An old Simpsons gag is the perfect metaphor for the Orlando Magic's mercurial Elfrid Payton.
Back when The Simpsons had good writers, which was a long time ago now, there was a scene in which Mr. Burns attempts to bribe a couple of Nuclear Inspectors after Homer causes a meltdown in the simulation van, despite it containing no actual nuclear material. He offers them two choices.
Choice A – The washer and dryer.
Choice B – Whatever is inside the mystery box.
Easy. The inspector knows there may well be nothing in the box, but the risk, the thrill and the need for closure are all too great.
To this day I still wonder what was in that box.
Which brings me to Elfrid Payton.
This is Elf’s third year in the league and a glance at his stats will tell you that not much has changed since he broke through in his rookie season. The main issue is still his 3 point shooting, which has returned to Charles Barkley/Josh Smith level horrific despite improving last year (26.9% from deep, down from 32.9%). Point guards who can’t shoot have found themselves increasingly marginalised in the league; Rondo is trying his absolute very best to engineer a move to China and the Timberwolves are treating Rubio like his 2K counterpart, indiscreetly offering him for trades every season without a second thought for how it might affect silly things like, oh, I dunno, his value, morale, performance, teammates, coaches, their own bargaining power, and therefore his overall value, again.
It’s hard not to see Payton heading down this path, but he does have a couple of things in his favor. The guy is still 22. Yes, he’s been a (mostly) starting point guard for three years and still hasn’t turned into Jason Kidd, but he has had a different coach and considerable roster turnover to deal with heading into every season. The only consistently Elf has had with the Magic is just how bad they’ve been since he joined the team.
To be honest, I just like the kid. There is something about him. When he plays well he can absolutely take over and singlehandedly win games. Last week against the Jazz he had 28/9/9 and 2 steals, with only 1 turnover, and shot 59% from the floor. And this is against George Hill. He was great, just ask Quin Snyder.
(The Magic still lost).
The problem is, these kinds of performances come too few and far between, which is how he has ended up parting Magic fans like the red sea. Pitchforks one side, the Weeknd posters on the other. Basically, you’ve either given up on him or you haven’t and the breaking point seems to be on the horizon. He either makes the leap and the Magic stick with him for good, or they cut their losses, trade him for something as lowly as a second round pick and Spencer Hawes and move on.
At this moment in time, he still exists as that giant pink box covered in question marks with a bow on top. We don’t know whether he’s better off the bench or starting or whether his stroke from deep will ever improve. Some nights he will come out aggressive and attack the rim like prime Derrick Rose. Other nights he will simply go missing. Like current Derrick Rose. His defensive intensity varies from possession to possession and it is really, really hard to tell exactly what it is that keeps his hair from drooping all over his face despite playing 30 minutes of NBA basketball a night and presumably sweating a fair amount. Seriously, what hairspray is the guy using? Is it industrial strength glue? That can’t be good for your scalp Elfrid.
Payton could still become a number of things. He’s the Magic’s mystery box, there’s more than likely nothing there, but still, there’s the slimmest of chances that he might turn into something even better than a washer and dryer, presented by the lovely Smithers. Give me the box. THE BOX!