Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders attended Tuesday night’s NCAA “Champions Classic” doubleheader at Chicago’s United Center, scouting for a supposedly stacked draft in which his team already has traded away its own pick next summer.
Saunders’ focus for the night was on the future rather than the present for a Wolves team that has started the season 5-3, with a great disparity between the success of its starting five and an injured and underperforming bench.
When asked if he feels the need to strengthen a bench that was outscored 40-17 in Tuesday’s 109-107 loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles, Saunders talked about patience.
He said he’d prefer to give a team 20 games before making important personnel decisions such as trades. He said he’s in no rush to supplement a second unit that is missing injured Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf. Saunders said he’d be pleased if Budinger is back by Christmas.
“You’re not going to make a rash decision,” Saunders said. “It’s a process. You go through training camp and you don’t play your regular rotation, so it takes some time once the season starts for the starters and the guys off the bench to know what their rotation is. We’re eight games in — only 10 percent through — so you’ve got to give people a chance to see where we’re at.”
Those people most notably include reserves Derrick Williams and Alexey Shved, both of whom played extensively last season because of significant injuries to starters Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and others. Both players have searched to find themselves with diminished playing time so far now that newcomers Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer have arrived.
“Right now let our guys play it out and get these guys into the rotation until they find a comfort level,” Saunders said. “Both those guys played 20, 25 minutes last season and now it’s a challenge. They’re going through an adjustment, trying to find what they can bring us in a limited amount of minutes. We’re two shots away from being 7-1, and we’ve actually played pretty well even though our bench hasn’t been perfect.
“The starters have played so well at times, those guys haven’t played a lot. We have to wait and play it out. I don’t have any timetable. We evaluate our guys every day. A lot of times, guys who are struggling will have a breakout.”
He said he and Adelman will discuss such personnel matters this week and likely will re-evaluate the situation by next week. He said he is not concerned about the starters carrying too heavy of a load so early in the season. Love is averaging a team-high 36.8 minutes a game and Martin 35.1.
“Guys are 24 years old,” Saunders said, referring mostly to Love and Rubio. “Guys like to play. We don’t have guys logging 40-plus minutes.”
The Wolves waived big man Chris Johnson and his guaranteed contract to finalize their 15-man roster and appear in no rush to clear another roster space for a limited list of available free agents that includes such veteran scorers as Shannon Brown and Rip Hamilton.
“We keep a list, but we haven’t pursued that at all,” Saunders said.
Saunders called “untrue” a Yahoo! Sports report Tuesday that said he’s trying to trade Williams and Shved for proven veterans who will convince Love to stay in Minnesota when he can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015.
“Do we want to better our team every day?” Saunders said. “Yeah, but you do it by free agency, by trades, by developing players you have. The only thing we control right now is developing the players we have, and that’s what Coach and his staff are working on every day.”