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Having traveled same Heat path Damian Lillard is pursuing, Gary Payton says, ‘He will be a great fit here’

MIAMI — The story of a long-time NBA veteran point guard out of Oakland seeking an NBA championship with the Miami Heat while on the back end of his career in his 30s is not unique to Damian Lillard.

It is a story, in fact, previously written.

By Gary Payton,

In 2006.

Payton, now a coach with the halfcourt Big3 circuit, was back in Miami on Sunday as part of the league’s tour, working the officials at Kaseya Center with the same vigor seen before and during that 2005-06 championship season with the Heat.

And, yes, as is the case with Lillard, Payton is all in on Lillard’s desire to relocate to South Florida.

“It is the same thing as it is with me,” Payton said after coaching his team Sunday. “Dame’s father grew up with me in Oakland. We all have the same mentality. And I have the same agent as Dame. Dame would be a great fit here. He knows it, and I know it.”

As for the comparisons to Lillard, they are undeniable.

Payton devoted the first 12-plus seasons of his career to a single Pacific Northwest franchise, in his case the Seattle SuperSonics, before moving on. Lillard is seeking relocation after 11 seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Like Lillard, who has taken issue with the Blazers’ turn toward youth amid his win-now aspirations, Payton also somewhat forced his way out with the Sonics, failing to report for the first day of training camp in advance of his trade that season to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Payton joined the Heat at 37; Lillard is seeking to join the Heat at 33.

Payton was a nine-time All-Star before his first, and only, NBA championship with the Heat; Lillard is a seven-time All-Star.

And to the notion of Lillard ring chasing by seeking to join Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo to score a championship with a team already in win-now mode, Payton first joined the championship Los Angeles Lakers of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant along with Karl Malone in 2003, before then joining O’Neal and Dwyane Wade with the Heat in the 2005 offseason.

The prime difference was Payton was The Glove, known for his lockdown defense; Lillard, even at this advanced stage, is coming off a season he averaged a career-high 32.2 points.

Still, Payton said Sunday he appreciates both where Lillard is coming from, and, as significantly, where he wants to go.

“Dame,” Payton said, “had to make the decision: Do I want to keep doing what I do, or do I want to try to win a championship? And that’s what he wants to do now. It is just time, time for him to make a move to where he wants to go.”

Payton played under Pat Riley as his Heat coach; Riley now is functioning solely as Heat president. Erik Spoelstra was in the team’s video department when Payton played for the Heat; Spoelstra now is coach. Payton played alongside Dwyane Wade; Wade then recruited current Heat leading man Jimmy Butler.

“Dame  wants to play for Pat. I think it’s a good move for him,” Payton said. “Why not go ahead and let him be successful? And I think it’ll change the whole dynamic if he comes here to Miami. He’ll have more help with Butler. He’ll have another superstar to go with him, and he’ll have a hard-working basketball team.”

While Payton, 55, eventually had issues with the Heat and retired after the 2006-07 season with the team, he said there were no regrets about getting to a championship contender and securing that coveted ring.

“Everybody should chase a championship,” Payton said. “Why are we playing basketball? That is the whole object of playing basketball. If you want to go somewhere else if you’ve got a chance to win a championship, go there. And that’s what I saw when I came to Miami. So I came here, look what happened.”

Payton was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, the first former Heat player to be enshrined, his Heat legacy further cementing what he built in the Pacific Northwest.

Now, Payton said, it could be the same for Lillard.

“He’s a tough guy,” said Payton, now coach at Lincoln University in Oakland. “We’re from Oakland, California. He’s going to bite into the same thing I did, the culture here. He’ll give what Pat wants, what Spo wants. He will be a great fit here.

“I’ll guarantee you, what he did in Portland, he’ll do more here. You’ll have more of a culture here of winning. So I think it’ll be a good fit for him.”

Beasley, Chalmers win

In the third of the six Big3 games at Kaseya Center, former Heat players Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers helped lead 3’s Company to a 51-43 victory over Payton-coached Bivouac.

Beasley closed the first-to-50 game with 25 points and seven rebounds, scoring the winning basket on a driving layup, with Chalmers finishing with 12 points and seven assists. Former Heat guard Gerald Green scored 19 in defeat.

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