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.
Wolves president of basketball operations and head coach Flip Saunders spoke at some length today about Thursday’s draft. And while much of his time was spent reiterating company lines we’ve already heard on a number of subjects (including Kevin Love’s immediate future), there were some nuggets to be had.
First let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. Saunders isn’t tipping his hand in regards to Love, but it didn’t prevent reporters from asking about it today.
He was asked if he’d talked with Love lately.” I talk to all of our players,’’ he responded.
Saunders was asked about the prospects of trading Love by Thursday night. “I’ve been saying it for four weeks,” Saunders said. “I feel comfortable with the guys that we have. If we can get something that makes our team better, we’ll do it. If we don’t, we’ll stay pat and go forward and enter into free agency on July 1.’’
Saunders also said he felt the draft was an “artificial deadline” when it came to trades, and that, historically, few top players get dealt by that day. “I don’t know about the prospects of us trading anybody by Thursday night.”
In other items:
--Asked if he thought Cleveland would trace the No. 1 overall pick: “Nothing would surprise me,” he said. “They’ve always done a lot of things out of the box. It wouldn’t surprise me, but I’ll still be surprised if they do.”
--About how busy the phones have been at Wolves headquarters? Flip mentioned that he took three calls before he came to talk with the media. He said the phone is busy from 8 a.m. into the wee hours of the next morning. He likened that building buzz to the feeding frenzy of feeding catfish. He said most of the work is being done by teams with a lot of picks, who feel that trading the uncertain value of a pick for a proven player is the way to go. He mentioned Philadelphia, which has two top 10 picks and a bunch of second-round picks, as a major player.
What Philly does, Saunders said, could have an impact on the rest of the top of the draft. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “I thought there might be some (movement) if (Joel) Embiid hadn’t got hurt. But now with him hurt, I believe that the top is pretty much zeroed in.”
--Saunders said the Wolves are preparing as if Embiid and Dario Saric will be available when the Wolves draft at No. 13. This is, of course, because of Embiid’s foot surgery and Saric’s decision to stay in Europe for another year.
--Saunders said the much-praised draft class is a deep one, especially in this sense:
“Here’s what I think,’’ he said. “I believe the draft, players taken at 17, 18 and 19, those players have the ability to be rotation players next year. To play 15, 20 minutes. If you can get that out of a draft you feel pretty good. So what people felt it was a deep draft because you had the three great players at the top and then you had the depth behind. … I believe there is a lot of potential in the draft and a lot of guys who will go in the top 10 have a chance to be All Star players.”
--Flip wouldn’t touch the whole issue regarding reports of LeBron James opting out of his Miami contract.
--Flip was asked about how important character was when drafting. During his answer Saunders offered this nugget about something he calls an S-box regarding players the team won’t draft. “It’s a box I call an S-box,” he said. “I put players in there and that means no matter what we’re not touching those guys. We’ve got a few guys in that box. As we brought the 60 guys in to work out, I told them you don’t want to get into that box, because it’ll hurt you a little bit.’’
Meanwhile, newly-hired assistant Sam Mitchell talked today.
Mitchell allowed that his return to the NBA comes with the hope that this job will perhaps lead to another head coaching job. But, for now, that is not his focus. “My focus is on helping Flip, getting the Timberwolves back to where we want them to be. We have great fan support here. They appreciate hard work. They appreciate effort. They appreciate good team basketball. That’s something, playing here all those years under Flip, that we did.”
That’s about all for now. Have a great rest of your day.
I sat down with Flip Saunders on Thursday afternoon to do reporting for my Sunday draft preview story and pieces that will run next week leading up to next Thursday's draft.
I'm saving all the Kevin Love and draft-specific stuff until then, but here's a bunch of this and that from our conversation:
* I asked him if he's going to need to move players other than Love because, with players still to be added through a Love trade and the draft, of a surplus of players at, say, small forward.
"It depends," he said. "Is Luc Mbah a Moute a small forward or a power forward? The other small forward basically are '2' guards: Corey, Bud, Shabazz, Kevin Martin and then Luc slides over (to power forward). You look at Alexey. He can probably play both (guard spots) and you have the two point guards. I don't think our roster is overly unbalanced now. We've got three guys who are basically centers."
* He said he envisions centers Gorgui Dieng and Ronny Turiaf both playing some at power forward and said he thinks Nikola Pekovic and Dieng can play together some, with Pek at center and Dieng mobile enough to defend out on the floor at the power-forward spot.
"I think you can play them (together),' he said. "I think that's probably something we've work on a lot this summer, to see Gorgui's ability to play out on the floor a little bit more. I always say what position you are is who you can guard and I think he can guard 4s."
* Saunders said he expects Dieng, Shved and Muhammad to play at Vegas Summer League next month. He also wants Chase Budinger to come to Minneapolis for three days of practice before and possibly even play a couple games in Vegas so Saunders and his staff can see how Budinger's knee rehab is going.
"We've had a long talk about things," Saunders said. "As I told him, we probably did him an injustice. Everyone was so anxious to get him back (from October knee surgery, his second in 11 months), Rick wanted him back. We probably should have put him in the D League for a couple weeks because what happens is, he came back and the other team was running the 220 (yard) sprint) and got around to the 110 (mark) and Chase was at a standstill. They went by him and he could never catch 'em. We needed to put him where he could get his confidence going and when he did get it going, then the next game he sprained his ankle the last couple weeks of the season."
* Saunders said Dieng has gained weight -- some 10, 15 pounds -- and Muhammad has lost some (7 or 8 pounds) and he'd like to see both continue to progress in that area.
* He said he hasn't decided who will coach the Vegas games, but added they'll probably switch the duties around. That could mean just-named assistants Sidney Lowe and Sam Mitchell could coach a game or two, as could Saunders' son Ryan, who hasn't been officially hired yet.
He said David Adelman, who has a year left on his contract, will be on the staff but hasn't decided yet whether Bobby Jackson will be back as player development coach or who might fill that role or roles.
* He did confirm he went to Chicago Tuesday to watch Creighton small forward Doug McDermott and Michigan guard Nik Stauskas work out and said he has gone to see other prospect(s) work out but wouldn't say who.
* A bit more about when I asked him if there's a chance he'll trade that 13th overall pick.
"No," he said. "I shouldn't say no. Let me put it this way: You can always trade a pick. That hasn't entered my mind. I didn't think I was going to trade me pick last year (when he swapped No. 9 for 14 and 21 and took Muhammad and Dieng). Things can happen. I do think there's more of a box now (of possible players to pick) than I did before. This morning I got something from somebody that (top 3 prospect Joel) Embiid broke his foot and (European prospect Dario) Saric is going back to Europe for two more years. If Saric goes back, he maybe falls and keeps on falling. You never know what will happen."
* He appears to be targeting shooting -- I hear McDermott, Stauskas and Adreian Payne all are high on his list -- but reiterated that he feels the team needs to add two-way players -- i.e. guys who can play defense, too -- most to this roster.
"You still need to add shooting, you can never have too much shooting," he said. "I mean, you can look at it different ways. We had trouble shooting last year but we scored a lot of points. We may have had trouble shooting, but we rebounded the hell out of it and we got to the free-throw line. You want to find that balance. I don't think you totally want to substitute shooting where we have one-way type players, though."
* One last thing from me: If Wolves try to clear roster spots and decided to do so by finding a new home for Shved, don't be surprised if Cleveland is such a home. The Cavs were one of the finalists to sign him in 2011 and chosen coach Dave Blatt coached him with the Russian Olympic team in London in 2012.
You can tell Ronny Turiaf has been around the NBA and the world by two things he has done recently:
First, he made a veteran move and slipped out of Flip Saunders' introductory news conference as coach last week and headed back to his summer internship while reporters were busy talking to rookie Gorgui Dieng instead.
And now on Sunday -- or Monday, actually -- he was wise enough to head west rather than east with the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program developed to spread the game with youth camps worldwide and was able to watch the San Antonio Spurs win their fifth NBA title while having breakfast in Taipei. If he had gone to Europe or Africa on his latest trip with Basketball Without Borders, he would have watched the game in the middle of the night.
Either way, he actually only sort of watched it because buddies Boris Diaw and Tony Parker were playing with so much at stake.
"I tried not to watch too much," Turiaf said.
Too nervous or didn't want to jinx them?
"A little bit of both," Turiaf said.
Turiaf talked by phone early Monday morning Twin Cities time as he headed in a bus just after lunchtime in Taiwan and at that point hadn't tried to text or make contact with congratulations for his friends.
"I'm trying not to have an exorbitant cell-phone bill while I'm over here," Turiaf said.
He is there with Wolves player development coach Bobby Jackson, Toronto's John Salmons and Charlotte's Cody Zeller spreading the game, just as Turiaf had done with previuos Basketball Without Borders excursions to India, Senegal and France.
"This is my fourth edition, something I pride myself on," Turiaf said. "I like just traveling, different countries. It changes my perspective on everything that surrounds me."
This time, he went to Taiwan with his mother.
He shared what he called a "confession" while on the phone.
"My dream is to go to every country in the world," he said. "To be able to come here is something I've always wanted. To get to know the culture, that's something I've very proud of. It's similar to other Asian countries, but with its own twist."
He heads back to the United States on Tuesday and will spend time in Los Angeles before he returns to Minneapolis in mid July to continue a summer-internship with the Olson ad agency in which he is learning public-relations, advertising, video-production and social-media skills he can apply to use with his Heart-to-Heart Foundation.
He's doing that internship in two-week stints, and getting paid $13 an hour.
By the time he gets back to Minnesota, he knows his team could look very different, should Kevin Love be traded by then.
Turiaf was with Flip Saunders briefly in Washington and says Saunders was one of the reasons he decided to sign with the Wolves last summer.
"I know as an organization that Flip will try to make every single step necessary," Turiaf said. "At the end of the day, everybody has to be happy. That's what all parties are doing...Everybody is entitled to their own explanation of things. You never know what people truly feel in their heart. I know Kevin is a winner. He wants to win basketball games. He has proven that because he goes out every single night to win...It's an unusual situation."
Former Gophers guard Justin Cobbs returned to Minnesota for Saturday's pre-draft workout at Target Center, four years after he transferred after one season spent in the Big Ten.
Cobbs played little during his freshman season for Tubby Smith, then transferred back home to California and played the next three seasons at Cal.
Now he's a 6-3, 195-poind point guard who called himself Saturday all grown up.
He said he'd bring defense and leadership if the Wolves decided to use one of their three second-round picks on him.
"I'm a senior so I'm a leader," he said. "I've been in tough situations before. I've been yelled at before. I've been all around the block, so I've experienced everything. I think I'm ready to take constructive criticism and take it in a positive manner."
He arrived Friday after working out for the Wizards in Washington and is headed back to Las Vegas, his pre-draft base, this afternoon for a few days' rest before hitting the road for more workouts in advance of the June 26 draft.
"It's great to be back," Cobbs said. "A lot of memories here. Just seeing different things, seeing downtown again, seeing Target Center. It's good to be back."
When asked for a NBA comparison, Cobbs said he's some combination of Indiana's George Hill and New Orleans' Jrue Holiday.
Cobbs, 23, was part of a six-man workout Saturday morning that included Michigan State stretch power-forward Adreian Payne and UCLA's Kyle Anderson, a 6-9 player who can play point guard or point forward.
Payne is the first real candidate for the 13th overall pick whom the Wolves have brought to town. Expect them to consider guys like Michigan guard Nic Stauskas, Creighton's Doug McDermott and Kentucky's James Young if any or all of them are still there on draft night.
"I think what a lot of people are looking for and what I'm working on is showing I can hit the three," Payne said. "I think I showed it today."
Asked if he's a little like Kevin Love -- the guy he could replace -- in that way, Payne said, "I really don't watch a lot of basketball, but he is a great player. I'm just trying to get better."
When asked to compare himself to a current NBA player, Payne suggested Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka because Ibaka can stretch defenses with his shooting, blocks shots and defend inside.
That's a pretty good guy to pick.
I think the Wolves would take that.
NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper interviewed Ricky Rubio stay during his appearance at the annual Eurocamp in Italy about his future and Kevin Love's future in Minnesota.
Here's the story with a link to separate video done with him.
While in Treviso, Rubio also did a video interview with Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler in which he was asked about the Wolves' naming Flip Saunders as coach.
It sounded like less than a resounding endorsement to me, but check it out here and decide for yourself.
Here are the highlights of what Rubio told NBA.com:
* He said he wants Love to stay in Minnesota and still wants to play in Minnesota even if Love doesn't, but made it clear he doesn't want to step backward and go through the process of rebuilding again.
"I like Minnesota," he said. "But I want to win, too. Of course when a big guy like him leaves, you're thinking about what's going to be happening with the team. Are we going to lose a lot? Before I came to Minnesota, the season before they won like 17 games. I was a little scared when I went there. I'm coming from Europe, where I was playing in Barcelona. I think we lost six game or seven games in two season and every loss was a disaster. I don't want to go through a process like every win is something special."
* He's flying to Los Angeles on Monday for workouts, including work with a new shooting coach. But he made it clear the trip doesn't mean he'll play for the Lakers, a nod to Love's visit to Boston a week ago.
* He said he'll call and talk to Love soon after he arrives back in the United States. "He’s my teammate and I want to know how he feels and if he wants to stay or whatever,” Rubio told NBA.com. “But it’s something that I think we had a good relationship and we can talk as friends. Of course I want him to stay.”
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