Trail Blazers’ Gary Payton II still progressing but, ‘Not ready to play, yet’

The Portland Trail Blazers have developed into one of the best defensive units in the NBA. And they’ve done so without a key free agent acquisition who was signed to help fix the defense.

Gary Payton II has yet to play this season while recovering from offseason core muscle surgery. But he is close to returning, according to coach Chauncey Billups.

“He’s still progressing,” Billups said Monday following practice. “Not ready to play yet. He’s doing more and more. I don’t have a time line.”

Payton traveled with team during its six-game trip that concluded Saturday in Dallas and he was spotted riding a stationary bike and doing pregame drills. When asked in Charlotte if he would be returning soon, Payton responded: “I’m close. Close.”

On Monday, Billups said he hoped Payton was close. But he wasn’t sure.

Payton originally was expected to return by the start of the regular season. Yahoo Sports reported last month that Payton could return as soon as Tuesday, when the Blazers host San Antonio. However, Payton is listed as being out on the team’s latest injury report.

The goal, Billups said, is for Payton to be completely healthy when he returns. The hurdles, according to Billups, involve overcoming both the physical and mental challenges following surgery. First, a player must work their way back into physical shape, which will usually involve some setbacks along the way, Billups said. Secondly, they must regain their confidence in their physical ability to perform at a high level.

“With Gary, more than anything, he’s had this a couple of times,” Billups said. “It’s just not easy. We want him to be his best self when he does come back.”

— Aaron Fentress | | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook). Subscribe to Oregonian/OregonLive newsletters and podcasts

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