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.
Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng arrived in Minnesota today and met the media at Target Center.
Muhammad, the Timberwolves’ top pick in Thursday’s draft, elicited immediate negative reaction from fans, who on chat boards and radio call-ins noted his me-first, shoot-first playing style.
The Wolves, who entered the draft in desperate need of a shooting guard, failed to draft one despite having three first-round picks. Making matters worse, the perception is that Muhammad’s style will be a tough fit in coach Rick Adelman’s passing offense that relies on team play.
New Wolves GM Flip Saunders said Friday that Muhammad and fellow first-round pick Dieng were “winners’’ who he deemed “NBA ready to contribute.’’ Both picks appeared at a Friday press conference.
Muhammad did his best to dispel the critics. Asked if his reputation as a selfish player was something he had to address during pre-draft workouts for teams, Muhammad did not shy away from his past.
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “That’s one thing I’m really working on, figuring it out. It makes life way easlier to be unselfish, for yourself and your teammates. I’m concentrating on that.’’
Muhammad was the 14th overall pick out of UCLA, and Dieng, a center from national champion Louisville, was 21st overall.
The Timberwolves extended a qualifying offer to Nikola Pekovic, making him a restricted free agent.
The move, a formality, was expected. The Wolves can match any offer made to Pekovic as a result.
The 27-year-old center averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game last season.
Pekovic was the team's 31st overall pick in the 2008 draft.
Citing a lack of “impact players” available, Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders sounded like a man unlikely to move up in Thursday’s NBA draft.
The Wolves hold the No. 9 and No. 26 picks in the draft, which Saunders said is full of good players but not great ones. By impact, Saunders means players who project to be All Stars within a year or two of entering the league. “In order to move up, and dilute the talent pool on your roster, you have to get an impact player,” Saunders said.
That would indicate that Saunders – who said he is in touch daily with teams around the league – is not eager to pay the price to move up in the draft.
So, assuming the Wolves stand pat, it appears most likely the team will address its need for a three-point shooter. Both C.J. McCollum and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are both strong-shooting off guards who could be available when the Wolves pick comes up.
Not that Saunders was about to tip his hand. Indeed, Saunders said the only position he wouldn’t consider with a first-round pick would be point guard. After that? Anything could happen, he insisted.
The team needs to bolster its three-point shooting, make sure the team has enough big men.
But it appears bolstering perimeter play is a priority.
Saunders pointed to the recently-concluded NBA finals as proof that teams need to be effective from behind the three-point like to be successful. The Wolves, last in the NBA in three-point shooting last season, figure to improve simply by getting healthier; Kevin Love will be back, and Saunders hopes to bring back free agent Chase Budinger.
But the team needs more depth on the perimeter.
“We need shooting, but we want a multi-purpose player,” Saunders said. “We want a two-way player, not a player who is just a shooter. There are a few players who have the ability to do that.”
Both McCollum – whose senior season at Lehigh was cut short with a left foot injury -- and Caldwell-Pope are players fitting that mold. “They’re both good players,” Saunders said. “Both have the ability to knock down shots, both are multi-dimensional players. Both played where their teams (Caldwell-Pope played for Georgia) didn’t get a lot of publicity – McCollum because he got hurt.”
Pope is taller, Saunders said, while McCollum has more range. “But I don’t think we’ll look at just one factor when taking somebody,” Saunders said.
It might not be his call, as many draft experts have McCollum coming off the board before the Wolves make the No. 9 pick.
Here are some other notes from today:
--Saunders was late to the press conference because the team was working out North Texas forward Tony Mitchell. Saunders said it was the last pre-draft workout for the team.
--Saunders said a number of players had gathered in California to work out together. That group includes Love, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams, Budinger and Chris Johnson. It is possible J.J. Barea could join them, as could Alexey Shved, who is supposed to be in the country later this summer.
--Saunders said there was perhaps only one player of the many the team brought in for workouts who he wouldn’t consider drafting because of the impression that player left. Saunders, of course, would not name the player.
--Andrei Kirilenko has not yet told the team whether or not he will exercise his $10 million player option for next season. “I have an inclination,” Saunders said of the situation. “Not going to tell you.” Kirilenko’s deadline is Saturday, and Saunders said he probably won’t know of Kirilenko’s decision until after the draft, which could complicate the team’s draft-day decisions.
The Wolves, unless there's a late change of plans, are down to their final three days of workouts this week before next week's NBA draft.
They've got former Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe, North Carolina forward Reggie Bullock, New Mexico forward Tony Snell, Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas, Arizona State swingman Carrick Felix and Utah center Jason Washburn.
Bullock, Snell and Thomas all are candidates if they're still around when and if the Wolves use that second first-round pick, 26th overall.
Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum is due in on Tuesday and the Wolves, as of right now, are scheduled to hold their final day of workouts on Friday.
If you're wondering about the Wolves moving up after Flip Saunders' visit to Washington D.C., to see Victor Oladipo last weekend...I'd say there's a better cha ce they move up from the 26th pick into the late teens or early 20s to make sure they get a guy they like than it is they'll be able to move up far enough to get Oladipo.
Flip Saunders headed to Las Vegas after the Timberwolves finished the third and final days of workouts at Target Center on Thursday, and by Saturday he'll be three time zones over in Miami.
Yes, he's got a lot of work to do before the June 27 draft.
Saunders supervised his team's first individual workouts Thursday, when the Wolves brought four shooting guards to town along with a couple of big men.
Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the only one of the four the Wolves will consider taking with that ninth overall pick.
The other three -- Cal's Allen Crabbe, Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. and Providence's Ricky Ledo -- all are candidates for that 26th pick.
Saunders praised all four for their good shooting and good size, two of the biggest needs in a new shooting guard.
Caldwell-Pope shot it well from the little we got to see at the end of the workouts, but didn't look to me as big and/or long as the other three.Crabbe is longer, Ledo and Hardaway both a bit taller than the 6-5 1/2 Caldwell-Pope.
When asked what he learned about Caldwell-Pope, Saunders said, "Nothing more than we knew about him before. Just what the scouting report says: Can shoot the ball, has good size, good quickness. He was a very very good player in the SEC. The things people said about him, that's what he does. That's what you like about him. I believe he's a player who has a lot of upside and he's a two-way player."'
Saunders made it clear he's looking for size and shooting in a much-needed shooting guard.
He headed to Vegas to attend a pro there Friday featuring Russian shooting guard Sergey Karasev, a teammate of Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved on the Russian Olympic team.
Then Saunders will fly to Miami to meet Ricky Rubio for the first time since he replaced David Kahn as the team's new boss.
He'll head to Italy next week for the annual Eurocamp. The team won't hold more Target Center workouts until he returns, starting, as they have it scheduled now, June 12.
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