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Scott Howard-Cooper

Although his career is still young, Derrick Williams hasn't quite lived up to Minnesota's expectations.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Writing appears to be on wall for Wolves' Williams

Posted Jul 26 2012 10:16AM

So now it's Andrei Kirilenko, possibly at the wild sum of $20 million for two seasons plus a player option for a third, according to Yahoo! Sports. Before that, it was Nicolas Batum, speaking of wild offers. And Chase Budinger, in a semi-pricey trade.

But let's face it. This is really about Derrick Williams.

How can it not be? The Timberwolves have spent the offseason stabbing at small forward after small forward, by any means possible. Sign. Trade. Sign-and-trade. Restricted free agents. Unrestricted free agents. Americans. Imports.

While most teams clear a path for a No. 2 selection heading into his second season, the Timberwolves are searching the globe for a new permanent starter. They weren't going to strain the salary cap to pry restricted free agent Batum from the Trail Blazers -- reports were four years and $46.5 million, though Portland GM Neil Olshey said the dollar amount was wrongly inflated -- to be a backup. Kirilenko, who can also play power forward when Minnesota goes small with Kevin Love at center, wouldn't leave a starring role with CSKA Moscow in his native Russia to mentor Williams. (Aside: By the end of AK-47's 10 seasons in Utah, the Jazz no longer considered him a standout defender. A good shot blocker for a small forward, but not able to stay in front of his man enough.)

The Timberwolves are one season into Williams and they're not hiding any concerns about his direction. Just maybe the heavy-handed attempt at Batum, followed by a willingness to reportedly invest eight figures a year to lure Kirilenko back to the NBA is confirmation, both after giving up a decent trade chip, the No. 18 pick in the draft, to the Rockets for Budinger. But if that requires a little too much reading between the lines, there is always the image of coach Rick Adelman as an NBA TV guest during the Timberwolves-Clippers Summer League game July 16 in Las Vegas, sledgehammer barely concealed under the table.

"He wants to be a three man," Adelman said on the broadcast of Williams losing 15 pounds since last season, according to a transcript in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "To be a three man, he's going to have to be much more active and handle the ball and defend that spot. We're trying to give him the opportunity to see what he can do because he can play both spots. He can't just be a jump shooter at the three spot. He has to pound the ball inside and go to the boards. He's bigger than most three men and stronger than most three men. He's got to use those abilities.

"He does float. He can't do it. He's got to be aggressive all the time. He's got the ability. He's quicker than four men, but he avoids contact. He can't just settle for jump shots. He can be a player in this league but he can't be on cruise control. I told him coming into this thing, 'You're not here for a workout, you're here to dominate.' "

Told it didn't sound as if he was sold on Williams at small forward, Adelman said, "I'm definitely not sold on him. He's never played it. He's got to go and prove he can do it. If he can do that, certainly I'll use him there because he's got some skills there. Going to the boards and rebounding, that's on him. He's got to be a factor on the boards."

No reading between the lines necessary.

Later that night, after the game, Williams appeared upbeat and focused. The Batum offer sheet was heading toward the conclusion the Trail Blazers had promised all along, that they would match. The play for Kirilenko had either not started or had not yet become public.

"I don't even think about it like that," he said when asked about the level of commitment from the Timberwolves. "Like I said, they can do whatever they want to do. I'm just going to keep getting better each and every year, and hopefully I do stick. I believe I can be a good player in this league and I never doubt myself. That's a good thing about myself. I don't doubt myself in anything."

"Do you think they're doubting you?"

"I don't know," Williams replied. "That's a good question. If they are, then I'll just use it to add fuel to the fire."

Playing power forward, behind Love or in the small lineup, is tougher with the drop from weighing in the high-240s at the end of last season to the low-230s in Summer League. An emerging, and even leading, role at small forward, a reasonable expectation a year after going second in the draft, is much tougher if the current trajectory continues (Minnesota also acquired Dante Cunningham in a seperate trade with the Grizzlies) and the Kirilenko deal is finalized. This is not strictly about Kirilenko and Budinger, though. This is about Williams.

How can it not be?

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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