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.
The Wolves conclude this long preseason -- three to five games too long, by Flip Saunders' estimation -- with tonight's finale against Chicago in St. Louis.
Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad both would be healthy enough to play in this were Wednesday's season opener at Memphis, but Saunders is staying cautious and keeping both out tonight.
Corey Brewer will start for Wiggins in a lineup beside Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin in the backcourt and Brewer, Nikola Pekovic and Thad Young up front.
This will be the third consecutive game out for Wiggins, who bruised his behind in a nasty fall Sunday in Tulsa against Oklahoma City. Saunders wants him to get two good practice days in before he plays again. Those practice days will be Sunday and Monday.
Muhammad's Achilles grew sore after Wednesday's game in Milwaukee and Saunders decided to rest him too after he played good minutes in back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday.
Anthony Bennett says he's feeling better now. He played just eight minutes Wednesday not because of that sore knee but from what he thought was a reaction to something he ate, perhaps a breakfast of eggs.
The Wolves have until 5 p.m. Monday to get their 17-man roster down to 15 men.
Yes, Flip Saunders is taking it easy on the old guys here as the Wolves' preseason schedule ticks away.
Flip said before tonight's game that Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin, Ronny Turiaf and Mo Williams all are getting the night off here in Milwaukee on the second half of back-to-back games after last night's home victory over Indiana.
Rookie Andrew Wiggins also will not play because of that bruised butt he injured in a fall Sunday in Tulsa and that kept him out of last night's game, too.
Tonight's likely starters are Ricky Rubio, Shabazz Muhammad, Chase Budinger, Thad Young and Nikola Pekovic.
Flip hasn't spend much time this preseason trying to build chemsitry by playing his likely starters and probable rotations together a lot, but he didn't sound too concerned when I asked him about before last night's game.
He was more concerned with getting to next Wednesday's season opener at Memphis without a serious injury and said they've had enough time playing guys together in practices to form that chemistry.
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.
The Wolves broke camp in Mankato late Sunday afternoon and they open their seven-game preseason schedule Tuesday at Indiana and Flip Saunders has a plan.
He intends to play about 10 players -- "a lot of people," he says -- but not all of his veteran players, including veteran guard Kevin Martin who is out until at least Thursday because of a groin adductor strain that he injured in a scrimmage on Saturday.
"We want to look at a lot of different people, we want to look at a lot of lineup," Saunders said. "The main thing is to go through the process and evaluate players. We do have some evaluation to do amongst our players: Who's going to be here, but also what the lineups are going to be. We're not going to play everybody because then they don't get a chance to get a ful run.
"We'll probably pick 10 guys to play and who we pick has no bearing on where they are right now coming of camp. I know we'll play some guy who might not be starting if we were starting (the season) for good."
Saunders said he'll sit down with his coaches and head athletic trainer Gregg Farnam after Monday's practice and plot out a plan for players. He said the entire roster will travel to Indianapolis, even though eight players might not play much, if at all.
"We want to start preparing like it's a game," Saunders said. "We'll do the game-prep stuff. We'll do the walk-through and everything else, so the young guys -- and even the veterans, they haven't been around us -- will know how we deal with game-day situations."
The Wolves spent six days practicing against each other. Now they'll finally face somebody.
For a look at some of what they accomplished or learned from those six days in Mankato, here's the story for Monday's paper I wrote about five things that week away showed.
The Timberwolves have come through the first five days of training camp in Mankato relatively healthy, but not entirely so.
Veteran guard Kevin Martin is the latest to leave practice early, doing so this afternoon when he injured his groin while reaching to make a steal in a collision along a sideline during a scrimmage.
He immediately came up hobbling and signaled for the training staff.
Flip Saunders afterward said he doesn't yet know the severity of the injury but, given the timing so early in the preseason, he suggested they will exercise caution to be sure it doesn't become a lingering issue.
Meanwhile, Corey Brewer returned to practice today after leaving early because of his chipped teeth sustained in a collision with Thad Young.
He went to the Twin Cities late Friday afternoon to have what he called "patchwork" done on his front two teeth and will return to the dentist on Wednesday for more work.
In the meantime, he's wearing a mouthguard and, yes, he's still smiling.
"Always," he said.
A few other things from practice:
* Saunders continues to remark on camp's competitive nature and an attention to defense.
Asked how good defensively this team can be, he said, "I don't know. I think we have a chance. We understand the concepts. I think our athleticism give us the ability to help and recover. I'm not willing to step out yet but we are getting better. That's the main thing."
* Andrew Wiggins continues to impress on the defensive end more so than offensively so far.
"He's picking things up right now," Saunders said. "He's trying to put everything up and not do too much. He's real solid defensively. We haven't done a lot of offensive scrimmaging, so he hasn't had a chance as much in the open floor to show some things he can do. But he's impacted the defensive end."
* Saunders continues to praise J.J. Barea at point guard for his command in running the offense and from what I've seen in camp so far, it's genuine. He's had a good camp.
* Nikola Pekovic said he's has come through camp's opening five days feeling strong and said he had some soreness in his Achilles that contributed to sitting out Thursday's practice.
The Wolves will finish camp Sunday with an afternoon scrimmage -- closed to the public, but open to about 70 or 80 invited high-school coach -- and then head home to get ready for Tuesday's preseason opener at Indiana.
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