New Mindset Evident At Wolves Media Day

A Timberwolves Training Camp Central Exclusive Story | Presented by HBO Home Ent

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Every Timberwolves player who came through 2012 Media Day at Target Center had the same mantra, the same message. The foundation was put in place last season, and with the incoming additions put in place the team has every intention of becoming a dangerous component of the Western Conference.

As the Wolves players and the Training Camp invitees officially came together for the team’s annual Media Day, an afternoon which annually acts as an opening day of sorts around the NBA, those players and their coaches not only seemed anxious to get the 2012-13 campaign under way, they came out and said it.

The bottom line Monday was there’s no consolation prize. Winning is what this team is ready to go.

“I think we have guys now that it really is going to hurt [if the team loses],” forward Kevin Love said. “I’m not saying our locker room was divided that last season, but for some guys they had a date circled on their calendar. It wasn’t the one that said this is going to be our first day of the playoffs; it was ‘Oh, this is the day I get to go home.’ I don’t think we have any guys on our team like that this year.”

Minnesota wrapped up the 2011-12 season with a 26-40 record after being one of the surprises of the NBA earlier in the season. The Wolves put together a winning record through 41 games and were in the Western Conference playoff picture before guard Ricky Rubio’s injury, and the subsequent injury bug that ravaged the team’s locker room made a playoff berth unreachable last winter.

But in the offseason, Minnesota maintained seven players off that 15-man roster and went to work on revamping its locker room through free agency, trades and the waiver wire. With an emphasis on wing play and defensive players to back up Love and center Nikola Pekovic, the Wolves put together move after move this offseason to mirror the type of play coach Rick Adelman envisioned for this group.

Adelman said Monday the key is obviously to stay healthy, but the team now has added versatility and depth when it comes to ball handling—something Adelman and his staff view as an important component. A year ago there were times when Rubio, JJ Barea and Luke Ridnour—three point guards—were on the floor at once to enhance the team’s ball handling abilities.

All three of those players are back this year, and added to the mix is rookie combo guard Alexey Shved. Combine that group with shooting guard Brandon Roy and second-year combo guard Malcolm Lee, and the Wolves should have a collection of sure-handed players in the back court.

“We upped our passing game, and I think we’re going to be more versatile defensively,” Adelman said. “Just watching their scrimmage play, they’re already doing things that we need to be doing. They don’t have to think about it.”

Veterans like Roy and forward Andrei Kirilenko, if healthy and able to play at the level they’re accustomed to, should provide an added spark offensively on the wing. Kirilenko showed during the Olympics he can still run the fast break—doing so with Shved—and Roy is a sure-handed jump shooter who should get open looks while playing next to Rubio and his unpredictable passing style.

Add in forwards Chase Budinger and Derrick Williams—two high flyers who are known for being recipients of outlet passes on the fast break—and this team has a collection of players who can work from half court sets, run the floor and, if all goes to plan, play a sure-handed defense on the other end of the court.

“We have been playing a little pickup and seeing the unselfishness and everyone just knows how to play the game,” Ridnour said. “It’s going to be a lot different team and look. It’s going to be fun.”

Roy said his dad is an avid NBA fan who has questions each night about different members of the team, which helped him understand just how many important pieces to the puzzle are on the club this year.

“He always asks, ‘Has this guy come in? Have you met Rubio? Have you met Kevin Love? Has Kirilenko been there?’” Roy said. “That’s been exciting to meet everybody, see guys in person, and you know, again, I’m just looking forward to training camp so that way we can start practicing and trying to build that team chemistry.”

No question, this group was assembled out of last year’s highs and lows. Adelman said he’s ready to see what this team can do.

“We were actually pretty good the first 40-plus games. The last 20-plus, we were awful,” Adelman said. “It just brought us right back to where we were the year before. We felt that we needed to make some changes. We needed some energy, needed a more versatile team with more ball handling than we had before…It’s just a time when you look around for people who are going to meet those needs. We’re fortunate that, just looking at the guys in the past week or so, we’ve got a chance to be a lot better in a lot of areas.”

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