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 Timberwolves today made it official, with training camp now just five days away: They have hired L.A.-based Mike Penberthy as a shooting coach to work with a team, particularly Ricky Rubio, who has struggled in that area in recent years.
A former Laker who played 56 NBA games more than a decade, Penberthy worked with Rubio, Chase Budinger and others over the summer. He will move back and forth from his Los Angeles-area home to work with players.
"I don't even want to pigeon-hole him as a shooting coach because i think there are other things he'll be able to help us with," Wolves coach/president Flip Saunders said. "That will be his main emphasis. Ricky enjoyed working with him, even though it was only for a week. I think if Ricky had a chance to spend a month with him or six weeks, I believe we could have seen some good changes. We'll let his role evolve. It's important for him to see how we want to play and where guys are going to get shots and how he can incorporate that into our shooting."
The Wolves also hired former Detroit director of basketball operations Jason Hervey -- no, not the Wonder Years kid -- as a scout who will work both colleges and NBA personnel.
They also announced they are promoting scout Derek Pierce from general scout to advance scout.
The Wolves will open training camp in Mankato with a midnight-madness event that will be carried live on NBA TV.
Their "Dunks After Dark" extravaganza will be held late Monday night, September 29 in Mankato after the team conducts its traditional media-day activities at Target Center that afternoon.
Doors at Minnesota-State Mankato's Bresnan Arena open at 11 p.m. and the program that will feature a scrimmage and a dunk contest between Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine begins right after midnight.
Tickets are free, but you need one and they'll be available at the school's Student Union Center that Monday morning starting at 10:30 a.m.
The Wolves also are expected to announce soon plans for a Sunday afternoon scrimmage that will end camp on Oct. 5.
Alexey Shved says he doesn’t matter where he plays, he just wants to play.
Shved is the Russian player who came to the Wolves before the 2012-13 season and spent much of that season showing he might have a future as a shooting guard. Getting an opportunity in large part because of a long injury list, Shved played in 77 games, started 16 and scored 8.6 points and 3.7 assists.
Last season was a different story. The 6-6 Shved saw his numbers and productivity drop.
And now? President of basketball operations and head coach Flip Saunders wants Shved to work at playing some point guard.
And that’s what Shved has been doing since the team’s summer league roster began prepping for league play, which begins this weekend in Las Vegas.
“It doesn’t matter – point guard, shooting guard,” Shved said. “I just want to play.’’
Shved has some abilities that would seem to make the move plausible. Saunders likes Shved’s height, which allows him to look over defenses much like a big quarterback can see things over the middle. He likes that Shved has the ability stay in front of an opponent on defense.
Saunders made his intentions known on draft night, when he said being able to add point guard duties was a key for Shved to extend his NBA career.
This week Saunders has softened his stance, saying he’d like Shved to be able to contribute to work at both positions, with the key being making sure Shved gets his confidence back.
“He’s learning,” Saunders said after Wednesday’s scrimmage. “I think the biggest thing is he has to become more vocal. That’s an adjustment when you’re a European player. He’s picking things up, trying to learn both (point guard and shooting guard). He’s been pretty solid. ‘’
Shved said he’s looking forward to playing in Vegas. About to enter his third season, his English has improved and he said he’s ready to be vocal player Saunders wants.
Here are some other nuggets from Thursday’s workout:
--On Wednesday, after scoring 21 points in the open-to-the-public scrimmage, center Kyrylo Fesenko said one of the reasons he accepted an offer to play summer ball with the Wolves was his friendship with Shved. The two know each other from playing in Europe. Thursday Shved made a politically-tinged joke. “He’s Ukrainian, I’m Russian,” he said, referencing the current political climate between those two countries. “We stay together. As players, we are together.”
--Saunders said Shabazz Muhammad has been the hardest worker this week, said the second-year player knows he has to improve on defense and is willing to do what it takes to get there. He also said this: “Today was probably as good a practice as he’s had since he’s been a Timberwolves player,” Saunders said.
--Saunders said second-round draft pick Glen Robinson III won’t be signed to a contract before the team plays in Vegas. The Wolves want to maintain some roster flexibility as they navigate free agency.
--Robinson, meanwhile, admitted the players have been as interested in the anticipation surrounding LeBron James’ impending free agency decision. “We have been fans a little bit,” he said. “We’re watching ESPN, wondering, just like everybody else.”
--Saunders said Chase Budinger, who will travel to Vegas to practice with the team, won’t play in any summer league games. But he said Budinger, trying to come back from two injury-marred seasons, is coming along well. “He’s gotten a lot more confidence in his legs,” Saunders said. “He’s able to shoot the ball better, get the ball above the rim, dunking, doing a lot of things he didn’t do a lot of [last year].”
It is a small sampling size. The Wolves only open the doors to the media for the final few minutes of each practice. So you have to be careful not to over-analyze anything.
But it was still hard not to be impressed with the speed rookie guard Zach LaVine possesses. The Wolves summer team roster met for its first workout Monday evening. It was an intense, fast-paced, run-their-legs-off workout that ended with a scrimmage.
Sitting on the sidelines at the team’s workout facility, it was impossible to miss LaVine’s speed. End to end in a flash, even with the ball in his hands. Afterwards both teammates and coaches were raving about him, including head coach Flip Saunders, who – as president of basketball operations – took LaVine with the 13th overall pick in last month’s draft.
“I thought LaVine was exceptional today,” Saunders said. “He has an unbelievable feel for the game. He has speed, but he also knows how to play. How he finds people, his passing ability. He’s got a great feel for the game.’’
He’s also got a great confidence for it, too.
There were some who thought taking LaVine, a 19-year-old coming off an up-and-down freshman season at UCLA, was something of a reach. LaVine can run like the wind and jump out of the gym. But, critics said, he is raw and will need a lot of work.
Turns out LaVine, unlike many pro athletes, readily admits to reading everything written about him that he can find. He knows what people are saying. So, when asked what his goals were for the upcoming NBA Summer League in Las Vegas – the Wolves’ entry plays its first game Saturday – this is what he said:
“Whenever I step on the court I want to be the best player,” LaVine said. “I have a lot of high goals for myself. There are still a lot of doubters out there. I read all of the things on Twitter. I keep those in my back pocket. I feel I turned a lot of heads since I came out (of college). I’ll still continue to do that.”
Again, it’s a short sample size, but LaVine played a lot of point guard Monday, and will do so in Vegas, too. After Monday’s workout Saunders said he had no question in his mind that LaVine could play both shooting guard and some at the point.
“The way he handles himself and handles the ball, no question he can play one,” Saunders said. “His understanding of what we want him to do, and how to play, to initiate the offense and be creative, there is no question.”
Of course, there are questions. How will LaVine, not a starter at UCLA, adapt to the NBA pace of play? How will his 185-pound body hold up the physical play? (He already knows he has to bulk up. But, as he said, “But if they can’t touch me, that’s a good thing as well.”)
Still, the confident LaVine is looking at Vegas as the starting point to a rookie season that he feels will be productive.
“I’m a confident person, so I feel I can come in and contribute right off the bat,” he said. “I’m not putting my talents below anybody else’s. I’m a competitor. I’m going to go out and do what I can do. Whoever says I can’t play, I’m going to try to turn their heads.”
The Wolves announced LaVine had signed his rookie deal. According to the 2014-15 NBA rookie salary scale, that suggests LaVine signed a three-year deal worth $5,370,000 with $1,713,200 coming in the first year.
Here are some other summer camp notes:
--LaVine and the rest of the Wolves summer league roster will play a scrimmage Wednesday night at Target Center that is open to the public. It starts at 7 p.m.
--Second-year player Shabazz Muhammad has lost about seven or eight pounds and has about eight more to lose before regular training camp begins this fall, according to Saunders. Muhammad, taken by Saunders in the first round last year, is looking for an increased role this season.
“Last year I thought I played pretty well,” he said. “Some said I could have gotten more minutes. Some said I shouldn’t. It’s all about playing hard and being a good teammate. Flip will take care of everything else.”
Muhammad missed the last few games of last season with a sprained MCL in his right knee. He said he returned to working out 100 percent about a month ago.
--Saunders said center Gorgui Dieng has put on a lot of muscle as he prepares for his second season. “He’s gained a lot of weight and strength,” Saunders said.
--Veteran forward Chase Budinger, who was limited to just 41 games by injuries last season, is set to join the team today and start working out with the team. Budinger missed the first two months of last season after a second knee procedure, and missed the final few games with an ankle sprain. Budinger, who has seen injuries affect his past two seasons, is looking to get some competitive practicing in to get the confidence back in his health. Saunders said Budinger would travel to Las Vegas with the team. He likely won’t play in any games, but will continue to practice with the team.
The Timberwolves are, quite literally, limping to the season’s finish line.
News out of practice – or rather, a walkthrough among the players still walking – was that rookie Shabazz Muhammad and Chase Budinger are both done for the season.
Budinger played very well in Miami on Friday, but sprained his right ankle 1 minute into Saturday’s loss at Orlando. Muhammad left the Miami game in the second quarter with what has turned out to be a sprained MCL in his right knee. He will not require surgery, but will not play in the final six games.
Add to that the uncertainty of the Dante Cunningham situation, Kevin Martin’s sore right foot and Nikola Pekovic’s ankle bursitis and you have what could be a very short roster for the Wolves when they host San Antonio Tuesday – and going forward.
“I worry about how many people we’ll have tomorrow to play,” coach Rick Adelman said. “All I know is Boz and Chase are probably finished for the year. And the other guys are just really banged up. So we’ll see who we have tomorrow and we’ll have to move on. It’s an opportunity for people to show what they can do, just l like [Gorgui Dieng] has. We have six games left. In spite of those injures you have to go out and compete. You have to win these games, and play together, have some fun at the end of the year. It’s not easy, but it’s what you have to do.’’
There is a possibility the Wolves will sign a free agent for the rest of the season just to fill out the bench.
Here are some other injury updates:
--Adelman said he didn’t have an update on Pekovic, but it didn’t sound like the big guy will be playing any time soon.
--Kevin Martin said his ankle started hurting after the Memphis game April 3. He wouldn’t have practiced today even if the team had, he said, adding the ankle feels “the same.”
“We’ll just have to see how it feels tomorrow,” said Martin, who missed both games in Florida.
--Kevin Love, who missed Saturday’s game with back spasms, said he would play Tuesday. “This last week is going to be tough, but we’re going to fight through it,” Love said. “We only have eight or nine guys. It’s tough. We’re fighting the battle of attrition. We’ve got to make it fun.’’
One last interesting note. Adelman was talking about the double-overtime victory in Miami Friday when he said this: “The Miami game was probably the best one we’ve had since I’ve been here. I mean, it was a game where they had us down, a lot of calls went against us and we kept staying with it and ended up winning the game. ‘’
That’s about it for now. Have a great rest of your day.
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