PORTLAND, ORE. - What could have been ...
If things had transpired differently last summer, Nicolas Batum would have started for the visitors Friday night at the Rose Garden, and the Timberwolves' Derrick Williams believes he could very well be calling Portland home now.
Instead, the Trail Blazers matched that $44 million offer sheet the Wolves made Batum, and the fifth-year small forward from France is playing like he's worth all that money: He's already scored 35 points in a game twice and set single-game career highs in steals, blocks and baskets made. His 20.1-point scoring average also is a career high.
"We felt he had a chance to be a pretty good player, and that's why we went after him," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "I felt he could do what he's doing, that with the group we had -- especially with Kevin [Love] and Pek [Nikola Pekovic] and Ricky [Rubio] -- it'd be a good fit. But it didn't work out. They had control over it, and they got him and we're happy we got Andrei."
Andrei, as in Kirilenko, the multi-positional defensive specialist the Wolves signed after they lost out on Batum.
Kirilenko drew Batum as his assignment Friday night while Adelman searched for minutes for Williams, the 2011 draft's No. 2 overall pick. Williams started at power forward when Love began the season injured, then didn't play a second when Love made a surprise return Wednesday night.
Wolves owner Glen Taylor was adamant last summer that his team wouldn't trade Williams in a sign-and-trade deal with Portland for Batum. But Williams said Friday "a little inside information" led him to believe he was close to becoming a Trail Blazer.
"A little bit," Williams said. "I think everybody thought that."
Man out of time
Adelman said early Friday evening he intended to get Williams into that night's game, somewhere, after not playing him a second Wednesday.
"I knew that was going to happen as soon as we got somebody back, that someone would suffer," Adelman said. "It just happened to be him."
But for a second consecutive game, Williams did not get off the bench. Dante Cunningham and Lou Amundson played ahead of him.
"Dante has really won that spot the way he has played for us," Adelman said of power-forward competition between Cunningham and Williams.
Love awoke Thursday morning with his body and that healing right shooting hand sore after he played nearly 35 minutes Wednesday.
"I'm not used to playing minutes like that yet," he said. "It'll be nice when we get some practices in. Until then, I've got to use these games as practice. I've got to be on the floor more with the guys. Running through plays 5-on-0 isn't the same as being out there playing against good competition. I had no idea how my conditioning would be. I'm still a few weeks out."
Rubio is due to visit his Vail, Colo., surgeon in the next week and could be back on the practice floor for live action for the first time when the Wolves return from this four-game West Coast trip that ends Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Given Love's surprise return Wednesday night, Adelman was asked before Friday's game if Rubio was going to be his surprise starter Friday.
"No," he said, "but I wish he was."