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.

Staying healthy remains Flip Saunders' No. 1 goal

Posted by: Kent Youngblood under Wolves players, Wolves pre-game Updated: October 21, 2014 - 6:41 PM

Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of Wolves coach Flip Saunders’s pre-game meeting with the media was his contention that he doesn’t need to work too hard on rotations in the final three preseason games.

Saunders’ stated plan when the seven-game preseason began was to use the first few games for individual evaluation, then spend the final games ironing out his rotations. But, as the preseason has gone on, Saunders has decided that keeping players healthy is the most important thing. That’s why you might not see all the veterans play tonight vs. Indiana at Target Center or Wednesday in Milwaukee.

“My need is to get out [of the preseason] unscathed if we can,” Saunders said. “We’ll have lineups in there, but we’re not going to see an extended lineup. I don’t think we need to do that.”


Well, Saunders said much of the chemistry that is necessary on the court is being built in practices.

But there is another thing. “We’re trying to get our guys to play more conceptually than worry about who they’re playing with.’’

Here are some other pre-game nuggets:

--After missing the last three preseason games with a sore heel, Shabazz Muhammad will play tonight. I talked to him after morning shoot, and he is very, very eager to get out there and play. Muhammad stayed in shape while he was rehabbing the heel, dropping a few more pounds to get to 215. Now he has to go out and make up for lost time while he tries to earn himself minutes when the regular season starts. It won’t be easy.

“You can’t make the team in a hot tub,” Saunders said. “It’s tough to get playing time from there. You have to go out and play. He’s been diligent. He’s worked hard, studied film. We’ll see in the next few days if he’s able to translate that and do it on the court.’’

--Zach LaVine returns to regular minutes after sitting almost all of Sunday’s game against Oklahoma City on the bench. This was by design. After a difficult game against Milwaukee two days prior, Saunders had LaVine sit on the bench next to assistant coaches Sidney Lowe and Ryan Saunders. They talked through what they were seeing, hoping to give LaVine a new perspective on the game.

“We wanted him to get a feel for how we look at the game as it is going on,” Flip Sanders said. “What we’re trying to do, how we’re trying to play. … I thought, by the end of the fourth quarter, he was understanding more of what we’re trying to accomplish.’’

That’s about all for now. I’ll get back to you after the game.

Wolves waive Fesenko to get roster down to 17 players

Posted by: Jerry Zgoda under Wolves players, Wolves trade talk, Wolves training camp, Wolves news Updated: October 20, 2014 - 5:09 PM

No surprise here, but the Timberwolves today announced they have waived training-camp invitee center Kyrylo Fesenko to get their roster down to 17 players.

Former Baylor guard Brady Heslip remains, for now.

Barring something really unforeseen, he'll, too, be waived, even though Flip Saunders said after Sunday's victory over Oklahoma City in Tulsa that he believes Heslip will play in the NBA because he shoots the ball so well.

The real question is what the Wolves do over the weekend or early next week to get from 16 players down to the maximum 15?

Do they do the most cost-efficient thing and pay off Glenn Robinson III's very small guarantee?

Do they trade or buyout J.J. Barea, the team's third point guard despite what Saunders has called impressive play throughout the preseason.

Do they pay off Robbie Hummel's fully guaranteed but minimum contract instead?

Or do they find a team willing to take Chase Budinger's fully guaranteed contract for the next three years.

I still think the Budinger move is most likely just because of the four options, he's the most expendable if the Wolves can find a willing team.

The Wolves probably keep Robinson because of his potential and cost efficiency.

They probably keep Hummel just because, as was shown Sunday in Tulsa, they'll need him as a third power forward if Thad Young or Anthony Bennett gets hurt. When Bennett's knee proved too sore, Hummel played 19 minutes Sunday and played well.

And Barea might have been the best point guard in training camp and gives the Wolves insurance if something happens to Ricky Rubio and Mo Williams. If one gets injured, do the Wolves at this point want to rely on Zach LaVine as their backup point guard. By keeping Barea, it also keep open the option that another NBA team will lose a point guard to injury, possibly increasing Barea's trade value.

Budinger is experienced and the Wolves sure could use his three-point shooting, but the Wolves already have Andrew Wiggins, Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad, Robinson, Hummel and Young who all can play there as well.

That decision could come soon after the Wolves play their final preseason game Friday at St. Louis against Chicago.

Flip starts unusual lineup vs. OKC in Tulsa

Posted by: Jerry Zgoda under Wolves practice news, Wolves pre-game, Wolves news Updated: October 19, 2014 - 5:48 PM

The Wolves are starting Ronny Turiaf, Thad Young, Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea tonight against an injury-depleted Oklahoma City team in Tulsa.

Where'd that lineup come from?

Answer: From practice yesterday.

That was the team out of three split up for practice that won the most scrimmages at BOK Center Saturday afternoon, so that's who's starting.

Coach Flip Saunders said he'll experiment with different lineups tonight, "depending on how things go"

Martin will play for the first time this preseason now that he's deemed recovered from that groin injury, but Shabazz Muhammad won't play tonight after he returned yesterday for his first hard practice back from that heel injury.

Ricky gets a rest for tonight's game in Cedar Rapids

Posted by: Jerry Zgoda under Wolves injury report, Wolves pre-game, Wolves news Updated: October 17, 2014 - 6:33 PM

The Wolves have traveled to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to play Milwaukee tonight but those fans who are expected to fill U.S. Cellular Center won't see Ricky Rubio play.

Flip Saunders said before the game that he'll rest Rubio tonight after the team practice hard for three consecutive days this week.

He said those practices Rubio -- coming off last month's FIBA World Cup appearance -- tired out Rubio some and he didn't want to risk a fatigue injury at this point.

Rookie Zach LaVine will start at point guard instead.

"Play the young guys," Saunders said.

Saunders said he would have paused more about not playing Rubio for the Iowa audience if he didn't plan on playing a lot of the other players -- Andrew Wiggins and LaVine, namely -- those fans paid to see play in a city the Wolves haven't visited since 2002.

Kevin Martin (groin) and Shabazz Muhammad (heel) won't play, either, and center Kyrylo Fesenko is home ill and won't play either.

The Bucks will play without injured points Brandon Knight and Nate Wolters, Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova among others.

Martin, Muhammad both ruled out of Friday's preseason game

Posted by: Kent Youngblood under Wolves injury report, Wolves players Updated: October 16, 2014 - 3:01 PM

The Wolves finished up practice just after noon on Thursday then headed off to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for tomorrow’s game against the Bucks.

Kevin Martin, who has battled a groin injury, practiced for a second straight day but will not play Friday, according to coach Flip Saunders. Meanwhile, Shabazz Muhammad’s sore heel is better – he is finally rid of the immobilization boot he’s been wearing  -- but he won’t play Friday either.

There is a chance both could play Sunday.

“Kevin won’t go,” Saunders said. “He had a good day [Wednesday] and went today. But I want him to get a good practice in Saturday and maybe go Sunday. With Bazz, it’s probably the same thing.’’

Also, center Kyrylo Fesenko, who is sick, missed practice Thursday and did not travel with the team.

Here are some other post-practice nuggets:

--Saunders is still going to try to play a lot of young guys while taking it easy on the veterans, though he didn’t say who might not go Friday. While Saunders said he’s surprised at how much the young players have been able to absorb in two-plus weeks of camp, he’s still looking for much of what is being taught to transfer into games.

--With five preseason games between Friday and Oct. 24, Saunders does not want a tired team entering the regular season. Especially with a lot of travel early in November.

--One area where Saunders wants to see improvement, starting with Friday, is in how the team plays its zone defense, something Saunders plans on using quite a bit.

That’s about it for now. Jerry will be with the team in Cedar Rapids tomorrow. 


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