The Timberwolves reconvened for practice Wednesday evening with a week’s All-Star break behind them and Thursday’s 2 p.m. trade deadline forthcoming.
They did so with veteran Tayshaun Prince back from an excused absence, Kevin Garnett still unable to practice because of a troublesome leg, and interim coach Sam Mitchell intrigued by the young starting lineup that made its debut in last week’s comeback victory over Toronto.
With Garnett sidelined and Prince in Detroit to help honor former teammate Chauncey Billups, Mitchell started Zach LaVine beside Ricky Rubio in the backcourt against the Raptors and shifted Andrew Wiggins to small forward alongside big men Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns.
It’s the lineup many Wolves fans had clamored for almost all season.
It’s the lineup Mitchell acknowledged he’ll probably use much more in the season’s final two months.
Until last week, Mitchell started Garnett and Prince at forward when they were healthy and/or available because he liked the stability and defensive knowledge they provided.
He watched his team trail Toronto by 18 points during the second quarter and then produce its season’s biggest comeback, a 117-112 victory and their third victory in four games just before they entered the NBA’s extended All-Star break.
They did so with LaVine paired with Rubio and Wiggins playing in Prince’s place. Towns called it a young lineup that adds athleticism and spreads the floor.
“I liked it, of course I liked it,” said LaVine, back after he won last weekend’s All-Star dunk contest and was named MVP in the Rising Stars Challenge. “I’m going to do my job. Off the bench or in the starting lineup, I’m going to play the same way. Whatever Coach does, we’re going to keep playing really well. I’m playing well. We’ll just keep it rolling.”
Mitchell apparently liked what he saw, too.
“I’m going to play with that lineup a little bit,” Mitchell said.
He said some nights Prince will still start at small forward, some nights LaVine and Wiggins will start together on the wing, depending on matchups.
What about when or if Garnett returns healthy? Will he move the future Hall of Famer to the bench for the first time since the beginning of his 21-season NBA career?
“We’ll see,” Mitchell said. “We’ll see where KG is at. Right now, I don’t have to make that decision. So I’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it.”
Garnett has missed the past nine games and didn’t practice Wednesday. Neither did center Nikola Pekovic, who remains bothered by that foot that required surgery last April, or forward Nemanja Bjelica, who hurt his right foot working out during the break and was on crutches Wednesday.
Mitchell said veteran guard Kevin Martin practiced Wednesday and will be available to play Friday at Memphis if he comes through Thursday’s practice without a setback on his shooting wrist.
That is, if Martin still is a Timberwolf by then.
The Wolves enter the final 28 games of their 82-game season Friday. Before they get there, Thursday’s trade deadline will come and go.
A year ago, that deadline came with the Wolves making last-second arrangements to finalize the trade that brought Garnett back to the franchise that drafted him in 1995.
This time, the Wolves likely won’t make such notable news. They might trade Martin so they won’t have his $7.4 million salary on their salary cap this summer if he chooses to exercise his player option for next season. Reserve forward Adreian Payne and veteran guard Andre Miller could be traded as well, but any deal involving Ricky Rubio — part of some of the league’s most prominent and unsubstantiated rumors this last week — won’t happen unless the team can upgrade at point guard.
“When the trade deadline comes, you’re going to hear a lot of names floating around,” Mitchell said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean we put their names out there. It’s just people speculating and saying things. They [his players] just can’t worry about it. They just have to continue to play, come to practice, work and not worry about it. It’s just a part of our business.”