Jerry Zgoda missed the entire Kevin Garnett era, but he's back covering the Timberwolves after working the beat for their first four seasons two decades ago. In between, he covered a bit of everything: Gopher men's and women's basketball and NCAA athletics, golf, outdoor recreation, sports media and a little Vikings and Twins.
This tough November schedule the Timberwolves find themselves in gets even tougher starting tonight.
In the next six games, the Wolves are playing opponents that are winning at a 75-percent clip.
That includes the 12-1 Pacers tonight as well as 12-1 San Antonio, 10-3 Miami, 9-3 Oklahoma City and 9-5 Dallas.
The cupcake of the bunch is 6-6 Denver at home on Wednesday,
"I know, we're very aware of that," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said, "and most of the team are on the road. That's just the way the schedule breaks and of course one of the home games is not at home. Every is going the other direction. It's a challenge and opportunity both."
The home game that's not a home game to which he refers is the Dec. 4 game against the Spurs in Mexico City.
A couple other things:
* Expect another physical -- chippy, if you will -- game between these teams. The last couple years have produced such games more often than not.
"I think there have been a few chippy games," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "They play physical. We play physical. So anytime you have two teams that play that style of play, it's going to be a little edge, a little chippy. We welcome that."
* Former Strib columnist Dan Barreiro went on his KFAN radio show this afternoon and said Derrick Williams is as good as gone. He didn't have any more specifics, but he does have the Batphone line directly into Flip Saunders' office and home.
It's no secret Adelman doesn't see a place for him on this team and Saunders has been searching for a deal.
I was told this afternoon nothing is imminent.
One team that is looking to make a deal and wants to get younger is Sacramento, which would offer a veteran such as swingman defender Luc Mbah a Moute or Adelman favorite Chuck Hayes. Maybe the deal would even include reserve shooter Jimmer Frederette.
I haven't heard the Kings or any names specifically, it's just an educated guess on who wants to deal now and what's out there that Williams might bring in return.
Rick Adelman continues to experiment at that small forward, and will start rookie Robbie Hummel at that spot tonight in Philadelphia.
Hummel is the third different starter in five games there, after Corey Brewer started the first four games and Derrick Williams the other.
Adelman also said he'll likely, depending on how the game goes, dial back minutes for the starters tonight and let other guys player and then play the starters longer in Thursday's preseason finale at Detroit.
Adelman said again tonight that the answer to that small-forward position could still be on another team or a free agent waiting to sign with somebody.
The Sixers have two wings playing tonight who could be available, Thaddeus Young or Evan Turner, for the right deal.
"You always have to look around this time of year and see what's going on in the league," Adelman said. "That's Flip's and the scouts' job. I have to deal with who is here."
The Sixers have two Minnesotans on their roster: The Sixers are trying to find a way to do what Houston couldn't last year, treat and handle Royce White's anxiety disorder so he can stay on the floor.
Former Gopher Rodney Williams has appeared in just one preseason game, likely will play tonight but almost certainly won't make Philly's final roster.
The Wolves today reached agreement with free-agent small forward Corey Brewer on a contract and with Milwaukee on a cap space-clearing trade that will send Luke Ridnour to the Bucks, two league sources said.
The deals won't be finalized until both players take physicals, like on Thursday.
The Wolves agreed with Brewer on a three-year, $15 million deal that will bring him back to the team that drafted him in 2007. To make room on their cap, Ridnour will go back to Milwaukee, where he played before signing with the Wolves, with no salaries coming back to Minnesota.
Also on Wednesday, Yahoo!Sports reported the Wolves were getting closer to a four-year, $50 million deal to sign Pekovic, but I'm told by a source with knowledge of the negotiations tonight that the Wolves are no closer to a deal and still are waiting to hear back on an offer they made last Friday.
The Brewer deal might include a player option for the third year, but I'm waiting to hear if that discussion was part of the final deal.
The Wolves also are expected to execute a sign-and-trade with Oklahoma City for Kevin Martin to clear cap space needed to make room for Brewer's $5 million salary.
The Wolves were planning to introduce Martin at a 9 a.m. news conference Wednesday, but postponed it while they worked to align all their salary-cap moves while they negotiated with Brewer on a contract and the Bucks on a trade that would clear Ridnour's $4.3 million salary and make room for Brewer's contract under the league's newly announced $58.7 million salary cap.
The Wolves need to line up the trades with the Thunder and Bucks and the signings of Martin and Brewer under the cap before they go over the cap by signing new deals with their own players, Pekovic and Chase Budinger, in a delicate dance of cap rules and numbers.
The Thunder would receive a $7 million trade exception for one year as part of their deal to sign and trade Martin to Minnesota.
ESPN.com first reported a deal had been reached with Brewer and the Wolves were trading Ridnour to make it possible under the cap.
According to multiple reports, including the first one from USA Today's Sam Amick this afternoon, Dwight Howard has picked Houston in his great free-agent sweepstakes.
Big deal? Bored with it, are you Wolves fans?
You shouldn't be.
Howard's decision means NBA general managers will ignite the phone lines again after things went relatively quiet these last couple days while everybody awaited for Howard's word.
Now, Flip Saunders probably can move forward with more moves to clear some salary space up so he can get rid one of one (or more) of six point guards and add a defensive-minded swingman.
One to watch for: Trading J.J. Barea back to Dallas, where he helped the Mavericks win the 2011 NBA title before signing a big four-year deal with the Wolves as a free agent.
The Mavericks' roster is a disaster -- except for cap space now -- while they targeted Howard and now that they got the ol' Heisman, Mark Cuban in a tweet late this afternoon said his team is back open for business.
The Wolves likely would trade Barea, if they could, for a draft pick or picks and in return receive a valuable trade exception matching Barea's $4.7 million salary that they could add to the kitty to clear enough space to make at least one or two more significant moves.
If they can clear enough space, they could go in trade or by signing a guy who can defend on the wing, such as Philadelphia's Evan Turner or Washington's Trevor Ariza, both of whom probably are very available, or by bringing back Andrei Kirilenko.
If Barea goes, you've got to believe the Wolves will keep Luke Ridnour as their backup point guard, right? If not, then maybe Ridnour gets dealt to Milwaukee or another destination instead.
Meanwhile, expect the bidding for Wolves restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic to heat up, if it's going to heat up.
There's no guarantee, though, that any of the teams refused by Howard -- the Mavs, the Lakers, Hawks or Warriors -- will turn their attention to Pek instead now.
The Rockets now might be forced to trade center Omer Asik, who would be a better defender and cheaper than Pekovic for the Wolves. But it's unlikely the Wolves have the assets to get Asik, who'll be pursued by a number of teams if the Rockets put him on the market.
One possible deal is a sign-and-trade that'd send Asik to Atlanta and bring back Josh Smith to put beside Howard.
The clock is ticking toward July 10, when the moratorium ends and NBA teams finally can officially sign free agents and make trades.
The Wolves on Tuesday committed about $43 million over the next four years, reaching agreement on new contracts with their own Chase Budinger and Oklahoma City shooting guard Kevin Martin.
In two fell swoops, Flip Saunders went a good way to fulfilling what he called the two biggest needs when took this job:
* Put shooters around Ricky Rubio. The league's worst 3-point shooting team a year ago now has brought back Budinger's corner three threat and added one of the league's most efficient scorers.
* Balance a roster that now has what Flip considers six point guards after draft night.
Finally, the Wolves have a legitimately size NBA shooting guard. If you don't believe me, check out the photo of Luke Ridnour trying to guard Martin that accompanies the news story for Wednesday's paper.
You can find that story here. There's reaction from both players when I reached them in San Diego and Ohio today.
Some quick thoughts on Tuesday's happenings:
* If you doubt whether Rick Adelman will be back this season, his influence in the wooing process with both players sugguests he's planning on being here for a least while longer.
Both players said they kept in contact with Adelman throughout the process.
* Why Martin?
One of the Wolves' top three targets went off the board Tuesday afternoon when the Clippers made a three-way deal to obtain J.J. Redick in a sign-and-trade with Milwaukee.
From there, the Wolves appear to simply have chosen Martin over O.J. Mayo despite Mayo's youth (25) and better defense, probably for a couple reasons: Adelman's history with Martin in Sacramento and Houston likely put Martin on the top of his list from the start and teams do exhaustive research on stuff like this and maybe had doubts about why both Memphis and Dallas gave up on Mayo for virtually nothing in return.
Near as I can tell the money specifics on the deals: Budinger's three-year, closer to $15 million than $16 million reported nationally, with a player option for the third year. Martin's four years, almost $28 million.
* The Wolves significantly upgraded their shooting and scoring, but with Budinger and Martin on the wing they now look defensively suscept, right?
Yes, but don't think they're done making moves yet. They still probably will have the $2.6 million "room" exception to add a player and still likely will trade either Ridnour or J.J. Barea to balance the roster further from the point guard spot and perhaps rid themselves of a $4 million-plus salary.
Here's what could happen: Root for anyone but Dallas to win the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. If the Mavs don't get the big guy, Mark Cuban just might take J.J. Barea and his nearly $5 million salary back for only a draft pick or two.
Here's a couple names to remember if the Wolves can clear enough room to absorb their salaries in search for a defensive wing player: Philadelphia's Evan Turner, Washington's Trevor Ariza (who played for Adelman in Houston) and maybe even bringing back Andrei Kirilenko isn't an impossibility, either, if he doesn't get the kind of offers he was expecting.
* Don't expect talks with restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic to really percolate until Howard makes his decision.
Pek's camp will wait until then to see if anyone shut out in their Howard bid will move to their client as an alternative plan.
There's a chance he might not get a serious bid for an offer sheet from another team at all, but he still won't come cheap.
San Antonio on Tuesday reached agreement with Tiago Spliter on a 4-year, $36 million deal.
That's $9 million a year for those keeping score at home. And if Splitter is worth that, the Wolves will be lucky to get Pekovic for $12 million a year. Expect his agent to push for a near max deal, which ultimately might be hard to be hard to demand if there's no serious competition.
Flip and his staff probably will go quiet here for a few days over the Fourth of July holiday to let today's activity settle a little before working toward their next move.
Remember: We've still got eight days to go until the moratorium period ends and teams can begin signing players for real on July 10.
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