Payton Just Needs Time To Roll Up Numbers

OAKLAND - This homecoming was quiet. After all, native son Gary Payton had been a pro for only a week and this merely was an exhibition game. Even a demanding father and discerning coach like Al Payton, who had seen his son play probably a thousand times, watched with muted expectations.

The Golden State Warriors led 14-9, with 5:53 left in the opening quarter last night, when Gary Payton, of Oakland's Skyline High, stripped off his new Seattle Sonic sweats and played before the critical eye of his father one more time.

``I think he should have played better,'' said Al, who sat in the end zone near the Sonic bench. ``He didn't play very good; but, the kind of player he is, Gary needs to start. He's not very good coming off the bench. Never has been. You saw it tonight. He started the second half and played much better.''

Payton's box-score line from last night's 117-97 loss to the Warriors won't start a stampede for season tickets. In 26 minutes, he shot 3 for 10 from the field and had seven points, four assists, three rebounds and three turnovers.

But this month, we will get only snippets of Payton. Flashes of the brilliance that will be expected of him almost nightly beginning next month.

The loose-legged gait, the rolling shoulders, the poker face are the same as we saw at Oregon State. But it will take time for the big numbers to follow. He has practiced only four times with his new teammates. The offense he ran last night was simplified for him. And, his backcourt mate, Dale Ellis, is noticeably out of shape.

``I thought he was very impressive,'' Sonic Coach K.C. Jones said. ``He handles the ball like he's been in the league for a couple of years. He makes some mistakes, but I want him to make mistakes. The important thing is when he makes mistakes, it doesn't bother him.

``I'm going to throw him out there in the preseason. Let him get in condition. Let him get to know what the plays are. Then he can be more in position to take charge of what we're doing. The good things he did tonight outweighed the bad 95 percent to 5 percent.

``He sees people out there. He does a lot of things that a point guard is supposed to do. He's a natural point guard. He's sweet. Sweet.''

Some third-quarter Payton sweetness:

He picks up a loose balL in the corner and pushes it up the floor. He spots Sedale Threatt alone on the wing, fires a a no-look pass, and Threatt buries a 15-footer.

He shoulder fakes Tim Hardaway at the top of the key, drives the middle and flips a layin over Jim Petersen.

He drives again, challenging the Warrior big men, and scoring on a left-handed runner in the lane.

Payton played the entire third quarter, scoring all seven of his points and getting three assists. The Sonics outscored Golden State 30-26, the only quarter they won.

``I'm not out there trying to do anything spectacular,'' Payton said. ``That would be out of line for me right now.''

The expectations are great for Payton. He cost the Sonics $12 million over six years. He has been given the keys to run this offense. This is his team.

``He can handle the expectations,'' Al Payton said. ``Right now, he's just got to be a little more aggressive. He's got to take it one-on-one a little more. I'll get on him about that when I see him. That's the pro game. This is business now. He's just got to get into the mold. Once he does, he'll do fine.''

Judging a player from one exhibition game is a little like reviewing a movie based on the opening credits. Payton sometimes seemed hesitant to force the action. Several times, Derrick McKey flashed open in the low post and Payton didn't find him.

But this is only the end of the first week. Imagine the miles and the minutes, all of the games that await him.

``The big expectations come with being the second guy picked in the draft. That's just the way it is,'' Payton said. ``I think everybody's just waiting for me to settle in. When I've been here two, three weeks, maybe a month, then people will see that Gary's really getting into it.

``I'll start leading the ballclub a little bit more. The coach will probably start me. Then I'll be what people are expecting me to be. I'm not doubting myself. I'm learning now. Learning real fast. By November 3rd, when we open, I'll be experienced running this offense. I'll be ready.''

Twenty more days to settle in. Twenty more days until the Gary Payton era begins in Seattle.

Steve Kelley's column usually is published Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the Sports section of The Times.