Jerry Zgoda missed the entire Kevin Garnett era, but he's back covering the Timberwolves after working the beat for their first four seasons two decades ago. In between, he covered a bit of everything: Gopher men's and women's basketball and NCAA athletics, golf, outdoor recreation, sports media and a little Vikings and Twins.
I think Wolves president of basketball operations and head coach Flip Saunders as a future as a concert promoter.
“I don’t know about that,” Saunders said after 90 minutes of “Dunks after Dark,’’ the official kickoff of Timberwolves’ training camp. “But it was a good show.’’
That it was. This idea of having a college-styled midnight madness-like opening to the Wolves training camp here in Mankato at the stroke of midnight Tuesday was nothing if not well-attended and….
By 10 p.m. hoards of fans – almost entirely students – were gathering outside the Taylor Center on the Minnesota State-Mankato campus, waiting to get in. At 11 p.m. the doors opened and, with extraordinarily loud music blaring, those fans rushed the arena to grab their seat and a free T-shirt. The Wolves opened camp with some warmups, a few drills, a handful of scrimmages and a short display of dunking.
“Hey, great energy and support from the fans here in Mankato,” Saunders said. “It’s nice when they come out. Glen (owner Glen Taylor) has been such a big supporter of this city, it’s nice to have people come out. Our team came down and put on a little show for them.”
By the time the clock struck midnight there had to have been at least 3,500 people, and perhaps more, in Bresnan Arena, which holds something north of 4,500.
At midnight, with music, smoke and lights, Ricky Rubio led the Wolves onto the court for warmups, with Thaddeus Young and Zach LaVine wearing Minnesota State-Mankato warmups honoring Isaac Kolstad.
After a dunk-heavy warmup period, Young spoke briefly with the crowd (“Are you ready?’’ he asked. “We’re ready, too. We’re ready to take on the season.”) Then the three teams were announced:
Team 1: Rubio, Chase Budinger, Andrew Wiggins, Robbie Hummel, Nikola Pekovic and Kyrylo Fesenko.
Team 2: Mo Williams, LaVine, Corey Brewer, Young, Gorgui Dieng and Brady Heslip.
Team 3: J.J. Barea, Kevin Martin, Shabazz Muhammad, Glen Robinson, Ronny Turiaf and Anthony Bennett.
Then the scrimmages:
In the first Heslip’s three-pointer in the final minute gave his team a one-point victory over Rubio’s team in a session that included some nice play by Wiggins and a bunch of hoops by Brewer.
In the second scrimmage Martin hit all four of his three-pointers and scored 14 of his team’s 28 points in a one-point victory over LaVine’s team.
In the third scrimmage Rubio’s three-pointer with 1.9 seconds ended the scrimmage in a 22-22 tie.
Team 3: 1-0-1
Team 2: 1-1-0
Team 1: 0-1-1
And, then, finally, a few dunks. Among the highlights: a 360 by LaVine; a windmill by Wiggins; a through-the-legs by LaVine.
--It was interesting that the first points in the first scrimmage tonight was a Wiggins dunk from Rubio’s alley-oop pass.
-- Martin is in mid-season shooting form.
-- Muhammad not only looks like a new person, he runs and jumps line one, too.
--Not sure how it will translate to victories right away, but this is a very, very athletic team.
And early Tuesday morning there was a lot of energy in Bresnan Arena.
“I didn’t know it would be that crazy,” Saunders said. “When they first came running in it was quite a sight. But it was good. Our guys got into it, got in a good sweat. ‘’
Said LaVine, just months removed from college: “That was a lot of fun. That was back in my environment.’’
The Timberwolves today made it official, with training camp now just five days away: They have hired L.A.-based Mike Penberthy as a shooting coach to work with a team, particularly Ricky Rubio, who has struggled in that area in recent years.
A former Laker who played 56 NBA games more than a decade, Penberthy worked with Rubio, Chase Budinger and others over the summer. He will move back and forth from his Los Angeles-area home to work with players.
"I don't even want to pigeon-hole him as a shooting coach because i think there are other things he'll be able to help us with," Wolves coach/president Flip Saunders said. "That will be his main emphasis. Ricky enjoyed working with him, even though it was only for a week. I think if Ricky had a chance to spend a month with him or six weeks, I believe we could have seen some good changes. We'll let his role evolve. It's important for him to see how we want to play and where guys are going to get shots and how he can incorporate that into our shooting."
The Wolves also hired former Detroit director of basketball operations Jason Hervey -- no, not the Wonder Years kid -- as a scout who will work both colleges and NBA personnel.
They also announced they are promoting scout Derek Pierce from general scout to advance scout.
Here's the scoop on the Wolves' "Dunk After Dark" -- their professional version of college basketball's Midnight Madness -- set for late Monday night at Minnesota State-Mankato's Bresnan Arena:
For starters, it's free and open to the public but you need a ticket: Season-ticket holders can reverse a space in a VIP section by contacting their ticket reps. Tickets are limited to two each for Mankato-State Mankato students and four each for everybody else. They're available Thursday beginning at 11 a.m. at the university's Student Union Center and two U.S. Bank locations in Mankato, 312 Raintree Rd. and 115 E. Hickory Street.
A limited number will be available at the event.
Doors open at 11 p.m. and the Wolves will take the floor at 12:01 a.m., just after the stroke of midnight and the first legal minute they can, according to NBA rules, begin practice.
The team will play three 12-minute scrimmages starting at 12:15 a.m. and a 10-minute "freestyle" session that will include all players but you can bet will feature a dunk-off between Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine follows that.
NBA TV will carry the event live, starting at 11:30 p.m. Greg Anthony and Isiah Thomas are coming to town for it. The timberwolves.com web site also will stream it live.
The Wolves will begin full training-camp practices Tuesday afternoon. They report Monday for their annual media-day obligations at Target Center.
Reports out of Phoenix and from ESPN.com this afternoon say the Timberwolves are willing to pay restricted-free agent point guard Eric Bledsoe a maximum 4-year, $63 million contract that they aren't willing to give Ricky Rubio.
The Wolves are well over the salary cap and in no position to make such an offer outright, not without acquring Bledsoe in a sign-and-trade with his current team, the Phoenix Suns.
That's where things get tricky for a deal that doesn't seem to be there right now.
The Wolves currently are in the same situation with Rubio as the Suns are with Bledsoe, trying to reach agreement on a contract extension with a point guard whose camp believes he's worth much more than the team believes.
It's unlikely the Suns would accept Rubio back in a straight swap, especially considering they already have point guards Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas and considering they'd be back in the same situation with Rubio as they are with Bledsoe.
Bledsoe reportedly has rejected the Suns' four-year, $48 million offer and is prepared to pay out this season to become an unrestricted free agent if he doesn't get a max deal.
If the Wolves pay Bledsoe that max deal, Rubio's agents probably wouldn't accept anything less than the same.
The Wolves owe the Suns their protected first-round pick in 2015, and could reduce or eliminate that protection to help sweeten a deal that would have to includes salaries to match Bledsoe's $15 million-plus average salary. The Wolves also have a $6 million-plus trade exception gained from the Kevin Love deal they could apply to acquire Bledsoe.
The Suns don't appear to have any interest in Rubio or center Nikola Pekovic, who makes $12 million a season, and the Wolves wouldn't have any interest in surrendering any of their young players -- Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng -- that the Suns might like.
Bledsoe's name came up in trade discussions when the Suns pursue Love before the Wolves traded their three-time All Star to Cleveland last month.
The Timberwolves have completed their training camp roster by signing former Baylor guard Brady Heslip and 7-1 center Kyrylo Fesenko, who played last year in the D-league. Both players were on the Wolves’ summer league roster.
Heslip and Fesenko are among a group of players who have been working out this week at Target Center. Veterans Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin and Robbie Hummel have been joined by rookies Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III.
Wiggins and LaVine both said they have made the move to Minnesota along with their families.
“I can’t cook,’’ Wiggins said. “So whenever I need food, I can go to their house.’’
On the business side, Wolves General Manager Milt Newton said he’s “in constant contact’’ with guard Ricky Rubio’s agent.
If Rubio doesn't sign a contract extension by the end of October, he will become a restricted free agent next summer and the Wolves would have the right to match any offer he receives. Newton said the sides differ on salary numbers at the present time.
“”Until that right number comes up, I guess we’ll continue to talk,’’ he said.
Newton said signing Rubio now would be a show of “good will and trust’’ in the point guard.
“I feel optimistic,’’ Newton said. “Knowing Ricky the person, he wants to be here.’’
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