The journey for former Michigan State star Adreian Payne has been anything but magical, after a strong four-year run with the Spartans in the NCAA, Payne was expected to be one of the better players in the 2014 NBA Draft. The Atlanta Hawks selected him with the 15th overall pick that year but he has struggled to find the same magic in the NBA that he had in college. Payne found little playing time in Atlanta and was ultimately traded to Minnesota, where he found much of the same.
In the free agent process this summer, Payne was drawn to the Orlando Magic. The club signed him to a two-way contract that would have him sharing time between the main NBA team and the Magic’s new G-League Team in Lakeland, Florida.
“I was just really excited that they were interested in me, and they see a future with me in it,” Payne told Basketball Insiders. “That’s the main thing, just, them having that same image, and that passion and they believe in me, so I just was just thankful and grateful for this situation.”
Despite four seasons in the NBA, Payne has logged minutes in just 102 games, averaging less than 14 minutes in those games.
“I haven’t really gotten a chance to play the whole time I’ve been in the NBA,” Payne said of his opportunity with the Magic. “Being able to spend some time down in the G-League, to work on my game, to get better, to just be able to become a better person and a better player, on the court and off the court. I think it is going to help me grow, and then when I get called up and be able to play with the Magic team, I’ll be that Adreian that I was when I was in college.”
Payne understands that he is carrying some baggage from his previous stops, baggage he hopes he can put behind him.
“It’s hard, but at the same time… I love the game of basketball, so if I got to go overseas, if I got to, play in the G-League, if I got to be on a two-way contract, then that’s what I got to do,” Payne said. “That’s what I love doing is playing basketball, so at the end of the day, I’m playing basketball, I haven’t really played, to me in my eyes, I haven’t played since I’ve been out of college. So, I think this a great opportunity, I’m just happy to be able to get out there on the court and put on a jersey and play in front of fans. I think my fans and my circle and people who’ve been waiting for me to be able to play.
“I’ve been excited, and I’ve been ready to play, I’ve always been working, you know, my fans and people that have seen it, I just put in the work, so I’m thankful and grateful for this opportunity. I’m going to be able to be on the Lakeland team, get to work on my game, and be coached.”
People who have been around Payne this season rave about his intensity and his focus. Payne developed a reputation of having a questionable basketball IQ, however, staffers around the Magic countered that he just learned a little differently and that he has been an unexpected gem for them.
“I think that this is the first organization to ever, really, to have a plan for me,” Payne confided. “I don’t think I’ve had a plan anywhere else. I think this is the first organization that took that, and sat with me and my agent and made a plan. My past history says if we make a plan, I’m going to execute it, and it’s up to me. If I don’t do it, it’s on me, nobody else.
“It’s definitely been hard, just going through everything I’ve been through. You know I was drafted high, then didn’t get to play. Was on a winning team, that was great. Got to meet some outstanding veterans, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Jeff Teague, a lot of players. I’m definitely better. Definitely a better person, better player.”
For a player with such high expectations four-years ago, Payne’s journey has been humbling for sure.
“I think I’ll always be humble,” Payne said with a smile. “I think, people may have thought that I wasn’t humble… I’m still confident; I’m never going to lose my confidence, that’s why I’m still playing, that’s why I’m still in this position. Most people, you know, they would have given up by now, but, I’m confident in the situation.
“I’m definitely still confident; I’m just grateful for the opportunity. I’m still here, and I haven’t got to play, I haven’t got a chance to play, so, like I said, it’s been three years, I haven’t really played since I’ve been out of college.
“I’ve put in the work, and I’m confident in what I can do on the court, and I’m grateful that the organization has given me the opportunity, given me a layout of what they want to do with me and my talent, and what they have planned for me. So, I’m just trying to come out, continue to put in the work and show my talent, and show the work I’ve put in.”
By way of the two-way contract Payne is going to get a chance to play a big role in G-League, but also get to spend a lot of time with the main team, coaches and players. He may not log many NBA minutes this season, but the Magic don’t view him as a rental type player. The hope is he can blossom into something significant for them, and that’s all Payne really wanted in free agency, a chance to play for a team that wanted him as much as he wanted them.
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