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Payton ignores past and future

LOS ANGELES -- Sometimes it seems as if Gary Payton spends more time in Los Angeles than Boston. But when he is back home with his family on the West Coast, the veteran point guard apparently lives in a world without newspapers, television, or radio. To hear Payton tell it, he doesn't know about the Los Angeles Lakers' struggles and doesn't care about them.

Like a lover spurned, he seems to have erased all memories of last season, when his Lakers team lost in the NBA Finals and he was subsequently dealt to the Celtics, a trade that felt like a slap in the face.

Before practice yesterday at Pauley Pavilion, Payton was not particularly interested in talking about the past. But with the Celtics set to play the Lakers tonight for the first time this season, he could not avoid questions about his former team.

"I don't care," said Payton. "It's just another basketball game. That's all. They made changes. That's what they wanted to do. I don't really watch them. We're on the East Coast and they're over here on the West Coast.

"I ain't even really paid attention to it. Everybody probably talks about them, but I don't really pay attention no more. I don't know what's going on with them.

"Last year, I was a part of it. This year, I don't have to be a part of it."

Payton was part of a soap opera in Los Angeles, though he says it never became a distraction for him. His time with the Celtics certainly has had less controversy. Away from the triangle offense, and playing with young, eager teammates, Payton has shown he still can play the game at 36. And the Celtics have a good chance of winning the Atlantic Division, while the Lakers returned from the All-Star break clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Still, Payton would not say he is better off with the Celtics.

"We went to the championship last year," said Payton. "If our team would have stayed together, you probably wouldn't have been [asking] that right now. I'm here in Boston, we're in first place. We're third in our conference. We're playing well. We're just starting to pick it up a little bit. I'm happy where we're at right now."

But is Payton happy with where he is right now? Conventional wisdom has been that the Celtics would move Payton to a Western Conference team before Thursday's trading deadline. Payton himself has mentioned Sacramento and Minnesota as possible suitors. A recent rumor had the Celtics swapping him to the Timberwolves for Sam Cassell.

Payton insists the trade rumors, like the Lakers, are out of his mind. He will leave the talking and negotiating to his agent, Aaron Goodwin, and Celtics executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge.

"I don't pay attention to none of that, neither," said Payton. "After what's happened the last two years with my trades [from Seattle to Milwaukee, then LA to Boston], all this stuff is a business for me. If they called me today or tomorrow and said, `You've got to move, Gary,' I'm going to pack my bags up and I'm going to move on to the next place and I'm going to be good with it.

"But I'm not going to go too many more places. I'm not going to keep changing to different area codes. This [next move] is going to be the last for me. If it happens again, I'm going to have to just hang it up then."

Payton added that he would not be disappointed if the trading deadline came and went and he remained with the Celtics.

"I'm happy with all my teammates," he said. "I'm happy with the coaching staff. I'm happy with everything. But it's a business. If it happens, it happens. A lot of things are going on. I'll leave it up to Mr. Goodwin and Mr. Ainge. If they work out something and Aaron thinks it's a good deal and a good situation for me and it's going to help me next year and help me establish what I want to do, I'll go with that.

"But right now, I'm playing well and I'm going to keep rolling the way we're supposed to roll."

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