Shootaround Access: Wolves vs. Warriors

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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The newest addition to the Timberwolves roster put extra time in Friday morning. Josh Howard stayed late working on offensive sets with assistant coach Terry Porter and four of his new teammates prior to tonight’s matchup with the Warriors at Target Center.

Though he’s unsure of how many minutes he’ll get or how he’ll be used, those circumstances are irrelevant. What matters is for the first time since last year’s Western Conference quarterfinals, Howard will be in uniform competing for an NBA team.

“As far as the injuries, guys go down, it’s tough to see that happen. But it also gave me an opportunity to come out here and play,” Howard said. “They’re a great team. I saw them play against Dallas and the tough game against Charlotte. There are a bunch of fighters on this team, and that’s the stuff I love. Guys who don’t quite.

Howard passed his physical and officially signed with the Wolves this morning, effectively adding perimeter depth for a team battling injury woes to start the season. The Wolves announced this morning that Nikola Pekovic (ankle), Brandon Roy (knee) and JJ Barea all will sit out tonight’s contest, meaning at most Minnesota will again have nine players available.

But Howard’s presence will at the very least add a veteran forward who has been around the league long enough to understand how to pick up NBA systems, and even with his targeted playing time in the 5-6 minute per half category, any little bit of rest he can give to fellow veteran Andrei Kirilenko will be welcomed.

Kirilenko, who has played 42, 44 and 44 minutes in his last three games, said any help will be welcomed.

“He’s an experienced guy,” Kirilenko said. “He played a lot of very important games, and he knows how to play basketball. I think it’s a great addition to our team, and hopefully it helps us.”

The Wolves waived guard Will Conroy on Thursday to make room for the Howard signing.

Howard averaged a career 14.5 points per game in his first nine seasons, which included a career-high 19.9 points per game in 2006-07 and an appearance in the 2007 All-Star Game. He’s made seven playoff appearances, six with Dallas and one with Utah last season, and has played in 66 career postseason games.

Now the challenge is quickly getting used to the playbook.

“Coming out and learning plays—I’ve been in three different systems before I came here, and it’s kind of like erasing everything and starting over,” Howard said. “But so far it’s easy. There will probably be another week or so before I get everything down pat. It’s just staying focused and staying ready.”

Howard worked on extra offensive sets with mostly second string players after shootaround, walking through sets with Malcolm Lee, Alexey Shved, Derrick Williams and Lou Amundson. Kirilenko said there will be a learning curve on getting used to the offense and his new teammates, but he’s willing to give Howard as much help as possible to get acclimated.

“For some guys it comes quickly, for some it takes time,” Kirilenko said. “I hope he can understand what we are doing as fast as possible It’s a process. It’s a process, and we have all been here for a couple months. For new guys, it’s always a little bit different. I don’t think it will be a long time.”

As far as his new teammates go, Howard said the one he’s most familiar with from an opposing team’s standpoint is Kirilenko. The two played against one another 15 times in the regular season between 2004 and 2010, all with Howard in Dallas and Kirilenko in Utah. He also played with Barea for three years in Dallas. He said he’s also watched coach Rick Adelman teams since he coached in Portland, and in particular his Sacramento teams in the 2000s.

He said he knew the Wolves was serious about bringing him in based on the workout the team did with him in Dallas earlier this week.

“Just the type of workout I did with Terry Porter, RJ [Adelman] was down there watching me work out,” Howard said. “I showed them that I could still play.”

Howard, who had knee surgery in 2010 and has seen his career minutes and numbers drop in the two seasons since, said he’s done everything he can to get his knee prepared. And though he’s in an unfamiliar situation beginning the season two weeks after opening night, he said he’s ready to jump in as much as the team will allow.

Howard is happy he’s back in the game.

“I’m going to give it my all,” Howard said. “It will be my first time playing since we lost in the playoffs. But I’ve been working out in Dallas, staying in shape, just trying to stay ready as best as possible.”

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