NBA execs shop for right fit for their rosters

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 29, 2013 - 6:56 AM

Team reps gathered at Target Center to find missing pieces in players who will be drafted lower (or not at all).

San Antonio’s Danny Green, Miami’s Chris Andersen and Indiana’s Lance Stephenson, to name a few, have proved nightly during this spring’s postseason that there is a prominent place in the NBA someday, someway for former second-round picks and those who once went undrafted.

New Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders just believes that time hasn’t yet arrived for his team or any such players in next month’s draft.

Before he jets off to Miami this weekend to bond with Ricky Rubio or travels to Europe after that to woo forthcoming restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic, Saunders did his long-term due diligence Tuesday at Target Center surrounded by representatives from 25 other teams, including NBA coaches Mike Woodson and Randy Wittman, doing the same.

They watched a dozen unsung draft prospects — many of whom won’t hear their name called next month — drill in separate sessions that opened two days of group workouts the Wolves annually hold.

“I don’t know right now if a second-rounder is going to be in our rotation,” Saunders said. “If you’re getting guys at that level, you hope they will somehow be able to play for you in two or three years.”

But that could all change in those two or three years, when Tuesday’s players fresh out of college have ripened and when the NBA’s ever-tightening restrictive salary cap takes hold.

By then, there might be a place or two — or more — for such a cost-effective role player.

“Eventually, the cap is pretty hard when you look at it and you have to have people who are going to fit in, especially if you become a good team and have two or three guys who are max [salary]-type players,” Saunders said. “You’re going to have to find some low-end type guys that fit for you.”

The three teams still playing all have done so.

The Spurs have reached the NBA Finals for the first time in six years with former second-round picks and undrafted players Green, Manu Ginobili, Matt Bonner, Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair all playing their parts.

Green found his way to San Antonio and the Finals after being drafted — and cut — by Cleveland and waived once by the Spurs. Bonner was drafted by Chicago, traded to Toronto, then traded to San Antonio.

“There’s lots of ways to build your team,” Saunders said, “whether it’s through the draft or trying to find guys that maybe you feel can fit better in your system than somebody else can.”

On Thursday, the Wolves will start bringing prospects to town — Georgia shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the first — they’ll consider selecting with their two first-round picks, including the ninth overall.

Until then, the Wolves used Tuesday — and will use Wednesday — to look at players such as Wisconsin big man Jared Berggren, former Gophers forward Rodney Williams, Illinois guard Brandon Paul and others who also have the right to dream big.

Berggren drove down from Princeton, Minn., with his family when he was a kid and sat in Target Center’s upper deck to watch Kevin Garnett and the Wolves play.

Now he hopes to follow fellow former Badger Greg Stiemsma’s journey to the NBA, no matter how circuitous it might be. Berggren chatted with Stiemsma — the Wolves’ backup center last season — in the team’s locker room before Tuesday’s workout.

“There are a lot of different routes to the NBA,” Berggren said. “You don’t have to be a lottery pick or a first-rounder to make an impact in the league. Greg also played at Wisconsin, like myself, and didn’t get drafted, didn’t get a lot of NBA looks coming out of college. But he stuck with it and he ended up taking a bit of an unconventional route, but he found his way now and he is having some success.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take for me, but whatever it takes, I’m going to stick with it.”

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