I'm in. I like his talent. I was skeptical of his performances / shooting improvement / offensive decision making but I really like what I see from him. Worth the risk.
We need a guard who can get dribble penetration. Tatum & Jaylen do not provide enough playmaking to play without a guard who is a dribble drive threat. Smart is not capable of being that player. Pritchard is unlikely to be that player either (more of a shooter than a driver).
Payne is worth the risk. He offers that dribble drive threat. He can shoot enough to keep defenses honest off the ball. He is scrappy on defense. A lot better than Kemba, Isaiah or Kyrie were defensively. More like Tony Parker level defender. Not that impressive but reasonably solid. Not a liability. Like Kyrie when he tries but not a diva so Payne tries often.
Anything in the $10mil to $13mil range I am happy to pay. Maybe even up to $15mil if we can afford it in a TPE.
Only way to acquire him is to do a sign and trade and Phoenix the most they can pay him is $10.7 million with Early Bird Rights as mentioned in the OP. Or using the full MLE, but that's a pay cut.
Anything above that we can't be players on.
But going to the hypotheticals of 13 and 15 million range, we can't use it with our TPE. Our biggest one is Hayward's which has $11M remaining... and if not mistaken the salary has to fit within the exception total. So the only way would be to use players, which would be my preferred method if we can get rid of Thompson + misc... I'd be game.
But again, the point is moot since Phoenix can't offer those type of contracts for him to be able to trade him.
So unless you have cap space to outbid Phoenix, I have trouble seeing how Phoenix doesn't offer him those $10.7M, and if that's the case, one would need a package to entice Phoenix since I very much doubt Payne wants to leave. But if Payne forces the issue, then something can be done, and $10.7M is good value.
Still... don't see him or want him as our starting PG.