Shootaround Access: Wolves vs. Rockets

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Wolves guard Luke Ridnour has fond memories of what Mickael Gelabale brought to the Seattle SuperSonics when the two played together for two seasons in the Pacific Northwest.

He remembers a player that is athletic, a strong defender and a slasher—someone who can make plays and is a good all-around basketball player.

“I think people will like watching him play,” Ridnour said.

Wolves fans will likely get a chance to get familiar with Gelabale and center Chris Johnson quickly, as both were signed to 10-day contracts and were at the morning shootaround at Target Center. Gelabale last played in the NBA from 2006-08 with the Sonics and suffered a knee injury during that time. He has spent much of the past five years in Europe and most recently played in Spain.

Johnson, who spent Training Camp and part of the preseason with the Wolves, has been in the D-League and re-joined Minnesota due to the Wolves after the team was granted an NBA hardship exception, with four players missing at least two weeks due to injury.

Neither will have much time to adjust, as both joined the team during the morning walkthrough and will be likely called upon to help play minutes tonight. Center Nikola Pekovic is out tonight due to a right quad contusion, and guard Alexey Shved will also not play due to a sprained left ankle.

For Gelabale, this opportunity is a long time coming. When he was playing all over Europe—in Russia, France and Spain—he was thinking about his chance to come back to the NBA.

“I know we have injuries, so I have to be ready and know all the plays when the coach puts me on the court,” Gelabale said. “I need to be ready for everything.”

He said his biggest thing he can bring to the team is international experience, and he also can bring defense and rebounding. At 6-foot-7, he likely will help the Wolves add additional length on the defensive end.

Wolves President of Basketball Operations David Kahn said he reached out either personally or through channels to Tony Parker and Nicolas Batum, two players who played with Gelabale for the French National Team, and received positive feedback about what he can bring to a team. Both conveyed he deserved a shot in the NBA due to his strong play across the board. Kahn said he expects to see a little bit of everything out of Gelabale's play.

"Defensively, he can make shots, he’s a decent offensive rebounder, high basketball IQ," Kahn said. "[Ronny] Turiaf was quoted the other day as saying ‘he’s a basketball player.’ I think he can help us across the board."

Meanwhile, Johnson has the benefit of having gone through training camp with the Wolves this season and has familiarity with how the team operates.

He said it’s great to see his former Training Camp teammates, which makes it easier to get transitioned back into his role with the team.

He said his main objective is to bring energy, protect the basket and run the floor.

“Whatever coaches need, if they need to step up early,” Johnson said. “Otherwise if they need me on the bench cheerleading. Whatever they need me to do to help the team as long as I’m here.”

Kahn said part of the draw for adding Johnson to the roster was his familiarity and the fact that he knows his teammates and the system they're running.

"It was the proverbial feather in his cap that he knew us, we knew him, he was here for four weeks, the learning curve was much less than it was for someone who hasn’t been here," Kahn said.

Kahn said it's not easy for a team to adjust with so much fluctuation of personnel like the Wolves have this season, but it's just something the team needs to do right now.

"It’s part of the job description," Kahn said. "We’re not the only team that’s had to do that this year, although we are the one that seems to have to do it the most. Or maybe we’re catching up to others, but that’s what happens."

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