As season fades, fate of players on the line

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 14, 2012 - 8:30 AM

With postseason no longer an issue, there are now only a handful of opportunities for those on the bubble to make an impression.

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Wolves forward Michael Beasley, right, will become an unrestricted free agent after this season.

Photo: Jack Dempsey, Associated Press

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With the Wolves out of playoff contention, what purpose can be found in the team's final six games?

Or, in other words: What is there to play for?

"The great thing is we're playing for pride now," forward Anthony Tolliver said. "Now this is an opportunity for us guys who haven't gotten a lot of opportunity this year."

There are a few players on the Wolves roster who would top that list. Tolliver, for example, will be a free agent after this season. Both Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph will become unrestricted free agents if the team chooses not to give them qualifying offers. In Beasley's case, that offer would be $8,172,362; for Randolph, $4,049,522.

And while it would appear a long shot that either would get his qualifying offer, both figure to get a lot of playing time down the stretch, especially if Kevin Love doesn't play again.

So even if they're not necessarily playing for a future with the Wolves, they will be working for jobs somewhere in the league. There are others.

Wes Johnson needs to show he can be a productive part of the team's future, and rookie Malcolm Lee will be given time to prove he can be a reliable backup at both guard positions.

Wolves coach Rick Adelman said Thursday he liked the core group on the Wolves roster, assuming everyone is healthy. After that? Adelman is looking for consistency.

"That's when you get your depth, when you have people be consistent," he said. "We have to be realistic. You evaluate the whole season. Who do you really like, how you'll build this."

Talking about injuries before Thursday's game, Adelman admitted he was disappointed in the lack of motivation some players showed when stepping in for players who were hurt. Adelman didn't mention names but said he hoped to see a different story play out in the team's final games.

Beasley has been scintillating at times. At others, he hasn't done enough to stay on the floor. Before Thursday's game, a 95-82 loss to the Clippers, Beasley talked about wanting to stay with the Wolves.

"I would love to come back and be a Timberwolf," he said. "I love it here. I can say that from the bottom of my heart. From my teammates to my coaches to the staff, everybody is so welcoming here."

At the same time, up-and-down minutes and a succession of injuries have made this a very difficult season for Beasley. Enough that he wonders what might have happened had he stayed healthy.

"I just go day by day," Beasley said. "It won't change anything I do in the summer. I'll still work hard, come back [next season] with something new. If I go, I go. That's not what I want to happen, but we have to let the cards play out."

Randolph, too, has shown flashes. In the past two games, his athletic ability and focus have produced two strong efforts. Randolph had 28 points, six rebounds and five blocks in Denver. Thursday he had 16 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.

But at the same time, his inconsistent play relegated him to the bench for much of the season. Adelman has commented that Randolph doesn't always bring what he does in practice into the games. But Randolph has shown better focus lately.

"I thought [Randolph] did a lot of things we were asking and hoping he would do," Adelman said. "A lot of times players have to realize what their role is, what their strengths are. He has the ability to rebound the ball, protect the basket a little bit. He's not the strongest guy, but he's very active, very quick.''

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