Healthy Wolves, crowded bench

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 15, 2014 - 12:48 AM

It’s been nearly two years since Rick Adelman fielded 15 able-bodied players. Now who gets to play and who sits?

Now that he’s done mediating his team’s locker-room differences, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman turned his attention to another issue: What to do with a roster completely healthy for the first time in nearly two years and a bench that finally presents him with options?

“That’s a good problem,” he said.

Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf returned from injuries last week that kept them out of all or most of the season’s first two months. Rookie Shabazz Muhammad came back Monday after a four-game assignment to the NBA’s Development League. Veteran Luc Mbah a Moute is available again after missing three games because of a groin injury.

The Wolves bench — too often the team’s glaring weakness for those first two months — now appears representable and potentially formidable.

The Wolves practiced Monday and Tuesday with all 15 players on their roster healthy and available. Until last week, the Wolves hadn’t been completely healthy since March 3, 2012, Adelman’s first season on the job and six days before Ricky Rubio sustained a season-ending knee injury in his rookie year.

Turiaf adds interior defense, a certain sense of spirit and he allows Adelman to rest starting center Nikola Pekovic longer. Budinger adds athleticism, three-point shooting and expertise on Adelman’s unconventional offense to a second unit that already included J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved and Dante Cunningham.

“I don’t think it will take long at all,” Turiaf said about adapting to each other, “because I think our set of skills between the five of us match really well.”

But the Wolves’ healthy roster also means there’s not nearly enough playing time to keep everyone content.

“There are too many guys at one spot to play them all,” Adelman said. “They don’t expand the game to 60 minutes. I can’t change much. I have to play who I think is right.”

For now, Adelman appears prepared to play Budinger and Shved as the first players off his bench at small forward and shooting guard. Those decisions leave Mbah a Moute and Muhammad — not to mention rookie Robbie Hummel and veteran point guard A.J. Price — on the outside.

“Whatever the rotation is today isn’t written in stone,” Adelman said. “That can change, depending on how our team is doing.”

For now, though, Muhammad’s situation seems to have changed little even though he discovered his confidence and his offensive game by averaging 24.5 points on 57 percent shooting and 9.8 rebounds in four games with the D-League’s Iowa Energy.

Mbah a Moute has played fewer than 10 minutes in two games back from that groin injury. Wednesday’s home game is the first this season against Sacramento and the first since Mbah a Moute was acquired from the Kings in a late November trade that sent away former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams.

Williams is coming off the bench since the Kings acquired small forward Rudy Gay shortly after trading for Williams. He is averaging 25 minutes and 9.5 points on 50 percent shooting in 22 games in Sacramento entering Tuesday’s game at Indiana.

Mbah a Moute is trying to convince his offensive-minded coach he deserves to be on the floor because of his often one-dimensional specialty, defense.

“I do think there will be times when Luc will be real important if there’s a Durant or someone where we need a defender there,” Adelman said, referring to Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. “We have defensive players, and we have offensive players, but the two don’t meet and that makes it real hard. What do you do? How do you win games? And you have to measure: Is the offensive player going to be more effective than the defensive player because you have to play both ends.”

For now, Adelman will go with his instincts while also remaining prepared to experiment if needed.

“I don’t know, that looks like a good group but you’ve got to give it time, too,” Adelman said, referring to a second unit of Barea, Shved, Budinger, Turiaf and Cunningham. “It’s going to take some time. It’s hard on guys who have been playing because now you’re changing things, but we’ve got to try it.”

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