No cliché intended here, but what a difference a year makes for Adreian Payne. This time last year he was a rookie member of the Atlanta Hawks, then was traded last February to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a conditional 2017 draft pick. After his arrival, the 6’-10” forward played in the Wolves’ final 29 contests and started in 22 of them.
This year, however, with the season halfway done, unless things change Payne will be hard pressed to surpass last season’s playing numbers. The Minnesota Timberwolves Monday announced the club has assigned forward Adreian Payne to the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League pursuant to the Flexible Assignment Rule.
Payne has appeared in 30 games with the Wolves this season, averaging 2.7 points and 2.0 rebounds in 9.5 minutes per game. The Wolves originally acquired Payne from Atlanta via trade on February 10, 2015. Last year Payne registered averages of 7.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest.
Patience is a virtue everywhere but in sports. But for a player who’s used to playing a lot but not nearly as much as before, such patience is challenged.
“He will get some games here and there,” admits Wolves GM Milt Newton on Payne.
“I love the kid. I know it has been a struggle,” adds Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo of Payne, who finished as the school’s all-time blocked shots leader. He keeps tabs on all his players, and vice versa.
Payne (2010-2014) called his college coach to console him after his dad passed away just before Michigan State came here to play Minnesota on New Years’ Day. “Him and I have spent so much time together,” recalls Izzo.
“He lost his mother when he was 13 and he lost his grandmother when he was a freshman. He called me and said, ‘Coach, this is one time I can help you, because you helped me a lot. This is one thing you haven’t been through that I have.’ I really appreciate that. I love the kid.
“If you ever find a kid with a bigger heart than he has…,” says Izzo on Payne, who befriended Lacey Holsworth, then an eight-year-old cancer patient. Payne met her during a team-sponsored hospital visit in 2011, and the two became fast friends. The player brought “Princess Lacey” with him on “Senior Night,” and Holsworth got to cut down the net after the Spartans won the Big Ten tournament in 2014, about a month before she died.
“The Lacey stories weren’t manufactured by our media or by us,” notes Izzo. “He went two years and no one knew he was doing it.”
What Payne best remembers of his late friend is “seeing her smile and being excited about the game. Every time I came around, she was happy and excited.”
Izzo told the MSR you can’t help but root for Payne. “I feel bad for Adreian. It has been a rough run for him. But I still believe in him.”
“He’s a huge mentor,” says Payne of Izzo. “He helped me through it when my grandmother passed. He reached [out] to me during the hard times. This is something a lot of coaches don’t do.
“I talk to him about how tough it is. He said to stay strong and work on my game. He always picks up his phone when I call. “You can see that he cares for his players,” continues Payne, “even after basketball when you don’t play for him [anymore].”
“I used to tell him that college is Disneyland, and after college is the real world,” says Izzo. “You can’t make the same mistakes [in the pros]. He is learning and he is a good kid.”
Payne told us that he’s handling the frustrations of not playing a lot as well as humanly possible for a player who would much rather play than watch. “Just be ready for when your number is called,” he constantly tells himself. “Continue to be a good teammate, and when you get your time, take advantage of it.”
“I hope he does well for them,” concludes Izzo.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.