Wessel: Seven new faces figure to have impact on remodeled Wolves
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What a difference a year makes for the Minnesota Timberwolves roster.
The Wolves added seven new players over the offseason after finishing 26-40 and in the cellar of the Northwest Division.
Training camp opened on Tuesday in Mankato. Here is a breakdown of who stayed, who came and who was told not to let the door hit them on the way out:
Brandon Roy: Back in the NBA after a yearlong retirement because he didn't have cartilage in either knee, Roy's return is one of the more feel-good stories in the league this season. Roy says his knees feel fine after undergoing a platelet-rich plasma procedure, but there is no real way to predict what kind of impact he can have with the Wolves and if he can regain the high level of play that made him one of the premier shooting guards in the NBA. Roy has been in Minnesota working out since September and hasn't reported any setbacks or swelling in his knees. He says he doesn't want any special treatment by the coaching staff in camp and plans on playing games on back-to-back nights. Common sense says the Wolves will bring Roy along slowly, monitoring how his body responds while ratcheting up his minutes as the season progresses. Roy is an impressive, charismatic guy who carries himself well and will be a big addition to the Wolves locker room. You can tell by the way his teammates talk about him they have deep respect and admiration for the three-time All Star. With the second year of his contract not guaranteed, this isn't bad gamble by president of basketball operations David Kahn whatsoever. A year after being so thin at shooting guard -- they were forced to start Luke Ridnour there a lot of nights -- anything that Roy can give them will be better than what they had.
Andrei Kirilenko: The man they call "AK-47" is back stateside after spending last season playing pro ball in his homeland of Russia, fearing the entire season was going to be lost because of the lockout. Coming off of an impressive Olympics, where he helped lead the Russians to a bronze medal, Kirlienko brings a lot to the table for the Wolves. Even at age 31, he'll give the Wolves a boost defensively, since he can essentially guard any position. He is a smart player that is a master of doing the little things -- steals, tipped balls, help-side defense. He is also a veteran who leads by example. He isn't a loud, rah-rah type of leader -- more the quiet kind of leader who learned from one of the best in John Stockton. Kirilenko was the last player to report to the Twin Cities, so he hasn't participated in any of the pickup games with the rest of the team, but Adelman says he was impressed with what he saw from Kirilenko during the Olympics.
Alexey Shved: Kirlienko isn't the only Russian on the roster. His compatriot Shved signed a three-year, $10 million contract in July. Shved also turned some heads in the Olympics, scoring 25 points in the bronze medal game, but it remains to be seen what kind of NBA player the 23-year-old will be. Adelman said he thinks Shved can play both guard spots and won't be afraid to plug him in at point guard, especially while the team waits for Ricky Rubio to return. Shved signed with the team before they landed Kirilenko, so it wasn't originally the plan to bring in both countrymen. Shved's English leaves a lot to be desired and having Kirilenko by his side will help the transition. The two have played together for Team Russia for the past five years and Shved grew up a big fan of Kirilenko. Adelman has said if Shved is good enough to play, he'll play him. But Adelman is realistic and says it will likely take Shved a while to adjust, especially defensively, like most rookies. He'll be one of the more interesting players to watch in the preseason games to see how he adjusts to the speed and physicality of the NBA game.
Chase Budinger: Acquired by the Wolves days before the NBA Draft, when they shipped the rights to the No. 18 overall pick to the Houston Rockets for the 24-year-old, Budinger played his rookie season with Houston under Adelman and is familiar with his system and style of play. Budinger expressed excitement to be reunited with his old coach after feeling like he got lost in the shuffle of Kevin McHale's offense. He gives the Wolves something they desperately need: a shooting guard who can shoot. He averaged a career-high 40.2% from 3-point range last season and can also play small forward at 6-foot-7. Budinger came cheap, too. Instead of using the No. 18 pick to give out another guaranteed contract to a rookie, they got Budinger, who is on the books for one more season at less than $1 million.
Greg Stiemsma: Stiemsma played in Russia, Turkey, South Korea and the NBADL and even had a cup of coffee with the Wolves in 2010 before getting cut, then resurfaced last season in Boston. He averaged 13.9 minutes for the Celtics and is a guy you can rely on to be physical, grab some boards and block a few shots. He has a high energy and can soak up some fouls if you need him too. By no means a big piece of the puzzle, but he fills a role once he returns from plantar fasciitis and will be serviceable on a team that is short on big men.
Dante Cunningham: The Wolves acquired Cunningham is a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies for Wayne Ellington. Kahn said the move was made just to get someone who can play both forward positions after losing so many in the offseason. Cunningham is cheap, averages 16.9 minutes per game and 5.2 points. Bench guy.
Lou Amundson: Another journeymen big man, Amundson will fill the role vacated by Anthony Tolliver. The power forward/center has played for Utah, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Golden State and Indiana since 2006. Amundson averages 4 points in 13.2 minutes in his career. He is big, can bang and grab a few boards and has one of the better heads of hair on the team.
Kevin Love: There is no question Love is the straw that stirs the drink at 600 First Avenue. And for good reason, too. Love continued to put up the type of gaudy statistics typically reserved for video games. The recently turned 24-year-old was named to the All-NBA second team and finished sixth in MVP voting. He averaged a career-high 26 points per game while playing 39 minutes in 55 games. Love enters the season with a shiny new gold medal he got in London and continued determination to finally play past April. Love spoke out over the summer about his desire to win now and took thinly veiled shots at last year's locker room for not being more concerned with winning. It is all there for Love. He has his contract. He has a roster full of teammates he believes can help him lead the Wolves to the playoffs. Now is the time for him to take the next step so his Team USA teammates will stop busting his chops about never playing a playoff game. The additions of Roy and Kirilenko will help take a lot of the burden off Love. He doesn't have to be the go-to guy to score or be the one always facing the media. With proven veterans who have led teams on playoff runs before, Love won't have as much on his plate as in years past. It is tough to find something to criticize about Love's game, but Adelman said he wants to see the two-time All Star to bump up his 1.9 career assists per game. The added scorers will certainly make that easier. Also, Adelman wants to see Love -- along with just about everyone else on the team -- step up his game defensively.
Ricky Rubio: Wolves fans will likely be starting pools for when Rubio makes his debut while he continues to rehab his torn ACL. There is no clear timetable on when the heartthrob will return, but smart money says sometime between mid-December to January, putting the amount of games he misses somewhere in the 20s. The Wolves won't rush him back. As Kahn pointed out on Monday, Rubio is only 21. They aren't getting him healthy for this season -- they are getting him healthy for his career. The Wolves just have to hope they can tread water with their point guard platoon before Rubio comes to the rescue. Fans should exercise some caution, however. Just because Rubio returns doesn't mean he'll bounce right back to his high level of play last season. The season basically hinges on Rubio's knee and just how quickly he can get back on the court and begin playing at a high level. The Wolves added nice pieces, but they will still live and die -- as they did last season -- with their second-year point guard.
Luke Ridnour: Ridnour came close to losing his distinction of being the grandpa of the Wolves when the team brought in Kirilenko, but he is still a few months older than his new Russian teammate. Ridnour showed last season he still has some tricks up his sleeve, playing a good portion of the season starting at shooting guard and routinely guarding players half a foot taller and 40 pounds heavier than him. Now, with Rubio out for the foreseeable future, the steady veteran will likely shift back to starting point guard duties. He has proven to be a dependable, stop-gap starter. For lack of a better term, Ridnour is just a basketball player. He doesn't care if he is playing the one or the two, starting or coming off the bench. He just wants to play -- and, more important, win. The 31-year-old seemed to have an extra pep in his normally subdued step when talking about the additions the team made over the summer. He has a longstanding relationship with Roy and is looking forward to playing with him. Ridnour has made the playoffs twice in his career, in 2004-05 with Seattle and again in 2009-10 in Milwaukee. He is a smart guy and knows that he isn't 25 anymore. This is the third year of a four-year deal he signed with the Wolves. He knows his window to get back to the playoffs isn't going to be open for much longer.
J.J. Barea: Barea is back for his second year of a four-year contract he signed last year during training camp after winning a title with the Dallas Mavericks. Last year didn't exactly go according to plan for Barea. He was seemingly nursing a new injury every other game, often coming back too soon and doing more damage than good. He also wasn't using to losing -- the championship ring in his locker was a constant reminder of that. Barea finally had enough after they blew a 21-point loss to the woeful Golden State Warriors in April, calling out teammates -- without naming names -- for their lack of effort and that "guys don't care." His outburst wasn't that surprising. What was surprising was how long it took for someone to speak out. The season had turned into a huge disaster even for the high standards of train wrecks that this franchise has set. Although Barea never publicly stated who he was referring to, conventional wisdom says they are all playing their basketball elsewhere after the roster overhaul. Like every other player that lived to tell about last season, Barea was happy with the moves the team made and is looking forward to starting a season healthy, getting a full training camp and trying to get back to the playoffs.
Derrick Williams: The offseason soap opera surrounding Williams' future came to an anticlimactic ending. He remained a Wolf after seeing his name pop up in seemingly a dozen different trade scenarios. Williams had all the right things to say about being shopped around when he met with the local media before the Las Vegas summer league. Williams understood why the Wolves would be willing to ship him out after a disappointing season after the Wolves used their highest draft pick in franchise history to select him at No. 2 overall. Williams, 21, lost weight over the offseason, reducing his body fat from 12% to 7%. He also got his nose fixed so he can actually breathe out of it while playing -- something that seems important enough that it should have been fixed long ago. The issue Williams faces now is that he is a man without a country, so to speak. He lost the weight to play small forward at the advice of his coaches, but then the team added more players to compete with at that position. Further, there just aren't many minutes to be had at power forward when a certain gold medalist commands that post for nearly 40 minutes a game. This will be an important camp for Williams and his future with the team. Summer league helped him. A full training camp will help even more. How he gels with new teammates and how he performs bouncing between two positions will go a long way in determining if he can turn around a rough rookie season or continues to look like a high profile bust.
Nikola Pekovic: If the breakout performance of Rubio was the biggest surprise of the season for the Wolves last season, the emergence of Nikola Pekovic wasn't far behind. Pekovic got a chance to play early in the season and ended up stealing his buddy Darko Milicic's job. He was a force to be reckoned with before bone spurs in his ankle grinded his season to a halt, culminating in him undergoing surgery in New York over the summer. Pekovic missed summer league but was given a clean bill of health for the start the season and Love is looking forward to having his "partner in crime" back with him for a full season. With Darko being amnestied, it will be Pekovic in the middle. The biggest storyline for Pekovic will be the elephant in the room that is his expiring contract. His deal is up after this season and Kahn said on media day the team isn't in a huge hurry to get a deal done, so this storyline is likely to linger well into the New Year.
Malcolm Lee: Lee is once again healthy after being held out of summer league and should be a full-go in training camp and will be one of the point guards competing for minutes while Rubio recovers. He didn't make his NBA debut until March last year after missing the start of the season with an MCL injury and doing a pair of stints in the NBDL with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Lee showed a few flashes last year in 19 games, but it is clear he needs the game to slow down for him at the NBA level. Like the few other young guys left, a full training camp with Adelman and a slate of preseason games will definitely do Lee good.
Michael Beasley: The Beasley experiment turned out to be a dud, but that doesn't mean it was a bad move by Kahn. Beasley had, and still does, have immense physical talent and the team got him for pennies on the dollar from the Miami Heat. The question always was whether or not he would be able to get it together mentally and he just never did. A marijuana citation, lingering injuries and just a general apathetic attitude towards basketball spelled the end of Beasley's two-year tour of duty with the Wolves. He landed on his feet though, signing a three-year, $18 million contract and proving once again that teams in this league will always take a chance on somebody who has talent.
Wesley Johnson: The most impressive thing Johnson accomplished with the Wolves was somehow making Jonny Flynn look like less of a bust. The former No. 4 overall pick was jettisoned to Phoenix in a cap-clearing move after two disappointing seasons where Johnson looked increasingly in over his head despite being older in age than most are in their rookie and sophomore season. Johnson took a step back in his second season and was clearly not a good fit for the organization. A change in scenery was really the only option left for both parties.
Anthony Tolliver: The door was left open for Tolliver to return until just two weeks ago, when the team decided to go another direction and Tolliver signed a one-year deal with the Atlanta Hawks. Tolliver played two seasons with the Wolves, averaging 19 minutes per game. But his biggest contribution to the team was his presence in the locker room. One of the nicer NBA players you'll ever meet, Tolliver was widely respected in a locker room that was clearly divided a year ago. Tolliver's exit also means the Wolves will need to name a new NBPA player rep.
Martell Webster: The Wolves waived Martell Webster after two injury-plagued seasons, never showing the promise that got the Wolves to ship a lottery pick to Portland for him. Webster underwent the same back surgery with the Wolves twice, an injury that apparently never healed from his days in Portland. Webster signed a deal with the Washington Wizards in August.
Anthony Randolph: Kahn's fascination with Anthony Randolph's length and athleticism turned out to be a massive bust. Randolph never fit in with the team and always seemed to be one of the players that simply didn't care about playing basketball. Per NBA rules, media is allowed in the locker room 15 minutes after the game ends. Randolph was always showered, changed and out the door before the media ever got into the locker room. That should tell you about all you need to know about Randolph's dedication.
Wayne Ellington: Ellington's Wolves career came to an end after three seasons when he was traded in July to Memphis for Dante Cunningham. Selected with the No. 28 overall pick in 2009, Ellington gave the Wolves three serviceable years as a bench player, starting only 12 games in his career.
Darko Milicic: Darko quickly fell out of favor with Adelman and the writing was on the wall for his future with the Wolves midway through last season. He was amnestied, landed in Boston and nobody -- with the exception of Pekovic -- shed a tear.
Brad Miller: The veteran center retired to go shoot animals, eat buffalo wings and drink beer. After a 16-year NBA career, he earned it.