The Timberwolves are slated to open training camp Tuesday with their first practice, and in advance of that they held their annual media day Monday. With a lot of new faces on the court combined with a transition in the front office and coaching staff with Flip Saunders taking a leave to battle cancer, there were plenty of interesting items from the day. Here are some highlights:
FOCUS ON THE REBUILD
*General Manager Milt Newton talked about the vision of the organization, particularly with the shift to interim head coach Sam Mitchell. Newton said Mitchell will bring his own wrinkles to the court but that overall the mission is still the same: player development, even if it comes at the expense of shorter-term gains.
Said Newton: “This is something I’ve been doing for two years with Flip. Nothing really has changed. Most definitely the vision is still to develop our young players. We’d love to make the playoffs, but we’re not going to circumvent the process that it’s going to take to be a perennial playoff team. You have to win to learn how to win, but overall the vision is to develop that young core we have to become that perennial playoff team.”
Mitchell echoed those sentiments when he talked after Newton, noting that it will be tough for him as a coach to not always use veteran security blankets like Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince at the ends of games. Talking about his young players, Mitchell said:
“At some point, they’ve gotta learn how to play in those situations. Kevin’s not going to be here three years from now. Andre’s not going to be here three years from now. Tayshaun’s not going to be here three years from now. I have to make sure I’m doing right by the organization first. Doing right by them is making sure these young guys get a chance to learn how to play in certain situations. It’s tough as a coach because you want to have a chance to win. Obviously veteran guys give you a little bit better chance to win.”
Injuries were a major factor for the Wolves last season, particularly the nagging/lingering types that clung to Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic. Both players are trying to prove they can be healthy this season. But it doesn’t sound like either is a full 100 percent heading into training camp.
Though Rubio said his ankle feels great and he’s been cleared for full 5-on-5 drills, Newton stopped short of saying the point guard is completely healed. It sounds more like caution than anything serious, with Rubio saying the plan is to ease into camp to make sure he’s ready for the start of the regular season, but it bears watching given his history.
Said Rubio: “I’m feeling good. I’ve been working all summer to be healthy. … I’m pretty sure I’m going to be fine.”
As for Pekovic, he’s probably a little further behind Rubio in terms of his health as he continues to work his way back from foot problems. The plan is for him to start running in a few weeks, which isn’t far away from the start of the regular season. Said Pekovic: “I don’t believe nothing until I start running.”
D-LEAGUE FOR TYUS?
Newton said the organization is exploring ways to better utilize the NBA Development League, and he specifically mentioned local favorite Tyus Jones as a candidate to spend time playing at that level. Jones was a first-round pick in the June draft, but the Wolves also have Rubio and Miller on the roster. That said, Miller gave a glowing review of Jones from their early work.
“Man, I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people,” Miller said. “He’s a mature kid. He’s way more advanced than a lot of people think and more advanced than I was at 19 years old. He’s going to definitely surprise a lot of people.”
QUOTES AND NUGGETS
*Rubio greeted the assembled media with an enthusiastic, “Good morning.” It was 1:04 p.m. when he said it.
*KG on Flip: “I’m being optimistic and positive just like everyone should be. The family isn’t really communicating a lot, but that’s their wishes and I’m here to support their wishes.”
*KG when asked if he still plans to become a team owner with the Wolves someday: “That’s the plan. … No details at this point, but that’s the plan.”
*I asked Miller and Jones who would win this three-on-three game: Tyus, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins vs. KG, Miller and Prince. You can imagine what each said, but I’ll have a video of that up in a little while as well as a separate blog post on what I think is going to be the most interesting dynamic on the team this year: mixing the extreme veterans with the extremely young guys.