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Updated: April 30th, 2012 6:33pm
Zulgad's Roundup: Upgrade of roster a must for Wolves this offseason

Zulgad's Roundup: Upgrade of roster a must for Wolves this offseason

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

On the surface, the fact the Minnesota Timberwolves lost Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and, yes even Luke Ridnour, to injuries this season seemed like just the latest bad break for a franchise that can't seem to ever get it right.

But if you look close enough there might be at least one benefit to having had two key players and another very serviceable veteran leave the lineup when they did. And that's not even mentioning the ankle issue that slowed center Nikola Pekovic later in the season.

With Rubio and Love on the floor, the Wolves appeared to be on the verge of making a playoff run in a strike shortened 66-game season and the expectation was that things would be that much better in 2012-13.

There appeared to be a temptation from some in the Wolves' front office, most notably president of basketball operations David Kahn, to think the roster was in decent shape and didn't need a lot of work.

But when Rubio tore his anterorior cruciate ligament, Love suffered a concussion, Ridnour sprained his ankle and Pekovic was slowed, it quickly became apparent that the roster was far from OK.

It was downright bad.

All accounts are that coach Rick Adelman realized this before he lost his two most important players, but that Kahn might have felt otherwise. Now, there is no question.

The roster behind Rubio, Love and Ridnour doesn't need to be tweaked, it needs to be overhauled.

Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Martell Webster and Wes Johnson all had plenty of chances to prove that they could play important roles on this roster. They failed to do so and, as a result, Johnson might be the only one from that group who will be playing his home games at Target Center next season.

This is in no way saying the Wolves could have survived the injuries to Rubio, Love, Ridnour and Pekovic. But what the Wolves learned was they need much more than a shooting guard this offseason. Injuries are part of the NBA's normal 82-game schedule and the Wolves now know they need more quality and a different cast behind their marquee players.

"We need to find out right now how serious these kids are," Kahn said at his postseason press conference, talking about guys like Beasley, Randolph, Webster and Johnson.

But didn't he just find that out? Actions speak far louder than any words.

The Wolves were 5-20 after Rubio got hurt and went 1-13 in the month of April.

There would have been no downside to the Wolves making a playoff run this season and it would have been valuable experience for guys like Rubio and Love, if they had stayed healthy.

But when it comes to the Wolves' potential long-term success, at least the injuries proved that if Adelman is going to coach a winning team it's going to need to have a different look next season. At least when it comes to the reserves.

A tweak here and there simply isn't going to cut it.

Vikings prepare for rookie camp

The Vikings will host a rookie camp this weekend that will include the players they just drafted, the 15 players they signed as undrafted free agents after the selections were made and also a list of unsigned invitees that will include former Gophers Da'Jon McKnight, defensive linemen Brandon Kirksey and Anthony Jacobs, defensive back Kim Royston and tight end Nick Tow-Arnett.

"That's where we found (former Gophers cornerback) Marcus Sherels a couple of years ago," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said Monday during an appearance on "Judd & Phunn" on 1500 ESPN. "Out of this (rookie) camp. We'll bring in about 60 to 65 players. A lot of them will be local kids from the small schools, from the University of Minnesota that did not sign contracts after the draft.

"We have a few coming in from a couple other different areas. We may say, 'Hey, this guy really popped up to us. We need to invite him to camp and get him under contract.' This is another way of casting a wide net after the draft and bringing in as many people and as many players as (possible) to potentially sniff out another player or two that can come to training camp with us and earn a spot."

Asked what the coaching staff will be looking for in this type of setting, Spielman said: "Just their athletic skill set. I think the biggest thing is our coaches are in meetings with them. They're out there coaching them. They get a sense for what the kid is made of. They should be able to recognize what they can do from an athletic standpoint. Especially the skill guys.

"It's a little bit harder for the offensive linemen just because they aren't banging with pads on. But you just get a chance to get to know these kids a little bit better and is this guy going to be coachable? Or, 'Boy, this guy is a lot smarter than I thought he was in the meetings. He's going to pick things up easily.' Or, 'This guy we're going to have to readjust and make sure that he knows what we're doing.' You get a lot more of that than you do the actual football part, except for the skill guys."

Last offseason, the NFL lockout meant teams were not able to hold workouts, minicamps or Organized Team Activities. With a rebuilding roster, Spielman said the ability to have those camps now will be a huge factor.

"We've added a lot of young players," he said. "Even what we focused on in the unrestricted free-agent market, they are all 25, 26, 27 years old and now you're bringing in a bunch of 21, 22, 23 year olds. As much time as our coaches can get with them on the field, this is going to be a huge time between now and when we go down to Mankato to start working with these kids.

"They are going to be very raw in some areas and they are going to have to learn the game. We've got a lot of new faces who are going to have to learn with each other. But I think Leslie (Frazier) and our coaching staff will do a great job trying to mold some of this talent that we have in place right now."

As far as potentially signing any more veteran free agents, Spielman said he and his personnel staff monitor the NFL wire every night and that trade calls continue to come in on occasion. He was not specific about dipping back into the free-agent market.

High hopes

The Vikings began to address their wide receiver needs on the third day of the draft, taking Arkansas teammates Jarius Wright and Greg Childs in the fourth round.

Wright is a guy more in the Percy Harvin mold, meaning a slot receiver who has return ability and can cause issues inside. Childs, though, could be the big outside target that quarterback Christian Ponder needs. That's if Childs is fully recovered from the significant patella tendon injury he suffered as a junior.

Childs admitted he rushed back too quickly from the knee injury, but Spielman said that Vikings athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and team doctors feel Childs is now fine.

"He's a 6-3, 220-pound receiver, Spielman said. "We had him clocked at 4.51 at the combine. Down at his pro day, he ran in the 4.4s. He has a 40½-inch vertical jump. He has one of the biggest hands as far as when we measure hands. His arm length is over 34 inches, which is the arm length of an offensive tackle and when you see him in 2009 and 2010 we felt he was going to be a pretty unique player and would have gotten drafted a lot higher.

"At the end of his junior year he tore his patella tendon. That's usually a year-long recovery period. ... You saw (the effects) during the season because he still was not 100 percent healthy. But at the combine, at the spring workouts, you said, 'This guy looks like he's back to where he was a year ago, before the injury.'"

Happy at shortstop

Since coming up with the Montreal Expos in 2002, Jamey Carroll has become accustomed to showing up at ballpark and finding out what position he would be playing that day.

Some days Carroll would be at second, others it would be shortstop, others it would third base. Designated hitter and the outfield also weren't out of the question.

Last year, Carroll found some stability with the Los Angeles Dodgers playing in 81 games at second base and 66 at shortstop. But that is nothing to the stability the 38-year-old Carroll has experienced in his first season with the Minnesota Twins.

Carroll had started all 21 games at shortstop entering Monday night's game against the Angels in Anaheim.

"You obviously appreciate the opportunity for them believing in me and giving me a chance," Carroll said when asked about being used in one spot. "It is something different to know that as of right now you're at one position. Know every day where you're going to be instead of maybe being at short, second or third, or maybe not playing. It's been different, but I think it's a little bit easier mentally on how to prepare for a game."

After a season of watching guys like Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Trevor Plouffe attempt to play short, there is a greater appreciation for what Carroll brings to the position. He has been charged with only one error this season and can make the routine throw and turn the double play without issue.

"To me it's a lot less work (just playing shortstop) because I'm not taking ground balls at second, I'm not taking ground balls at third," said Carroll, who signed a two-year, $6.5 million deal with the Twins this offseason that includes an option for 2014. "I'm not turning double plays from everywhere. It's just getting the work in that I need and as soon as I feel comfortable then you move on.

" ... Obviously, when you eliminate a bunch of choices it definitely changes the way you think a little bit. Know every day how you're going to go about your work. I'm definitely appreciative of that."

This doesn't mean that Carroll is a lock to hold down the shortstop job all season.

The Twins could bring up Brian Dozier from Class AAA Rochester at some point and plug him in as there shortstop. However, for the time being, manager Ron Gardenhire has to be happy with what he's getting from Carroll.

Patient approach

When Denard Span and Carroll hit 1-2 in the order, it gives the Twins a couple of patient hitters who aren't afraid to work the count. This enables the rest of the order to get a good look at what the opposing pitcher has that day.

"That's huge because that's something that I try to do myself," Carroll said when asked what it's like being on deck with Span taking pitches. "Wanting to see as many pitches as I can to see what they're throwing to me and also giving everybody an opportunity to read speeds and to know what to anticipate. That's a big factor in how this game works."

Asked about his exact approach, Carroll said: "It just depends on the situation and the pitcher more than anything. Trying to be patient, trying to get the pitch in a location that you want and at the same time I don't mind seeing pitches and giving opportunities, if somebody's on (base), to maybe run and then to do my job and move them over. ... It just kind of all depends on the pitcher."

The Twins entered Monday night's game with a 6-15 record after a 7-4 victory over Kansas City on Sunday at Target Field.

Carroll said he is hoping the Twins can turn things around.

"The talent is in here and we've been in a lot of close games that we feel like this could be a totally different season if some things went our way," he said. "But this is the situation and we're just going to keep playing."

Knowing his role

After being claimed off waivers from the Detroit Tigers on April 14, Clete Thomas made his Twins debut the next day and went 1-for-3 with a two-run homer against the Texas Rangers.

While fans might have been excited by Thomas' production that day, he wasn't brought in to be a regular. In fact, the Twins claimed Thomas and dispatched Ben Revere to Class AAA Rochester because they wanted Revere to be able to play on a daily basis.

They knew the 28-year-old Thomas would be a OK as a bench player and that's what he has been.

"You never really get used to (the role), but you do the best you can and stay as mentally focused and prepared as you can be," said Thomas, who is 4-for-22 (.182) with one home run and four RBI in nine games with the Twins. "The mental mindset is the same whether you're starting or not.

"I know with Gardy I have a good chance of coming in late in the game as well. So I still have to be mentally prepared for the whole game because anything could happen."

Decisions, decisions

Thomas entered Sunday's game as a defensive replacement for Plouffe in right field in the ninth inning. The change was important because right field is a difficult one to play in Target Field with three tiers of fences being one issue, including the overhang that is made of limestone.

If a ball hits off that portion of the fence it can take a wild bounce back toward second base. But if it hits another part of the fence, the ball is more likely to ricochet only slightly.

"It's different," Thomas said of playing the ball off the various walls. "You just have to play it smart and make sure you know where you are on the field. Close to the wall or how far away from the wall you are because you get too close the ball can shoot off.

"Denard (Span) is a good center fielder and he's going to be there to back you up if you do kind of mess one up a little bit if it bounces off too hard or something. You just have to still be aggressive but you can't be too aggressive."

Thomas hasn't had a ball carom off the limestone overhang yet, but he has seen it happen in batting practices and knows the challenge that exists.

"That's a tough one just because when you get up underneath it it's like you feel like you're right next to the wall when you have an extra step, so it's just tough to judge whether the ball is going to hit it," he said. "You just have to do what you feel like in the moment. Just what you think the ball is going to do."

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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