Hartman: Saunders has high hopes for newest Wolves

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 25, 2014 - 5:51 AM

The Wolves president says Anthony Bennett will improve and Thaddeus Young can be a team leader.

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Flip Saunders, Timberwolves president and head coach.

Photo: Brian Mark Peterson, Star Tribune

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While most of the local media attention in the Timberwolves’ trade of Kevin Love to the Cavaliers has focused on the arrival of No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, Flip Saunders believes that Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young will play crucial roles with the team, as well.

Bennett was the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 but had a rough rookie year. Saunders believes a lot of that is in the past.

“He has good potential,” said the Wolves president and coach. “He played very well this summer, was one of the better big men really at Vegas at the Summer League.”

Bennett, who averaged 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds while shooting 35.6 percent from the floor last season, averaged 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in four Summer League games.

“You look at him and he was drafted, had shoulder surgery, did not practice at all during the summertime, missed training camp, came in during the year and was diagnosed with sleep apnea and other things,” Saunders said. “He has lost 25 pounds, he’s working hard to get in shape. He’s an NBA player. He’s a guy that’s going to be a rotation-type player.”

Young posted one of his best statistical seasons with the 76ers, averaging 17.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.1 steals — he was third in the NBA in steals behind Chris Paul and Ricky Rubio. Young also made a career-best 90 three-pointers after making only a total of eight over his previous three seasons.

But Saunders said Young was about more than just production. “He is a borderline All-Star,” he said. “There has been a lot of speculation about why would you trade for him and give up a first-round pick that is in the 20s to bring him in? Here are the things, we didn’t have a power forward on our board that had started an NBA game. The other thing is, going back I saw how [Kevin] Garnett developed, how [Stephon] Marbury developed, how [Wally] Szczerbiak developed, we always had mentors with those players.

“We had an older player that was playing, whether it was Sam Mitchell with Garnett, Terry Porter with Stephon — we always had somebody like that who that could show those guys what it is to be professional. Thaddeus Young is going to bring that for us, [point guard] Mo Williams is going to bring that for us. So I didn’t want to have all these young guys out there by themselves.”

Saunders added that while Young, who is only two months older than Love, can be a free agent next season, he hopes he can convince him that Minnesota is the best place for his career. But the Wolves will have flexibility either way, because if Young departs, they can use his loss of salary to add another free agent.

Vikings were gone

Many members of the Legislature and a lot of anti-stadium people didn’t believe the Vikings would move to Los Angeles if a stadium wasn’t built. But Gov. Mark Dayton said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Steelers owner Dan Rooney said flat out, “This is your last chance to keep this team here, and next year all bets are off, then you’re in a bidding war,” in Dayton’s words, a few weeks before the end of the 2012 legislative session.

“Somebody just bought the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion, so imagine what a football team in Los Angeles would have been worth,” Dayton said.

“The Vikings were either going to get a new stadium here or they were going to get a new stadium in Los Angeles. We would then be left with an empty Metrodome, no real big tenant, and dilapidated and there’s never been any economic development going on around it.

“That’s versus what we have now, which is their investment is $525 million now and over $800 million of private investments and construction projects right near that are happening. … The economic benefit is going to be enormous. I said first and foremost — and I’m a Vikings fan, went to their first game in 1961 — but first and foremost, it’s a jobs project.”

Jottings

• Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague confirmed a report that on Aug. 7 the university asked five firms to submit by Wednesday their pre-design and site work on an athletes village complex, encompassing every proposed building, including football and basketball complexes. But he said construction is not imminent.

• If you were watching the Vikings-Kansas City game Saturday night like I was, it was apparent that coach Mike Zimmer was relaying most of the defensive signals to the team, rather than Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards.

• No one likes to see injuries happen, but it’s worth noting that the Vikings open at St. Louis, where franchise quarterback Sam Bradford was found to have a torn knee ligament Sunday. The Vikings will have a good chance to win a game on the road, where they were 0-7-1 last season.

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