There is no question this area is hungry for a winning NBA team. That was evident after a capacity crowd announced at 15,200 showed up at Target Center on Wednesday night to see the Timberwolves show off newcomers such as Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones. Fans were turned away because the arena capacity for the Lynx is set up for a smaller crowd than for the Wolves.
Team President Chris Wright reported the Wolves sent out 300,000 e-mails about the event and 10,000 replied with most of them showing up. And if you are a judge of good basketball talent, you saw a group, minus Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Kevin Garnett, put on a fantastic show.
This team will have the athletic ability that will certainly make it a contender. And now it’s official that Garnett has signed a two-year contract and is healthy and has been working out on a regular basis at the new Mayo Clinic Square.
Wolves President of Basketball Operations and coach Flip Saunders said his staff worked hard to get to this moment, starting last year when they traded Kevin Love to Cleveland for Andrew Wiggins, who looks like a franchise cornerstone, and now with the drafting of Towns and Jones.
“We’re excited the way things turned out,” Saunders said. “I believe a lot of people put a lot of work in the organization to go through the process and evaluate players. We identified Towns of course was going to be our No. 1 pick and so we didn’t have to worry about anybody stealing him, and then we did identify Tyus as being someone that we thought would fill the roles of what we’re looking to do and had the character and leadership qualities. He’s a winner, as much as anything else, and that would really fit into what we’re trying to do. So even though we’re young, we have some players that are beyond their years in their ability to go out and perform, when you talk about a guy like Towns, as talented as he is.”
Saunders said he believes Jones, an Apple Valley High School product, will get the chance to learn behind and back up Rubio, who is signed through the 2018-19 season.
“Rubio has been our starting point guard, he will be our point guard to start with,” Saunders said. “Jones, as most rookies, will try to fit in and learn what the NBA game is about, try to fit in as a role-type player to start with, whether it’s a backup, you give him responsibility and see how he takes that responsibility and runs with it. Like I said, I don’t determine who plays, the players do in how well they play within the team concept. Tyus is a very confident individual and he went into Duke University and took that team by storm and led them to their NCAA championship.”
Along those same lines, Saunders said he does believe that Towns can start. That could mean a starting lineup of Rubio, Martin, Wiggins, Towns and Pekovic with Jones, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Garnett, Chase Budinger, Gorgui Dieng, Adreian Payne, EuroLeague MVP Nemanja Bjelica and Anthony Bennett coming off the bench.
“I do envision him starting, I think he has that quality, and it’s something we don’t have, a rim protector,” Saunders said of Towns. “He plays with a lot of personality, has good size, runs the floor. I think there’s no question that that’s something, but he’s going to have to go out there and prove that. We do that with all of our young guys. We did that with Wiggins, we anticipated he was going to start when the season started, but it was up to him to go out and prove it.”
One thing Saunders is sure of is that the Wolves will get great value out of having Garnett back on the roster.
“KG has the passion on how the game should be played,” Saunders said when asked how the 21-year vet can help teammates. “He has the passion on the commitment that players need to give. I had him when he was 19 years old and I felt like I had a little bit to do with that, and our organization, in instilling that passion in him, and he has taken that and run with that to high extremes.
“It’s always easier when you have a player in the locker room who can reinforce what your coaches are trying to do and what your organization is trying to do, and that’s something that KG for sure has always done.”
Confident in Fryer
Twins catcher Eric Fryer got his first start of the season Wednesday after being called up in place of Chris Herrmann, who was sent to Class AAA Rochester. Fryer went 2-for-3 with a big two-run double and a run scored in the 5-3 victory over Baltimore.
Manager Paul Molitor said the Twins are confident in Fryer’s ability and had no hesitations about calling him up.
“He has been up and down I think each of the last two or three years,” Molitor said. “He’s a very competent catcher. I think everyone loves throwing to that guy. You see his blocks, put the right fingers down, throws people out.
“He’s worked hard on his offense to be a guy that can contribute both ways, and it showed up today. He’s had a really nice first half offensively down there [at Rochester], got to catch a lot with [Josmil] Pinto’s concussion issues, and he’s taking advantage of it. So it’s good to get him back up here and give him a chance.”
Fryer hit .299 in 51 games with the Red Wings. Herrmann hit only .156 in 25 games with the Twins.
“With our situation here, the backup hasn’t gotten a lot of play [behind starter Kurt Suzuki],” Molitor said. “Chris made the team out of spring training, his at-bats were very sporadic, and I think as a result of that he was having a tough time finding his swing. It was time for him to go get some more consistent at-bats to find his game offensively and give Eric a shot.”
• While the Wolves are riding high these days, owner Glen Taylor suffered a real business setback when his farms lost 8.5 million chickens because of the recent bird flu epidemic.
• Twins closer Glen Perkins’ gift from his wife for being named to his third consecutive All-Star team was a new Porsche.
• Righthander Brandon Peterson, who graduated from Burnsville High School in 2010 and was a closer at Wichita State, was promoted from Class A Fort Myers to Class AA Chattanooga by the Twins. They selected him in the 13th round of the 2013 draft, and he had a 0.66 ERA over 40⅔ innings with 55 strikeouts and a 0.84 WHIP this year. Over his minor league career he has pitched 125⅔ innings with a 1.58 ERA, 179 strikeouts, 76 hits and 45 walks.
• Any consideration Richard Pitino might have given to Daquein McNeil returning to the Gophers men’s basketball team is over as McNeil was arrested twice in the last month, most recently Friday for allegedly contacting and assaulting the same victim he was arrested for assaulting last year.
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