westphal say "shut up."

"From this standpoint, I tend to believe Paul, because he's incapable of stretching the truth," Walker said from Hawaii, where he's scouting the Maui Classic. "I do believe that Paul told him 'you play, I'll coach, and let's get it going.' "

The News Tribune of Tacoma reported Wednesday that Payton told Westphal in the huddle that he didn't care "about this game anymore. You all can suspend me for the rest of my career."

The confrontation between coach and player came with 8:31 left after Westphal's words set Payton off. Teammate Pervis Ellison and others held Payton back.

After the game, Payton said Westphal showed him a lack of respect by what was said. If Westphal does it again, Payton said, he no longer would play for him.

Payton would not disclose what Westphal said to him.

"He is going to respect me or I am not going to play for him," Payton told The News Tribune. "That's just (it), period. If he is going to say something bad to me and I think it is bad, he is going to have to respect me before that. Or he won't have me playing for him.

Westphal, who offered to resign four games into the season, refused to go into detail about Payton's blowup.

Payton had 28 points on 10-for-25 shooting and nine assists against the Mavericks as the Sonics improved to 5-7.

After a loss Nov. 6 in Orlando, Westphal, frustrated by his team's bickering and insubordination, offered to quit if his players thought he was the problem, but they wouldn't let him.

The offer went unreported until Westphal told the media in Seattle about it after a practice last week.

In the locker room after the Orlando game, Payton, Vin Baker and Patrick Ewing shouted at their teammates about their poor effort, newspapers reported.

Some players questioned Westphal's ability. Westphal, who was in an office within earshot, came into the locker room and said he would step down if that was what they wanted, the newspapers said.

Payton said last week he didn't want to be blamed for Westphal's departure.

"I just said we don't need to be talking about this," Payton said. "We need to be focused on the team, not whether he should be out or whether he should be here. I wasn't going to have this come out in the media like we voted out a coach."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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Westphal offered to step down as Sonics coach

 Gary Payton has no comment on the meeting between himself and Paul Westphal.
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 Paul Westphal comments on the reasoning behind Gary Payton's pregame suspension.
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