The Timberwolves assigned healing rookie center Justin Patton to their Iowa team in the G League on Sunday, a move Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau calls the "next step" toward Patton playing professionally for the first time.
It's also part of a big-picture plan to add more 7-foot size and reach, if not yet muscle, to a team that — as recent games against big men such as Detroit's Andre Drummond, Charlotte's Dwight Howard, Miami's Hassan Whiteside and Oklahoma City's Steven Adams have shown — lacks physicality.
The Timberwolves sent Patton to Iowa after he was cleared for full 5-on-5 contact practice. He could play for the Iowa Wolves on Friday in what Thibodeau calls "some minutes, not extended minutes" after participating in two practice before then.
"This is basically his training camp," Thibodeau said. "This is the great value in having a G League team. We want to use it. He's anxious to play."
Selected 16th overall by Chicago before moving to the Wolves as part of the draft-night Jimmy Butler trade, Patton broke a bone in his foot when he slipped on a wet spot during a late-June workout. He had surgery days later.
"We're anxious to see where he is," Thibodeau said. "We're taking the long view with him. He's a big guy and we like what he has shown so far. He has missed a lot of time: Missed the summer league, missed fall practices, missed training camp. We're not going to rush him along. When he's ready, he's ready. But we like who he is, so we think this is important for us."
Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Wolves guard Jamal Crawford exchanged "miss yous" in an arena corridor before the game. Crawford played four seasons for Rivers in L.A. before the Clippers traded him to Atlanta last July in a summer roster makeover.
"You want him to do well," Rivers said. "He was a great Clipper for us. He did so many great things for us, on and off the floor, and I think Jamal is a great ambassador for basketball. I love the fact that's what he does all summer. He just plays basketball.
"I just think for the Clipper community, he was a very bright light."
One foot at a time
Reserve forward Nemanja Bjelica missed his sixth consecutive game because of a midfoot sprain in the same left foot on which he had surgery last March. He hoped to return Friday but experienced more soreness after a ramped-up Thursday workout.
"We don't want it to be going back and forth," Thibodeau said. "We just want to make sure he's ready. We're hopeful it will be soon. When he's ready, he's ready."
The injury-ravaged Clippers played without guards Patrick Beverley (knee surgery) and Milos Teodosic (foot) as well as forwards Danilo Gallinari (hip) and star Blake Griffin, who strained a knee ligament last week when teammate Austin Rivers fell into his legs and could miss the next two months.
"That's tough for Blake because nobody is as prepared, nobody works as hard, nobody wants it as bad," said Crawford, who played five seasons with Griffin in L.A. "I saw all the work and the preparation and everything he did. How diligent he was, how he ate, how he took care of himself, how he stayed ready. Guys like that, you really, really feel bad for them because that was out of his control."
•Jeff Teague started again at point guard after he played 34 minutes during his return Friday from an Achilles' tendon injury. He said he had some soreness afterward and was winded early during the game at Oklahoma City. "I didn't think I'd play the whole first quarter," he said, "but it happened."