Saunders insists Corey Brewer is not same player Wolves fans remember
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Flip Saunders seemed "cautiously optimistic" two weeks ago about the outlook of his roster after a draft that didn't exactly go as expected and before the onset of free agency.
But at the podium in the Minnesota Timberwolves' media room Friday afternoon, Saunders seemed more at ease and slyly confident about the shape his team has rapidly formed into in a short range of time.
While it hadn't been much of a secret for the last few days, Saunders and the Wolves officially announced the signings of Chase Budinger and swingman Corey Brewer. Both deals are only part of the flurry of free agent moves the Wolves have executed recently, having finally confirmed a three-team trade to grab guard Kevin Martin on Thursday evening and acknowledging that a deal with free agent center Ronny Turiaf is in the "advanced stages."
"We had people we had targeted and what we wanted to do and we pretty much were able to fill our targets, so you feel good about that," the Wolves' president of basketball operations said. "I do feel we're making strides in the right direction. We'll have a lot of excitement here at Target Center."
Brewer's return to Minnesota came as somewhat of a surprise this week, but he does fill the need of a suitable wing player, who carries a strong presence on defense. The idea to pursue Brewer quickly developed as it became more and more apparent that Andrei Kirilenko would not be returning. When Kirilenko opted to part ways, Saunders had his second option on tap.
In the two years since leaving the Wolves, who drafted him seventh overall in 2007, Brewer has shed the identity of a ho-rum first round flop. After a 13-game stint with the Dallas Mavericks during their run to an NBA championship, Brewer molded into a key bench player in two years in Denver. Last season marked his emergence as a legitimate swingman, averaging 12.1 points in 82 games for the Nuggets.
Saunders was drawn to Brewer by what he viewed as the 6-foot-9, 188-pound small forward's keen ability to lock in on the defensive end, while providing another player who can move fast in transition with shifty guard Ricky Rubio.
Any Wolves fans still holding on to their old No. 22 jerseys and previous ill notions about Brewer need to consider updating their perception, Saunders insists.
"He's developed a lot since he left here," Saunders said. "It's always different when you come in with the expectations of a top-10 pick and you're counted on to carry a team. He's not going to have to carry this team. We have our main pieces that are strong pieces for us when you look at Love, when you look at (Rubio), you look at (Nikola) Pekovic and now Martin."
No matter how much Brewer has developed since last in a Wolves jersey, he will be under the burden to perform up to his perceived potential - something he obviously failed to do last time. This is amplified by the considerable investment the Wolves are making with him, saddling him with a three-year, $15 million deal.
Establishing what exactly Brewer's role will be is still to be determined. Saunders acknowledged the possibility of him fitting into the starting lineup, but it appears more likely that he will fit into a go-to backup role similar to his situation with Denver.
• All signs point to Nikola Pekovic being back with the Wolves next season. Pekovic has not yet made a move on the four-year, $50 million offer the Wolves reportedly made to the 6-foot-11 restricted free agent center. Saunders said talks with Pekovic are progressing, while straightforwardly declaring again "we expect he will be back." The Wolves have the ability to counter any offer made by other teams.
• Apart from officially reeling in Pekovic, the Wolves' run in free agency is safely assumed to be over. There is still one roster spot left to be filled. Second round draft pick Lorenzo Brown, who is currently playing point guard on the Wolves' Summer League squad, has a shot at snagging the opening. If not, the Wolves will have to look elsewhere.
• Saunders wouldn't bite on a question about whether or not his current team is the deepest roster the Wolves have had, largely in comparison to the Kevin Garnett-led Wolves team he had as a coach in 2003-04. But his satisfaction with his recent moves shone through.
"But I believe that this team can be more versatile," Saunders said. "That team had... we were pretty much pigeonholed about how we had to play. We couldn't change our style of play, where, with this roster and the people we have, we'll definitely be more versatile, more flexible."
• Saunders admitted that there was some uncertainty on the Wolves' part regarding whether or not they would be able to re-sign Budinger. When the Wolves seemed close to a deal, another team swooped in to make a higher counter offer, Saunders said. This forced them to do a little more to get the potent 3-point shooting wing back. A source told 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson that it was the Bucks who one-upped the Wolves' original offer.
• First round draft pick Shabazz Muhammad (No. 14 overall) signed his rookie deal with the Wolves on Friday. Fellow first round selection Gorgui Dieng still hasn't signed, but a source said to expect the deal to be wrapped up Saturday.