That changed on Tuesday after the Timberwolves acquired the former Michigan State star, Gary Neal and a second-round pick. For that, they traded away a future first-round lottery-protected draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks and Mo Williams and Troy Daniels to Charlotte.
Listen: Flip addresses media on Tuesday trades
Payne, a power forward, appeared in just three games with the Hawks, averaging 1.7 points and 1.3 rebounds in 6.3 minutes per game. Atlanta, however, has plenty of powerful guys under the basket – something the Wolves can certainly utilize in Payne.
"We had him rated extremely high last year as a power forward," Timberwolves head coach and President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said.
"But we also thought we needed to have some length there. In Payne, at 6'11, brings us some length to be able to play, sometimes put him in front of the bigger front lines in our league down the road."
Saunders said he had talked with good friend and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo about Payne three times in the last week. (They also may have talked about other things. Like Izzo becoming the next Wolves head coach. But that's perhaps an announcement for another day…)
Payne has also made his fair share of headlines, befriending 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and passed away last April. She met the man she called "Superman" at a team-sponsored hospital event, and the pair exchanged motivational quotes via text and he sent her tons of game tickets. She even got to cut the net down with him after his Spartans defeated Michigan 69-55 during the Big 10 Championships in Indianapolis.
Now, onto Neal.
The 30-year-old shooter has only spent four full seasons in the NBA, his first three under Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs. He averaged 39.8 percent from downtown with the Spurs. He has played in 45 playoff games in his career, four of them just last year with Charlotte averaging 11.3 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.0 assist. With San Antonio, Neal scored a playoff career-high 24 points in Game Three of the 2013 NBA Finals against Miami, shooting 9-17 from the field, including 6-10 from beyond the three-point line.
"The thing about Neal, as much as anything, he's got a physical presence. He's strong, he's a strong defender, he has an ability to shoot the ball at the perimeter, and he's been to a championship, he really knows what it's all about," Saunders said.
Seated last in the Western Conference, no one said the Wolves will be making a playoff appearance any time soon, but no one thought much of the Hawks a few years ago, either.