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.
Well, pen hasn’t been put to paper yet. But Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders talked via phone with forward Derrick Williams today, informing him of the team’s intent to pick up his option for next season. It should be official by the end of the week. Saunders, who is on the road, will be back in town and the two will meet face-to-face Friday to seal the deal.
“It helps, (having) the security,” said Williams, whose option for the 2014-15 season will bring him close to $6.7 million. “You’re guaranteed at least one more year in the NBA. As long as you have that, I think everything is good.”
For Williams, security is a pretty big deal. It seems one rumor after another has had him out of town basically from the time he was picked second overall in the 2011 draft. Not that this will change things that much. Saunders has said from the beginning it doesn’t make sense to let assets walk away from the organization. So the team was going to pick up this option on Williams pretty much no matter what. Williams has the security of knowing his contract is guaranteed, but he doesn’t know for sure where that job will take him. Still, that guarantee is important.
Williams, entering his second season, has yet to establish himself as a starter with the Wolves. Indeed, he was challenged by the Wolves during camp, a challenge coach Rick Adelman said Williams has accepted. “I think he’s played very hard,” Adelman said. “He rebounded the ball very well the other night. It’s a process for him. It’s hard, because he has had to play two spots. He has to jump back and forth.’’
Williams has bounced between power forward and small forward. Adelman started Williams at the small forward spot in Minnesota’s preseason victory over Boston in Montreal Sunday. For Williams, the biggest challenge at the small forward position is on defense. “At that spot you’re playing a totally different player than you are at the four spot,” Adelman said.
That said, Williams – who dropped 20 pounds during the offseason trying to add more quickness, appears to be a player eager to take the next step.
“I was 20 years old when I got into the NBA and now I’m 22,” Williams said. “And I’m still growing and I’m still learning. I’ve always heard that, as you get older, you’re going to figure things out. And that’s what I’ve been doing.’’
Williams, who worked with the second unit through most of training camp, said he was a little surprised to get the start Sunday. But he said he hopes to have more going forward. “Being in the starting lineup? I think I deserve to be. That’s why they drafted me here. They didn’t draft me to come off the bench, things like that. Ultimately, it’s up to coach. I’m just here to play basketball.”
Adelman said he plans on using different starting lineups over the next two preseason games, starting Wednesday night in Philadelphia, in order to help figure out his rotations. In a perfect world, Adelman said he’d like to bring Corey Brewer off the bench rather than start him at small forward because of the energy he can bring to the game in a reserve role.
Meanwhile, the team also has until the start of the regular season to pick up Ricky Rubio’s $5 million option for next season and will do so; the decision on Rubio’s contract is nothing but a formality.
Here are some other tidbits from today’s practice:
--Adelman praised the improved consistency his starters showed Sunday, especially in the second half of the victory over Boston. “They came out and they were much more intense in that second half than they were earlier,” Adelman said.
--Adelman was asked how hard it is to be the coach of a team that travels as much or more than any other team in the league. Specifically, he was asked if he ever tried to address it with the league. “We asked the league to change it,” he deadpanned. “And they sent us to Mexico. So, don’t ask again.”
That’s about it for now. Jerry will pick up the team in Philly.
The Wolves will pick up Derrick Williams' $6.7 million contract option for 2014-15 and do the same with Ricky Rubio's $5 million option as well, a team source confirms.
The decision on Rubio's contract before next week's season opener is nothing but a formality.
The Williams' decision pretty much was one, too, despite all the Internet chatter whether they'd really commit to another contract that could leave them fairly handcuffed right near the luxury tax.
Flip Saunders has said his philosophy is you can't just let assets walk away for nothing, and Williams would have been an unrestricted free agent next summer if they didn't pick up the option.
And you particularly don't do it with former No. 2 pick, even if Williams still is trying to find his way in the league here in his third year.
Saunders obviously feels Williams is an asset -- at least a $6.7M one -- whether it's for the Wolves long term or to trade here for another asset either sooner or later.
Saunders reminds often that Williams is just 22.
By picking up the Williams option, the Wolves could just be limited to the mid-level exception next summer to make moves under the cap, unless they make other transactions to cut payroll.
The Wolves officially introduced veteran center Ronny Turiaf today before a youthful audience at the Ronald McDonald House on the U of M campus today and he showed up with the No. 32 jersey he will wear in Minnesota.
Turiaf has worn No. 21 much of his career, but Kevin Garnett wore that for the Wolves all those years, of course.
Turiaf called Garnett “my favorite player, one of my favorite players” and said “I love his passion for the game. Out of respect, I could not wear No. 21.”
So he called heart-surgery soulmate Fred Hoiberg and asked the Iowa State coach for his “blessing” to wear the 32 that Hoiberg once wore for the Wolves.
Hoiberg and Turiaf have become friends for life, bond together by the same heart surgery each had nearly a decade ago.
“We have this special bond nobody but the two of us can understand,” Turiaf said. “I thought, for me, it was so natural to pay homage. He helped me get through the most difficult time of my life.”
Here’s a bunch of other stuff from chats with Flip Saunders and Turiaf this morning:
Also now that Flip’s in charge, don’t expect back-to-back games next preseason. He doesn’t like them.
The Wolves officially announced this afternoon that Washington Wizards executive Milt Newton is their new general manager.
Newton, a member of the 1988 NCAA championship team under Larry Brown and with Danny Manning at Kansas, had been with the Wizards for the last decade, most recently as vice president of player personnel.
Flip Saunders worked with Newton when he coached the Wizards a few years back.
Before that, he worked for the NBA helping to create the D-League, was an assistant direction for USA Basketball men's national teams and was a scout for the 76ers.
If you're wondering, the GM title is just semantics: President of basketball operations still trumps all and Saunders still will be making the decisions.
Newton will assist Saunders in evaluation and acquistion of players and help Saunders manage basketball operations, the team said in a release announcing Newton's hiring.
Newton will be formally introduced as a Tuesday news conference at Target Center.
His hiring -- as well as the May hiring of Calvin Booth -- adds diversity to a Wolves front office that has noticeably lacked it during most of the team's 25 seasons.
The official hiring of former Gophers star and former Timberwolf Bobby Jackson as player development coach is next. That likely will come Monday.
For those asking, Jackson's arrival means Shawn Respert won't be back in that role. Respert and David Adelman both worked as player development coaches last season; Adelman has been promoted to an assistant coach now that Bill Bayno has taken a job with Toronto.
The Wolves are in contract discussions to bring former Gophers star Bobby Jackson back to Minnesota and back to the franchise as a player development coach to replace David Adelman, according to a league source.
Jackson starred for two seasons for that Gophers team that reached the 1997 Final Four -- or didn't, if you're the NCAA -- and played in the NBA for both Flip Saunders with the Wolves and Rick Adelman in Sacramento and Houston.
My colleague Sid Hartman phoned in the Jackson news to the sports desk late last night, too late for it to get into the paper, and a source confirmed it this morning.
Jackson was a Kings assistant coach the last two seasons -- and their basketball operations special assistant for two years before that -- before Sacramento made sweeping ownership and management changes last summer. The Kings announced in June that they were replacing their entire coaching staff, but said Jackson was the one assistant coach who would be retained in a different job.
Jackson played 123 games for Flip and the Wolves in the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons and then played five seasons for Rick Adelman in Sacramento and won NBA Sixth Man award one of those seasons, in 2003.
Jackson, 40, would fill the job previously held by David Adelman, who has been promoted to full-time assistant now that Bill Bayno is gone to become Dwane Casey's first assistant in Toronto.
Expect those discussions with Jackson to be finalized and made official shortly.
The Wolves also are traveling down the same road with Washington front-office exec Milt Newton to join them in a general manager's type of role on the basketball personnel side.
Saunders interviewed Newton in Washington last week and both Newton and Wizards assistant trainer/rehab coordinator Koichi Sato are expected to come over from Washington. Sato likely will be named as the team's new strength coach.
Flip worked with both when he was the Wizards head coach.
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