The guy who would have been Timberwolves coach came home again Saturday. In doing so, Memphis’ Dave Joerger channeled his inner Andy Dufresne from “The Shawshank Redemption” when speaking about his home-state team that transformed its atmosphere by bringing Kevin Garnett back home.

Just remember hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies.

“People here say, ‘Oh, they support a winner,’ and that’s every city, but this state just wants hope,” said Joerger, who grew up in Staples, Minn., and in eight years in Memphis has watched the Grizzlies transform into big winners. “They’re seeing that now with the young guys and how hard they play. Adding Kevin gives them like a vision to help the young guys see that it’s not that far out there. If you do this, this and this every day, you’re going to get better. If you keep adding those days together, you’re going to get better, and within two years, watch out.”

Maybe it’s his Minnesota upbringing or trying to gain an edge after his team lost its last time into Target Center three weeks ago, but Joerger praised the Wolves to no end before Saturday’s game.

“If you threw the records out, they’re playing as a top-eight team in the West right now,” he said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence. Talk about a team that’s having fun. They’ve got nothing to lose. They go and compete really hard. They have a life to them.”

Joerger praised Wolves coach/chief executive Flip Saunders — the man who tried to hire him as coach last summer — for acquiring rookies Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Adreian Payne to go along with Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Gorgui Dieng and Kevin Martin.

And there was the trade for Garnett, who was ejected from Saturday’s game in the third quarter after getting his second technical foul of the night.

“It’s pretty cool, it really is,” said Joerger, who was a college student in Moorhead, Minn., when the Wolves drafted Garnett in 1995. “To watch the intro and see the game the other night and the energy in the building and the state getting excited, it is really cool because it runs deep. It’s got a history and everybody always has been in love with Kevin. He’s part of the family. It was certainly hard to see it end, and now that he’s back, I’m excited for the organization and the state.”

If you believe that …

Saunders isn’t buying Joerger’s suggestion that the now-healthy Wolves suddenly are among the Western Conference’s best eight teams.

“I don’t know about that,” he said. “At the beginning of the year, we felt if we could maintain our health, we’d be in there with New Orleans and other teams fighting a playoff spot. It didn’t work out that way, but we’re trying to make the best of it with player development, team development setting us up for this summer and next year.”


• Wolves forward Robbie Hummel missed his 15th consecutive game Saturday because of a fractured hand. Saunders said he hoped Hummel would be playing by now and that doctors will take a further look at it this week. Saunders also said forward Anthony Bennett probably is two weeks away from returning from a sprained ankle.

• Memphis forward and Orono’s own Jon Leuer on a photo of him posing with Garnett when Leuer was 8 or 9 at one of Garnett’s summer camps: “That was a long time ago; it’d be hard to imagine he remembers that. To see him back in a Wolves uniform, it’s the right fit for the end of his career.”