Familiarity breeds Wolves trade to fill a need

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 27, 2012 - 3:31 PM

The Wolves sent their No. 1 pick to Houston for Chase Budinger, who played for Rick Adelman.

Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman celebrated his 66th birthday two weeks ago and has two years left on the contract he signed in September, two reasons that might explain why his team on Tuesday traded the 18th pick in Thursday's NBA draft for Houston swingman Chase Budinger and a European prospect.

Swapping the future's promise for today's known, the deal reunites Adelman with an athletic, three-point shooter who played for him for two seasons with the Rockets.

It's a deal that -- if followed by bigger moves either on draft night or in the NBA's free-agency period that starts Sunday -- is intended to end eight consecutive losing seasons and help the Wolves reach the playoffs this coming season.

It's also a deal that will make Thursday night's draft-viewing party at Hubert's in Target Center a bore if the Wolves don't make another trade before then.

The Wolves passed up the prospect of drafting yet another young player, such as Iowa State's Royce White, Kentucky's Terrence Jones or St. John's Moe Harkless, and instead chose a player with whom Adelman knows just what he is getting, even if Budinger probably isn't the answer as the team's starting small forward or shooting guard.

"A guy who can shoot the ball incredibly well, a very good slasher, athletic enough to get into the lane and finish around the rim," the 6-7 Budinger said Tuesday, describing himself. "Very well-rounded, passes the ball very well, I do a little bit of everything. That's why I think Rick Adelman really likes me."

The feeling is mutual, apparently.

"I've very excited," Budinger, 24, said from his home in San Diego, where he grew up. "Rick Adelman was a great, great coach for me. I have much respect for him. I love his system. I feel I fit it very well."

The Wolves also received 6-9 Israeli forward Lior Eliyahu, a 2006 second-round pick who at age 26 is expected to try to play his way to the NBA next season with the Wolves' Las Vegas Summer League team next month.

Budinger's arrival means the team essentially can replace Martell Webster with him and save nearly $5 million that they can use to sign a free agent next month. The Wolves can buy out the remaining $5.7 million year on Webster's contract for $600,000 if they release him by Saturday, or they can pass that salary-cap savings on to another team if they trade his contract by then.

Budinger will make a mere $942,293 next season in the final year of a rookie contract the former second-round pick signed in 2009. He will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

That exchange, combined with other roster moves, is expected to give the Wolves between $10 million and $15 million to spend on a shooting guard, such as unrestricted free agents Brandon Roy or Jamal Crawford (if he becomes one on Friday) or restricted free agents O.J. Mayo or Courtney Lee, who also played for Adelman in Houston, as well as a backup big man.

Adelman and Wolves boss David Kahn didn't talk to reporters about the trade Tuesday. In a team statement, Adelman said Budinger will help his team's perimeter game with his "athleticism and shooting ability" and Kahn called him a "proven shot-maker" who also has an "excellent all-around game." Budinger will be introduced at a Target Center news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Budinger's statistics -- minutes played per game, scoring average, everything except for a career-high 40.2 three-point shooting percentage last season -- didn't change much from his final season with Adelman in 2010-11 to his first one with new Rockets coach Kevin McHale in 2011-12.

Still, Budinger said he didn't adapt to McHale's system as well as he would have liked after playing two seasons in Adelman's motion offense.

"Last year was a bit of a struggle for me with my playing time being inconsistent," said Budinger, who started nine of 58 games and saw rookie Chandler Parsons assume some of his role last season. "I feel like I did a lot of standing around last year. In Adelman's offense, you don't do that at all. There's a lot of movement."

Budinger isn't exactly the ballhandling playmaker or lockdown defender on the wing that the Wolves need most. And he's not the natural shooting guard many Timberwolves fans think their team lacks most, although Budinger said he can play both that guard spot and small forward because they are nearly interchangeable in Adelman's offensive system.

"That's what is so great about his system," Budinger said.

But he is a deft shooter who can spread the floor for point guard Ricky Rubio. He also knows how to make a backdoor cut, the move upon which Adelman's offense largely depends and one which Wolves players seemed allergic to last season.

He's also athletic enough that he appeared for NBA All-Star Weekend's slam dunk contest last February dressed as playground legend Billy Hoyle ... and delivered a memorable one-hand dunk over rapper P. Diddy.

"Like the movie says, 'White men can't jump' is true in most cases," Budinger said. "But when you really get to know me, you find I can definitely jump with the best of them."

Budinger scored a career-high 35 points for the Rockets at Target Center in the 2010-11 season finale, the last game Adelman coached for Houston.

So ... does he have many more 35-point games left in him at Target Center?

"Let's hope so," he said. "I do always play well in that gym. I love playing in that gym. Everything I shot, every time I went to the basket that night, I couldn't do any wrong. I hope there's a lot more nights in there like that."

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