The words inked on Elfrid Payton's skin tell you more about Elfrid Payton than he ever will.

Payton doesn't talk about himself much.

Heck, he doesn't talk much period.

"Getting him to talk can be like pulling teeth," said Elfrid Payton Sr.

But ask Payton about his tattoos and it's like show and tell. Payton begins  firing away at the same rapid pace that Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry wants his new point guard to run the team's up-tempo offense this season.

There's the first one he ever got, near his left shoulder: "Married to the Game." He was around 15, years after he first met and fell in love with basketball as a 5-year-old playing at Mel Ott Playground in his hometown of Gretna.

Under that one are the names Courtney, Ashley, Erin, Shamyra and Brianna, a brother's way of keeping his five sisters with him everywhere he goes.

There are the three Gs, a reminder to Payton to give God glory.

And a fleur-de-lis. 

"I can go all day about my tats," Payton says with a grin. "I lost count of them, but they all mean something."

Then he continued down to his legs: his foundation, his roots.

Gretna Middle School, John Ehret High School and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette are all there, another reminder that Payton is Louisiana through and through.

The former first-round draft pick has come full circle now, back to those roots, back in the city where his journey began, playing for the hometown Pelicans, who open their season Wednesday night on the road against the Houston Rockets.

"It feels good to be home," Payton said. "I feel like I'm supposed to be here right now. I believe everything happens for a reason."

Payton's mother, Danielle, thinks her son is supposed to be here too.

She knows just how tough things were for him back in February during his final days with the Orlando Magic.

In addition to hearing all the trade rumors, Payton was dealing with the illness of his grandfather Willis Clofer, who was battling cancer.

After games, Payton would catch flights from Orlando to New Orleans to spend time with his grandfather — a welder, a deacon, and one of the most important people in Payton's life.

"Every day I was on pins and needles every time I would get a text message," Payton recalled.

On Feb. 6, just as he was about to shower after scoring 10 points and dishing out eight assists in an Orlando victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Payton got the call.

It was from his mom's number. But it was his sister's voice.

"I knew then," Payton said. "I took a flight home. I got traded a day after that. That was rough on me, to be honest. He was one of the best men ever."

Payton was traded and finished the season playing for the Phoenix Suns, doing so with a heavy heart.

Clofer was one of Payton's biggest fans. He loved everything about his grandson, including what made Payton one of the most recognizable players in the NBA.

"He loved my hair," Payton said. "Cutting it helped me move on from the situation."

Payton cut his hair in May. Two months after the big chop, Payton made another big move when he signed with the Pelicans.

Nobody was happier than his mom.

"I think it's better for him to be around family after going through that," said Danielle Payton. "Elfrid and my dad had a really close bond. It was a hard adjustment, but I think he is doing better now. For him to deal with all of that on his own in Orlando and Phoenix was tough. He handled it really well emotionally without showing it. As a mother, I knew it affected him. So I'm ecstatic that he's home."

The Pelicans are too. Payton and Julius Randle were the two key offseason acquisitions the team made, looking to fill the gian shoes of Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins. continue the success of a season ago when the team reached the second round of the playoffs.

Payton's locker in the Smoothie King Center is the one that belonged to Rondo last season. Payton, whose high school coach, Al Collins, called him "Baby Rondo" at John Ehret, will look to fill the giant shoes left behind by the real Rondo, now playing with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Any pressure?

"The only pressure is the pressure I put on myself to be better than I was last year, to be better than I was yesterday," Payton said. "Just doing my best to get the best out of everybody in here is the only pressure I put on myself."

He won't be nearly as vocal as Rondo. But the Pelicans' front office doesn't think he needs to be. 

"He doesn’t speak a lot, but when he does speak you can feel it’s from the heart, and you can see he’s competitive," said Pelicans general manager Dell Demps. "He has a quiet leadership that I think is underrated."

Payton averaged 8.6 points and 6.6 assists per game during the preseason, when the Pelicans went winless in five games. But that was the preseason. Now the games count. 

Anthony Davis says Payton and backcourt mate Jrue Holiday could become one of the best guard combinations in the league. Gentry listed Payton as one of the players who could have a breakout season after averaging 12.7 points and 6.2 assists last year. Payton was second to Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook in getting to the basket last season.

"This is going to be the first time he's played in a system where he can push the ball and continue to attack," Gentry said. "Anytime you're second to Westbrook in anything, you have to be pretty elite at it."

Payton, whose father played 14 years in the Canadian Football League, is hoping to leave his mark with the Pelicans just like he has left it everywhere else he's been.

Glenn Delcarpio taught Payton Algebra I and geometry in the 10th grade.

"Second row, fifth seat," Delcarpio said, still remembering all these years later where Payton sat. "He was what every teacher wants, and he had it together from Day 1. He would always ask 'Why?' Not in a cocky way, but just to get a better understanding of what was going on. You could always see the gears turning in his head."

Payton is still just as inquisitive today in Pelicans practices, Gentry said. 

He's always been a quick study, though.

Sheena Smith, the current athletic director at Ehret, said the school created a special award for Payton called the Super 7.

"It would have been ridiculous to give him seven different awards, so we just made up one combining everything," Smith said. "He was just that smart, he was just that good on the court and he was just that good of a person. So we knew without a doubt he was going to be successful, but we just didn't know exactly what he would be doing."

He was just as quiet then as he is now, she says.

"He was definitely a man of very few words," Smith said. "It's not something he ever grew out of, and I don't think that's ever going to change."

Payton's No. 11 high school jersey has been retired and hangs in the gym at the school in Marrero. When it was retired, Payton tried his best to make the night about the current players rather than himself. 

"That's just Elfrid being Elfrid," Smith said.

Payton is 24 now.

The once skinny kid whose only college offers came from two in-state schools (UL-Lafayette and Xavier University) will get to play in his hometown, just a short drive across the Crescent City Connection where his dream first began.

"I always wanted to play in the NBA, but playing here never crossed my mind," Payton said. "It's crazy, man. Thank God for playing in this city."


Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.