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.
The Wolves will pick up Derrick Williams' $6.7 million contract option for 2014-15 and do the same with Ricky Rubio's $5 million option as well, a team source confirms.
The decision on Rubio's contract before next week's season opener is nothing but a formality.
The Williams' decision pretty much was one, too, despite all the Internet chatter whether they'd really commit to another contract that could leave them fairly handcuffed right near the luxury tax.
Flip Saunders has said his philosophy is you can't just let assets walk away for nothing, and Williams would have been an unrestricted free agent next summer if they didn't pick up the option.
And you particularly don't do it with former No. 2 pick, even if Williams still is trying to find his way in the league here in his third year.
Saunders obviously feels Williams is an asset -- at least a $6.7M one -- whether it's for the Wolves long term or to trade here for another asset either sooner or later.
Saunders reminds often that Williams is just 22.
By picking up the Williams option, the Wolves could just be limited to the mid-level exception next summer to make moves under the cap, unless they make other transactions to cut payroll.
The Wolves officially introduced veteran center Ronny Turiaf today before a youthful audience at the Ronald McDonald House on the U of M campus today and he showed up with the No. 32 jersey he will wear in Minnesota.
Turiaf has worn No. 21 much of his career, but Kevin Garnett wore that for the Wolves all those years, of course.
Turiaf called Garnett “my favorite player, one of my favorite players” and said “I love his passion for the game. Out of respect, I could not wear No. 21.”
So he called heart-surgery soulmate Fred Hoiberg and asked the Iowa State coach for his “blessing” to wear the 32 that Hoiberg once wore for the Wolves.
Hoiberg and Turiaf have become friends for life, bond together by the same heart surgery each had nearly a decade ago.
“We have this special bond nobody but the two of us can understand,” Turiaf said. “I thought, for me, it was so natural to pay homage. He helped me get through the most difficult time of my life.”
Here’s a bunch of other stuff from chats with Flip Saunders and Turiaf this morning:
Also now that Flip’s in charge, don’t expect back-to-back games next preseason. He doesn’t like them.
The Wolves officially announced this afternoon that Washington Wizards executive Milt Newton is their new general manager.
Newton, a member of the 1988 NCAA championship team under Larry Brown and with Danny Manning at Kansas, had been with the Wizards for the last decade, most recently as vice president of player personnel.
Flip Saunders worked with Newton when he coached the Wizards a few years back.
Before that, he worked for the NBA helping to create the D-League, was an assistant direction for USA Basketball men's national teams and was a scout for the 76ers.
If you're wondering, the GM title is just semantics: President of basketball operations still trumps all and Saunders still will be making the decisions.
Newton will assist Saunders in evaluation and acquistion of players and help Saunders manage basketball operations, the team said in a release announcing Newton's hiring.
Newton will be formally introduced as a Tuesday news conference at Target Center.
His hiring -- as well as the May hiring of Calvin Booth -- adds diversity to a Wolves front office that has noticeably lacked it during most of the team's 25 seasons.
The official hiring of former Gophers star and former Timberwolf Bobby Jackson as player development coach is next. That likely will come Monday.
For those asking, Jackson's arrival means Shawn Respert won't be back in that role. Respert and David Adelman both worked as player development coaches last season; Adelman has been promoted to an assistant coach now that Bill Bayno has taken a job with Toronto.
The Wolves are in contract discussions to bring former Gophers star Bobby Jackson back to Minnesota and back to the franchise as a player development coach to replace David Adelman, according to a league source.
Jackson starred for two seasons for that Gophers team that reached the 1997 Final Four -- or didn't, if you're the NCAA -- and played in the NBA for both Flip Saunders with the Wolves and Rick Adelman in Sacramento and Houston.
My colleague Sid Hartman phoned in the Jackson news to the sports desk late last night, too late for it to get into the paper, and a source confirmed it this morning.
Jackson was a Kings assistant coach the last two seasons -- and their basketball operations special assistant for two years before that -- before Sacramento made sweeping ownership and management changes last summer. The Kings announced in June that they were replacing their entire coaching staff, but said Jackson was the one assistant coach who would be retained in a different job.
Jackson played 123 games for Flip and the Wolves in the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons and then played five seasons for Rick Adelman in Sacramento and won NBA Sixth Man award one of those seasons, in 2003.
Jackson, 40, would fill the job previously held by David Adelman, who has been promoted to full-time assistant now that Bill Bayno is gone to become Dwane Casey's first assistant in Toronto.
Expect those discussions with Jackson to be finalized and made official shortly.
The Wolves also are traveling down the same road with Washington front-office exec Milt Newton to join them in a general manager's type of role on the basketball personnel side.
Saunders interviewed Newton in Washington last week and both Newton and Wizards assistant trainer/rehab coordinator Koichi Sato are expected to come over from Washington. Sato likely will be named as the team's new strength coach.
Flip worked with both when he was the Wizards head coach.
Nikola Pekovic returned to Minnesota Thursday $60 million richer and his new big contract officially was announced at a Target Center press conference over the lunch hour.
He looked both nervous and fit wearing all black except for a silver accent tie and when asked by a questioner if he has lost weight this summer, he said, "280 (pounds), same as last season. Maybe it's the suit."
Here's a bit of what he said:
"I feel comfortable here. I like it. People ask me where will you live. I don't want to go to bigger city. I just like it here. I like everything. I like the community. I know it's a little cold in the winter, you just get used to it."
On the protracted nature of negotiations: "When I finished the season, I had a meeting with my agents and they said, `Don't worry, leave everything to us, trust me, we just want the the best for you.' So that's what I did. He (agent Jeff Schwartz) said to me at one point, `If you're too nervous, we can close." I said really, no, I'm not nervous. I really was so relaxed. I just know (a deal would be reached). It's just a great thing."
He said Schwartz asked me how he felt after the deal was completed Wednesday morning.
"I said I still don't know," he said. "It's still a little unbelieveable. I came here three years ago and I was basically not even a backup center or nothing. I was fighting for my position. I know I was really fighting and pushing for this and I'm really happy that all this happened."
He said his mother, Vesna, cried when she learned negotiations were completed and her son was about to sign a five-year, $60 million guaranteed contract.
She and Pekovic's sister -- but not his father, Todor -- have been to Minnesota to visit.
"But they were here only in the summer," Pekovic said. "I hope they'll come to see me play in the next few years. They've got five years to come here."
He's returning home to Montenegro tomorrow and plans to stay there through the third week of September before he come back to MInnesota about 10 days before training camp starts.
He still will not play for Montenegro in the upcoming European championships.
Check startribune.com later today for a complete story for Saturday's paper on today's presser.
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