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.

Posts about Wolves coaches

Digesting the Wolves' 117-96 preseason-opener victory over the Bucks

Posted by: Jerry Zgoda Updated: December 19, 2011 - 2:27 AM

Yes, it's only preseason.

Yes, it's only one game.

Yes, it's only the Bucks.

Still, you've got to come away from Saturday's 117-96 victory encourage it not all atwitter if you're a Wolves fan, even though you know they're not going to start every game by hitting 10 of 11 threes in the first half like they did Saturday.

You'll find the game story from Saturday here and the notebook with Brandon Jennings' comments about those "all hype" comments he made about Ricky Rubio 2 1/2 years ago here.

Also, while I'm thinking of it...Join me for a live chat Monday at noon from the Wolves' free lunchtime scrimmage at Target Center.

You can find the link to the chat then at startribune.com.

Now, as for Saturday's game:

* Of course, there was Rubio's debut, which should suggest to the many doubters that he's not going to be a Jonny Flynn-ish bust.

OK, so he's probably not as great as those fans who came to his see debut and went all agog every time he made even the simplest of plays.

Sure, his jump shot isn't the prettiest thing in the world -- he went 1 for 4 from the field but 4 for 4 from the line -- but from just one night you can tell he's going to make his teammates happy -- and maybe wealthy -- because of his passing.

If you can be a star averaging maybe 8 points a game, this guy can in time be it.

He almost always found the open man with the right pass at the right time and would have reached double digits in assists rather than his 7 assist, 6 point, 6 rebound night if his teammates had converted more of his set-ups.

In particular that that alley-oop pass Derrick Williams lost control of after Rubio had already set him up nicely for a thunderous dunk.

When asked if fans are going to see a lot more of those alley-oop dunks from Rubio, Williams said, "Hopefully, if he still passes me the ball since I missed the last one."

Other thoughts:

* For those who have wondered how much, or little, Rick Adelman will be able to play Williams, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley  together...well, if first impressions mean anything, this is going to be their best frontcourt lineup except for maybe the nights they play Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum.

Adelman started Darko Milicic because he went with last year's starters for familiarity's sake and because of the matchup with Bucks center Andrew Bogut.

Milicic neutralized Bogut and the way he's played in camp so far will give Adelman the option to go big if he wants, but...

The Wolves changed the game with a 31-12 run that closed the first half and showed that for whatever that Williams-Love-Bealsey frontcourt is going to give up on the defensive, it might get back and then some on the offensive end.

All three guys are, for their positions, quick, particularly now that Love has lost those 25 pounds.

"They were much quicker than us tonight," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said.

He was referring to the entire game, but it was never more obvious that in that closing first-half run when the Wolves started to move the ball the way Adelman envisions they will and clobbered the Bucks with their three-point shooting.

But it wasn't just J.J. Barea and Wayne Ellington -- two backcourt shooters -- doing the damage.

Love, Williams, Beasley combined to make six in the half's final 5:46. Love finished the night 4 for 7 on 3s, Williams 3 for 4, Beasley 1 for 1.

OK, I know it's one night, but these guys are going to drive power forwards and centers nuts trying to cover them on the perimeter.

"It's not going to be fun," Love said about the opposition. "I wouldn't like to play against us."

Williams for now is best suited to play power forward, and that's where Adelman has told him to concentrate after watching Williams struggle trying to defend out on the floor at the small-forward spot during camp.

He's not quick enough and he's unaccustomed to chasing guys out there at the 3, but at the 4 he's going to be quicker than almost everyone he comes across.

Love just might be better playing center than he is at power forward. Yes, he has considerably less bulk but it looks like his agility is going to make him a better defender and he commented after the game that he'll be better at that simply because he's going to have more stamina in the fourth quarter now.

He had another double-double by halftime -- 15 points and 11 rebounds -- Saturday, just like he did 16 times last season.

He finished with with 21 and 15 and Beasley had 21 and 6 and neither guy played in the fourth quarter because the game was already decided.

If the Wolves are going to play those guys together a lot -- and it seems pretty clear already Adelman will -- other things will try to exploit them at the defensive end, which is what Skiles says his Bucks indeed will do when the two teams meet in the season's second game, Dec. 27. (Not to mention in Wednesday's preseason finale at Milwaukee).

"If they're going to go small, which they will do, we have to be able to go to Bogs and get some baskets at the other end if they have small people on him," Skiles said, referring to Bogut. "We tried to do that, but with limited success tonight."

* Adelman knows how to maximize players' strengths -- see his decision with Williams so far as some small example -- and minimize their deficiencies, which eventually you're going to see to individual player's performances and in team defense and decision making.

This team still made plenty of defensive mistakes and turnovers on Saturday, but they got better as the game progresses and at least you can tell there are principles and strategy here with the defensive plan.

They're going to get better. Remember, they've had just eight practices together so far. Give 'em a season.

* Speaking of putting players in position to succeed...that two point guard look proved intriguing, if used with the right moderation and in the right situations.

Barea played more (26:26)  than he might have expected, much of it alongside Rubio.

The two players combined for 13 assists and 20 points (Barea 14, Rubio 6).

"No question, I like it," Barea said of that two point-guard combination much like when he played with Jason Kidd or Jason Terry in Dallas. "And he did a great job."

Barea won't guarantee this team will shoot 90 percent (10-for-11) in the first half every night, but...

"I know we can score the ball," Barea said. "I don't know if we're going to be that good every night. This team, if we play defense and rebound every night, you never know what could happen. We've got people who can score on this team. I'm excited for this team."

* Rubio turned his ankle in the first half and briefly went to the locker room to have his ankles re-taped but declared it "nothing" after the game.

 

Next stop: Target Center and preseason opener

Posted by: Jerry Zgoda Updated: December 17, 2011 - 1:14 AM

We're less than 24 hours from seeing these Rick Adelman-coached Timberwolves play at Target Center for the first time.

I asked Adelman this morning if he's got the concept of a starting lineup in his mind and he said, "Not really, no. I really don't."

He said he'd rather figure out a finishing unit that's going to win games at both ends of the floor.

Here's my best guess: Beasley and Love at the forwards, Pekovic at center, Rubio and Barea at guards.

My reasonings:

* I think Adelman is so concerned about that lack of ball-handling and playmaking everywhere but point guard that he's going to look hard at Barea starting and playing a lot with the other two point guards. If you wondered why they went out and signed him, that's why.

* If you're going to go that small in the backcourt, you probably want to be big elsewhere.

Andrew Bogut's presence is one reason why I don't think Kevin Love starts there. I don't think Adelman really wants to start him at center, even though he will play there some obviously.

The way Adelman has harped about the team's turnover tendencies and how little he has talked about Darko...I just get the feeling that he's going to go for Pek's fundamentals, physical presence and dependability over Darko's potential and possibilities.

This guy's going to go for chemistry and guys he thinks are will win.

He's said not he's not concerned with developing young players.

That's another reason why I'm not penciling Wes Johnson in at starting shooting guard, like you might have assumed before training camp began.

Now how he'll find time for all these point guards, small forwards and power forwards....well, I have no idea.

That's why he's getting the $5M a year.

He did say he'll probably play 10 guys Saturday night because he wants those he does play to have the chance to develop a rhythm.

It'll going to be fascinating to see what this thing looks like tomorrow night.

Here's the story for Saturday's paper that I wrote about the two point-guard backcourt and Luke Ridnour's thoughts about it after he had gone silent since Barea's signing became imminent.

You'll find it here.

And here's the notebook led by Ricky Rubio talking about his first game at Target Center.

That's here.

That's all from this brief trip to Mankato.

Next stop: Target Center.

Blog at you Saturday with all the tantalizing details.

 

 

 

 

Not really, no,” he said. “I really don’t

Hello, Mankato: Wolves shorten practices, focus lineups

Posted by: Jerry Zgoda Updated: December 16, 2011 - 9:30 AM

The Timberwolves took training camp to Mankato Thursday for a two-day getaway that will include two practices at Minnesota State-Mankato and offered a lasagna dinner at owner Glen Taylor's home Thursday night.

They'll practice there Friday morning and then head back to the Twin Cities for Saturday night's preseason opener.

Here's the story I wrote from here for Friday's paper about the team's point-guard lineage, from head coach Rick Adelman to top assistant Terry Porter to rookie Ricky Rubio.

And here's the notebook that touches on a wide range of subjects, starting to Adelman's admission that has no idea yet who his starting center is.

Adelman started to shorten practices a bit today and will do so again on Friday, when the Wolves are expected to work out for only about 90 minutes after putting in 3 to 4 hour practices in the past week.

He also says he's starting to put together groups he envisions playing together in these two short, sweet preseason games his team has to prepare for its Dec. 26 opener against Oklahoma City.

Here's the way he divided them Thursday for scrimmaging:

White team -- Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Nikola Pekovic and Wayne Ellington.

Black team -- Derrick Williams, Wes Johnson, Darko Milicic, Luc Ridnour, Bonzi Wells, Anthony Tolliver and Malcolm Lee.

Got any hunches that your starting lineup will come somewhere from that white team?

At least a good bit of it, although I'm still wondering not only what they'll do at center who how shooting guard will shake out.

Barea played off the ball there a good bit Thursday with Rubio, but Adelman said he'll probably switch it up and play Ridnour with either Rubio or Barea on Friday.

I found it intriguing to Pekovic and Ellington played on that white team.

Are they deep reserves attached to five starters or possible starters themselves?

Afterward, Adelman praised Pekovic's strength, fundamentals, pick-and-roll play and positioning even though he's not a pure shot blocker like Milicic is. 

(Adelman has been pretty reserved commenting on Milicic so far this camp.)

Williams continued to work exclusively at power forward on Thursday, and that will continue for the foreseeable future. Adelman praised Williams' shooting Thursday, but said it's best for now to limit his learning curve to that 4 spot rather than try to get him to learn both the small and power forward spots.

How are they going to split those minutes between all those forwards and centers and who inevitable is going to be unhappy?

That's a BIG question.

Adelman said once again that Love and Randolph most will play some center and said Love could start at center some nights depending on the matchup.

But he said he'll likely have to pick and choose those spots because he's concerned Love will get into early foul trouble the nights he's matched against an old-fashioned, real NBA center, of which there are only a handful.

Maybe I'm ready too much into Thursday's lineup but I got a hunch that Pek could begin the season as starting center.

We'll see...

Adelman said he'd like to play about 10 guys against the Bucks on Saturday, then maybe sub in a handful of new players and play about 10 again in the rematch Wednesday in Milwaukee.

So who's your starting lineup?

And what's your rotation?

 

 

 

Barea on choosing Wolves: Nobody else came even close

Posted by: Jerry Zgoda Updated: December 15, 2011 - 9:43 AM

Training camp's Day 6 has come and gone.

Here's what came and went:

* The Wolves finally introduced J.J. Barea Wednesday evening, a couple of days after it became clear he was Minnesota bound.

He spoke on a wide range of topics, from his disappointment that the Mavericks didn't offer him more than a one-year contract to his more than willingness to play off the ball with another point guard and lots of stuff in between.

I'm saving most of the personal stuff for another day's story here during the preseason and focused for Thursday's paper on why the Wolves targeted him and how they say they expect to find minutes for all three point guards now.

You can find that story here.

Here's one quote that didn't make the story about the Wolves' courtship of him, that 4-year, $19 million deal they offered and why he's here.

"Nobody came even close," Barea said. "Minnesota always wanted me the most, both money-wise and talking-wise. I thought we had a lot of talent here. We can do some good changes. The coaching staff, the sytem they play also came in (to play). I like the way he coached in Houston, the way he coached in Sacramento. I also think that made a big part of it fit."

* As I mentioned in the story, Luke Ridnour has declined interview requests the last two years.

Usually, he's pretty available, if not always the most candid interview.

I read his refusal as his unhappiness with the Wolves getting a third point guard. But as David Kahn says in the above story, Kahn said he told Ridnour the team intends to find enough minutes for everyone at both guard spots when Ridnour asked him if coaches planned to split point-guard time three ways.

* Adelman sure is a candid guy or maybe just a smart motivator..

Today's theme was well familiar to anyone who watched the Wolves last season: Adelman was more than a bit agitated at his team's careless handling of the ball and abundance of turnovers just in the first six days of camp and he said so in the aforementioned story and the notebook that accompanies it.

You can find the notebook here: 

* When asked if Ridnour is here to stay even with Barea's presence, Kahn said, "Absolutely."

* Derrick Williams' NBA introduction is having its ups and down, enough so that Adelman said he's asking him now solely to focus on playing power forward.

So much for some fans' expectations I've picked up on Twitter and this here blog that he'd overtake Michael Beasley for the starting small forward job by as soon as opening night.

Remember Beasley was the second overall pick in a stronger 2008 draft and he's played three pro seasons already.

Williams is struggling with defending small forwards -- namely Beasley in practice -- out on the floor and for those who wondered at draft time how much he was a duplication of Beasley for now must ask themselves this.Is he rather a duplication of Love?

Of course, it's early and Williams is oh-so-young.

And the Wolves have plenty of other options at small forward for now: Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Wes Johnson, even Martell Webster if he gets healthy.

* Tweeps have asked me for updates on Darko and Pek.

To be honest, I haven't noticed them much in what little we get to see of scrimmages at the end of every practice.

And Adelman has been pretty blah when asked about both, other than to say Darko came to camp in pretty good shape and Pek is one strong sonofagun.

We should have a better idea of what Adelman's thinking about lineup in these next couple days.

Adelman said he's going to start cutting back on the length of his 3 to 4 hour one-a-day practice probably after Thursday practice and he says he wants to start settling on playing combinations for these two upcoming preseason games so guys have some time to get used to each other before that onrushing Dec. 26 season opener against New Orleans.

* Now that Jamal Crawford is headed elsewhere, I think this is pretty much your Wolves team come opening night, unless something comes out of nowhere.

Just like their fans, I suspect Adelman and Kahn both recognize the need to upgrade shooting guard but they couldn't get in position to upgrade their defense there (see Arron Afflalo) and concluded other options (see Crawford) weren't worth the price.

* The Wolves will hold a free public scrimmage over the lunch hour on Monday at Target Center.

The one-hour event starts at noon.

* This final item has nothing to do with anything else in this post but I overheard it Wednesday night on SportsCenter while they went on and on -- understandably -- about the big Chris Paul trade that sent the All-Star point guard from New Orleans to the Clippers.

In case you haven't noticed, Kurt Rambis is doing some work for ESPN now. The network had him break down the trade and this is the one line I heard pop out over all the others as I busy doing some other things with the TV on in the background:

"And we can't forget that first round pick from Minnesota that you know is going to be a lottery pick."

He's almost certainly right, but for some reason that line just popped out of all the other noise while I wasn't really concentrating on his studio bit.

That's it for Day 6.

More from Mankato on Thursday.

Day 4: Thoughts on Barea, Lee, D. Williams and other stuff

Posted by: Jerry Zgoda Updated: December 13, 2011 - 12:27 PM

Stuff from training camp, Day 4:

* The Wolves haven't confirmed or officially announced J.J. Barea's signing yet, but...

Their website listed him on the roster for a good while on Monday night.

And Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, speaking to Dallas reporters, talked about Barea's future in Minnesota and wished his well.

See Carlisle's comments in a notebook I wrote for Tuesday's paper.

You can find it here.

* I still don't get the feeling that the Barea signing will lead immediately to other moves.

I could be wrong, but I don't think this means they're shipping out Luke Ridnour immediately. Nor do I think they're lining up to trade for Kevin Martin or sign Jamal Crawford, Rudy Fernandez or another shooting guard.

For one thing, they're pretty close up against the cap and this team at this stage probably isn't going to go noticeably over the cap unless they can use a $5 million mid-level exception for being over the cap to sign a guy like Crawford or swing a sign-and-trade that would send away Michael Beasley or Wes Johnson.

It's a condensed 66-game season and a guy like Rubio has never been through something like this before. There are going to be injuries and probably enough time for everybody if the Wolves keep all three point guards.

If they keep Ridnour for now, it puts them in a position to auction him to the highest bidding contender come March's trading deadline.

* Marc Gasol agreed to a 4-year, $57.7 million deal to stay in Memphis sort of sets the market for Kevin Love to receive a max contract, doesn't it?

Gasol took four years rather than the five he could have accepted, but that $14 million-plus average is the most the Grizzlies could have paid him. He'll get a starting salary of $12.9 million with a 7.5 percent raise each year.

The Wolves can offer a five-year extension and 7.5 percent raises if they make Love a "designated" player and offer him a max contract, which I believe will start higher than Gasol's, at more than $14 million (I think).

The Wolves have until Jan. 25 to sign Love, Beasley and Anthony Randolph to contract extension. If they don't by then, each player will become a restricted free agent next summer.

* Btw, second-round pick Malcolm Lee has agreed to a 3-year guaranteed contract, rare for an American second-round pick.

Don't know the exact money yet, but that guarantee basically gives him more of a guarantee than a guy who was taken late in the first round. (Rookie contracts run four years, but first-round picks can be cut after the second and third year).

Why?

They like the guy.

Good size (6-5) for a combo guy. He can play both, including defend both, and he shoots it pretty good, too.

Fans on Twitter and here on the blog are champing at the bit for the Wolves to trade Ridnour and acquire a legitimate shooting guard now that Barea is coming. But I get the feeling the Wolves are planning on relying on Lee more than anyone else expects they might.

He could play A LOT.

Barea's going to play some 2, too, so the Wolves have got Johnson, Lee, Barea and Wayne Ellington all can play there until the team discovers when -- or if -- Martell Webster comes back from a second back surgery.

* They've come through the first four days of camp healthy.

The ones missing are invitees Bonzi Wells and Will Conroy. Both are waiting for FIBA clearance after last playing internationally. Rick Adelman said he hopes both will be cleared to practice on Tuesday.

* The Wolves are going to Mankato Thursday and will return Friday. They'll practice once each day at Minnesota State-Mankato and have dinner at Glen Taylor's house on Thursday night. Adelman didn't want the disruption of going there for longer than that, but think the quick trip will be fine.

* Folks are Twitter are clamoring to know when Derrick Williams will replace Michael Beasley in the starting lineup at small forward and many are certain it will happen by opening night.

Don't hold your breath.

From what little we've been allowed to see of scrimmages so far, it looks to me like he's going to be best playing power forward for some time. Just doesn't look comfortable playing out on the floor at small forward.

Don't forget Beasley was the No. 2 overall pick in a much stronger draft in 2008 and he has played three NBA seasons already.

I'd like to see Williams play power forward, Love center and Beasley small forward for some extended time and see how it goes.

And we will probably see that.

* Adelman was asked after practice who has the most upside, Ricky Rubio or Williams.

"Oh, I don't know," he said. "I hope they both do, for my sake."

* And oh, here's the story I wrote for Tuesday's paper about how the days of young players earning playing time in the name of development are over and how Adelman is eager for Brad Miller's return from injury so his play can teach Love a thing or two.

You'll find the story here.

That's it for Monday, sports fans.

Blog at you Tuesday.

 

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