Minnesota Timberwolves

Northwest Notes: Gallinari, Kaman, Timberwolves

Danilo Gallinari will often move from small forward to power forward this season to take advantage of offensive skills, Pat Graham of the Associated Press reports. Gallinari played a lot of power forward for Italy at the EuroBasket tournament, where he averaged nearly 18 points a game, and new Nuggets coach Michael Malone plans to use the same tactic, Graham continues. “He’s 6’10”. He can handle the ball. He can play pick-and-roll. He can stretch the floor and shoot the 3,” Malone said in the story. “There’s not a lot he can’t do offensively.” Gallinari is eager to step into the role as a go-to guy, Graham adds. “I’ve always been trying to do that, since I came to Denver,” Gallinari told Graham. “That’s what I like to do. I feel good filling those shoes.”

In other news around the Northwest Division:

  • Veteran center Chris Kaman is unlikely to get much playing time this season, but he still believes he can serve a valuable role with the Trail Blazers, according to Mike Richman of The Oregonian. Kaman is behind Meyers Leonard, Mason Plumlee, Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh at the power forward and center spots, and Al-Farouq Aminu is also likely to get minutes at power forward, Richman continues. But Kaman feels like he can contribute in other ways, as he told Richman. “I still feel like I can provide a lot on or off the court for this team,” he said. “If my role is to be the guy that’s helping guys off the bench and I get a little bit of minutes here and there, I’m going to play as hard as I can.”
  • Nuggets point guard Jameer Nelson wants to go into coaching but he has no plans to retire at the moment, Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post reports. He has already made an immediate impression on Malone with his mentoring skills. “I have the utmost confidence in Jameer Nelson as a leader,” Malone said to Dempsey. Nelson held a summertime team bonding session at his Philadelphia-area home and has been instructing rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay in camp, Dempsey adds.
  • Anthony Bennett decided to explore a buyout with the Timberwolves after he met with his agent, Jeff Schwartz, following his stint with Team Canada this summer, according to Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Schwartz recommended the change of scenery since the Timberwolves had a logjam at power forward, the story continues. Bennett had other options, including the Trail Blazers, after he cleared waivers before signing with the Raptors.

Cavs Lead With 16 Free Agent Signings

The Cavaliers have drawn plenty of attention the past few months for a free agent they haven’t signed, but even though Tristan Thompson lingers in free agency, Cleveland has taken care of more free agent business than any other team in the league during the 2015 offseason. They signed 16 free agents, three more than the Spurs, the team that recorded the next most free agent signings. The Cavs just made their latest signing this weekend, replacing Michael Dunigan with Dionte Christmas on the camp roster.

It might be easy to presume a direct correlation between free agent activity and success, given the teams at the very top and bottom of the list below. The Cavs and Spurs are strong bets to win their respective conferences this season, while the Jazz, Timberwolves and Sixers are nowhere near the title picture. The presence of the Warriors and Thunder on the bottom half of the list and the Kings and Nets close to the top debunk that theory, however. It has more to do with the fact that the Cavs had only four players signed for 2015/16 when they ended last season, while the Jazz had 13. Cleveland simply had more jobs to hand out.

Still, other factors are at play, since free agent signings don’t encompass draft picks, draft-and-stash signings, trades or waiver claims. The Trail Blazers made significant changes to their roster, but they did much of their work via trade instead of free agency. The Rockets had 10 players under contract on July 1st, but they still wound up making 11 free agent signings.

Here’s a look at the number of free agent signings for each team. Click the team’s name to see the names of each of their signees via our 2015 Free Agent Tracker.

  1. Cavaliers, 16
  2. Mavericks, 13
  3. Spurs, 13
  4. Kings, 12
  5. Knicks, 12
  6. Nets, 12
  7. Pelicans, 12
  8. Rockets, 11
  9. Clippers, 10
  10. Grizzlies, 10
  11. Suns, 10
  12. Heat, 9
  13. Pacers, 9
  14. Raptors, 9
  15. Bulls, 8
  16. Hawks, 8
  17. Magic, 8
  18. Wizards, 8
  19. Bucks, 7
  20. Celtics, 7
  21. Hornets, 7
  22. Lakers, 7
  23. Nuggets, 7
  24. Warriors, 7
  25. Pistons, 6
  26. Thunder, 6
  27. Trail Blazers, 6
  28. 76ers, 5
  29. Timberwolves, 5
  30. Jazz, 4

Western Notes: Kerr, Spurs, Lakers

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told reporters, including Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, that he suffered a spinal fluid leak during his July 28th back surgery on a ruptured disk, which has led to his absence from the team during the preseason. There is no timetable for his return. Luke Walton, the team’s lead assistant, is serving as the interim head coach.

“The leak is fixed, but I’m still getting some symptoms. That’s why I’m out,” Kerr said. “I wanted to be clear to you guys and the fans. I want to be upfront about what’s happened. Because I’m still having symptoms, it makes it difficult for me to be on the floor. The prospects are good. I’m going to heal.”

Here’s more from the Western Conference:

  • LaMarcus Aldridge called his preseason debut with the Spurs “a little overwhelming,” Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio-Express News relays. “It doesn’t really hit you until you put on a jersey and go play,” Aldridge said. Aldridge is working on learning where to find his new teammates when he gets doubled, McDonald adds.
  • The Lakers have six players — Ryan Kelly, Metta World Peace, Jabari Brown, Robert Sacre, Tarik Black and Robert Upshaw — competing for the final four roster spots and Upshaw is the “wild card” because of his talent and checkered past, Bill Oram of The Orange County Register writes. Upshaw is a talented shot blocker, but he was also kicked off teams at Fresno State and the University of Washington, as Oram points out. Lakers head coach Byron Scott said it is conceivable that the team will keep four centers, including starter Roy Hibbert, but indicated that would only be in an extreme circumstance, Oram adds.
  • Wolves coach Sam Mitchell believes Zach LaVine‘s shooting woes are a product of LaVine thinking too much, Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune tweets.

The Beat: Jerry Zgoda On The Timberwolves

Jerry Zgoda

Jerry Zgoda

Nobody knows NBA teams better than beat writers, save for those who draw paychecks with an NBA owner’s signature on them. The reporters who are with the teams they cover every day gain an intimate knowledge of the players, coaches and executives they write about and develop sources who help them break news and stay on top of rumors.

We at Hoops Rumors will be chatting with beat writers from around the league and sharing their responses to give you a better perspective on how and why teams make some of their most significant moves. Last time, we spoke with Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer about the Sixers. Click here to see all the previous editions of this series.

Today, we gain insight on the Timberwolves from Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune. You can follow Jerry on Twitter at @JerryZgoda, and check out his stories right here.

Hoops Rumors: In what way will the absence of Flip Saunders most profoundly affect the Timberwolves?

Jerry Zgoda: In every way, probably. He’s not only head coach and president of basketball operations, but he owns a small piece of the team, too. Probably the most powerful non-majority owner in the league and the guy who put this roster together with a vision. Now it’s up to GM Milt Newton and coach Sam Mitchell to carry on. The most interesting thing to watch is the older guys – Flip went and signed Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller, Tayshaun Prince to mentor what he has called the Young Pups and they still have Kevin Martin, too – now that Mitchell has said again that the team’s future is two, three years down the road. Hence his decision announced already to start Zach LaVine over Martin, at least for now. Some Wolves fans understandably are tired of always waiting for three years down the road.

Hoops Rumors: Trade rumors about Ricky Rubio popped up on occasion during the offseason, though Rubio, Saunders and Newton all seemed to do their best to bat them down. Do you think that either Rubio or the team will push for a trade between now and the deadline in February?

Jerry Zgoda: And play who there? They’d trade him if they could upgrade at the position and get more of a scoring point guard, since the league has really gone that way with the likes of Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose, John Wall, etc., etc. But don’t believe it if you hear they’re going to trade him because they signed Andre Miller and traded for rookie Tyus Jones on draft night. That’s nonsense. If they could swing a deal – probably would have to be a three-team trade – and get a guy like Eric Bledsoe, they’d probably do that. But something like that is unlikely at this point, at least until Rubio (injured again these first couple weeks) shows he can stay healthy.

Hoops Rumors: What are the chances we see the team’s other two mid-career veterans, Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic, on the block at some point this season?

Jerry Zgoda: Pekovic is virtually untradeable. They would if they could, but who’s going to take three years left on his contract at nearly $36MM owed? Their best hope probably is to get him back on the court for games by the New Year and hope he can give them 20-25 minutes a night, off the bench. If he can stay on the court, he’s valuable or at least he becomes tradeable at some point.

One of two things will happen with Martin: Either they trade him by February before he opts out next summer on the final year of his contract, or they decide he’s good enough at what he does – efficient scorer, best three-point shooter on a team that really lacks them – to keep either as a reserve or starter. But it’d take some kind of contract extension to keep him here. Otherwise, he opts out and signs elsewhere for next season.

Hoops Rumors: What went wrong with Anthony Bennett? What made the Wolves conclude that they were better off with a buyout after he’d spent only one season in Minnesota and two in the NBA?

Jerry Zgoda: Well, for starters he never should have been the No. 1 overall pick. That created unrealistic expectations. But forget that. He couldn’t stay healthy and when he was, he wanted to stay outside and prove he could shoot and they want him to go to work inside and do more of the dirty work. No question he has major talent. I wouldn’t have traded him, but they were already so loaded at that spot: they have Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica, Adreian Payne (who they still owe Atlanta a first-round pick for) and Gorgui Dieng, Karl-Anthony Towns and Damjan Rudez all can play there, too. And that’s not even counting KG. Bennett’s agent wanted him out of there and in Toronto, so the Wolves saved $2MM-plus on the deal and it cost Bennett a little more than $1MM to get out of Minnesota and back home. It was arrangement both sides consider mutually acceptable, but will the Wolves regret the decision someday? Probably.

Hoops Rumors: Speaking of former No. 1 overall picks, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns have no shortage of potential. Aside from them, which of the other young Wolves has the best chance to become a star?

Jerry Zgoda: The Wolves are hoping LaVine is that guy. No doubt he has great athleticism and an underrated shot. But he’s got a whole lot of learning to do. He struggled big time trying to learn point guard as a rookie and now has been moved to shooting guard, but there he’s going to have to learn to play without the ball in his hands all the time. Another guy you shouldn’t sleep on is Shabazz Muhammad. He got himself in great shape coming into camp and could get himself into the Most Improved Player conversation as a scorer off the bench if he can stay healthy. He might have gotten there last year if he hadn’t missed the season’s last six weeks or so.

Hoops Rumors: Do you think the Wolves have any true aspirations of contending for a playoff spot this season, or is the focus solely on player development for now?

Jerry Zgoda: No, not if they’ve already given a starting job to LaVine. That message seems to be clear: They’re in it for another high lottery pick this season and the hope their young guys progress like Kevin Durant and Westbrook did that season the Thunder started 3-29 and then started to grow into what they are today.

Western Notes: Martin, Clippers, World Peace

The Timberwolves are planning to start Zach LaVine at shooting guard instead of Kevin Martin, even though interim coach Sam Mitchell admits Martin is better than Lavine is at this point, notes Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune. The team is focused on player development, and Minnesota believes LaVine will move past his on-court rookie mistakes from last season, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe examines. Lowe also speculates about a variety of potential trade destinations for Martin, though it doesn’t appear there’s any movement on that front for now, as Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities tweets. The Mavericks, who were reportedly among the teams interested in him around the trade deadline in February, have backed off, Wolfson adds (via Twitter link).

  • Metta World Peace says he turned down an offer from the Clippers in the summer of 2014 before he signed to play in China last season, as Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News relays. He reportedly worked out at the Clippers practice facility that summer, but Clips coach/executive Doc Rivers appeared to downplay the idea that his team was eyeing World Peace for a late-season deal. “In China, I had to get my game back,” World Peace said. “Doc asked me to come to the Clippers. I told him, ‘I’m going to China first. When I come back, I’ll come to the Clippers.’ I want to get my game back on.”
  • World Peace never did play with the Clippers, instead signing a non-guaranteed deal with the Lakers, who’ve allowed him to fulfill his wish for a reunion with Kobe Bryant, even if it’s only for training camp, Medina notes in the same piece. “Kobe is the main reason why I worked so hard in the last couple of years,” said World Peace, who, despite that work, admits he’s not in shape. “I always wanted to come back and play with Kobe. I remember playing with Kobe, the sacrifices he made, playing hard, making unbelievable shots and showing unbelievable fundamentals. People can say he’s selfish all they want. But in the game, he’s so fundamentally sound. That’s tough to be fundamentally sound under all that pressure.”

Arinze Onuaku Signs To Play In Israel

THURSDAY, 11:19am: The signing has taken place, the Israeli team announced.

MONDAY, 3:04pm: Two-year NBA veteran Arinze Onuaku is expected to sign with Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv, a source tells Sportando’s Orazio Cauchi. International journalist David Pick, writing for One.co.il, also reports the deal, adding that it covers three months and that it includes an option worth $200K that would extend it for the entire season (Twitter link). Onuaku finished 2014/15 with the Timberwolves, who used a hardship provision of a 16th roster spot to sign him for the final week of the season.

Onuaku, who turned 28 in July, averaged 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 11.4 minutes per game across six appearances for Minnesota this past April. It was the most significant action of the power forward’s brief NBA career, as he made it into only five combined games for the Pelicans and Cavaliers in 2013/14. He was with the Pacers for the preseason a year ago, but he’s chiefly played with Cleveland’s D-League affiliate the past three years. The former Syracuse player put up 17.5 PPG and 12.2 RPG in 34.6 MPG over 41 appearances for the D-League Canton Charge this past season.

Minnesota had the opportunity to tender a $1,147,276 qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent this summer, but the Wolves declined. Instead, he’ll join Jordan Farmar and draft prospect Dragan Bender with Maccabi Tel Aviv, which just played a pair of exhibitions in the U.S. last week.

Central Notes: George, Robinson, Hoiberg, Rose

Paul George still doesn’t sound like a fan of his new position or the Pacers‘ new lineup, tweets Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star. Indiana is experimenting with George as its starting power forward, a move brought on by David West signing with San Antonio and Luis Scola going to Toronto. “I don’t know if I’m cut out for a four spot,” George said tonight after Indiana’s preseason opener. “I don’t know if this is my position.” George also implied that he’s not the only Pacer unhappy with the strategy. “It’s not just myself,” he said. “The four other guys out there, it’s an adjustment for them. We’re all talking (Twitter link). … A couple other guys are uncomfortable with how we’re going to run it. It’s new to everyone (Twitter link).”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Pacers president Larry Bird says he tried for a year to acquire Glenn Robinson III, according to Gregg Doyel of The Indianapolis Star. The 21-year-old caught Bird’s eye during a preseason game last year as a member of the Timberwolves. Robinson played just 21 games in Minnesota before being cut in March, but the Sixers claimed him on waivers before the Pacers could grab him. He signed with Indiana this summer. “He sees something he likes in me, and it makes you feel good,” Robinson said. “I mean, he’s Larry Bird.”
  • Veteran guard Kirk Hinrich tells Mike McGraw of The Daily Herald that new coach Fred Hoiberg is bringing a faster pace and more relaxed atmosphere to the Bulls. It’s a drastic change from Tom Thibodeau, who was known for his intensity and his grind-it-out style. “Fred’s really calm,” Hinrich said. “He teaches. He’s a very good teacher, makes his points, but he’s calm.”
  • Derrick Rose will learn the Bulls‘ new offense from home while he recovers from a facial injury, McGraw writes in a separate story. Rose had surgery this week after fracturing an orbital bone below his left eye during Tuesday’s practice. He is not expected to resume basketball activities until October 14th. “We’re going to actually get over there and watch some film with him today, because again, we’ve added new sets, new things,” Hoiberg said Saturday. “So we’ll get him caught up by a couple of coaches going over and seeing him at his house.”

Northwest Notes: Faried, Kaman, Snyder

Kenneth Faried acknowledged that the Nuggets trade of Ty Lawson to the Rockets is just part of the business of basketball, but he was still stung by it due to his close friendship with the point guard, Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post relays. When asked about the trade, Faried said, “Basketball. Nature of the beast. I’m not part of the business side I’m part of the playing side. I just want to get up-and-down and play the game. It hurt me because that was my best friend but it’s the nature of the beast. You’ve got to live with it.

Here’s more from the Northwest:

  • Mason Plumlee says he has learned a lot from veteran big man Chris Kaman in the short time that they have been teammates with the Trail Blazers, Mike Richman of The Oregonian writes. “The guys who are here 10-plus years in the NBA are here because they help the young guys,” Plumlee said of Kaman. “Here’s very good, he’s helpful, he knows what coach [Terry] Stotts wants so he’s been great.” Plumlee was acquired by Portland back in June.
  • Jazz coach Quin Snyder enters his second season with the team a bit more relaxed than his he was during his rookie campaign, and he aims to try and be less intense with his players this season, Jody Genessy of The Deseret News writes. “The course of the season and our team and how we play will dictate that as much as anything,” Snyder said, obviously making no hard promises regarding his future demeanor.
  • One of the problems facing the Timberwolves as they enter the preseason is that most of their big men are power forwards who will be tasked with manning the center position, Marcus R. Fuller of The Pioneer Press writes. Kevin Garnett, a power forward by trade, won’t be thrilled if he has to spend prolonged time in the pivot, Fuller adds. I still hate the center position,” Garnett said. “I’m 235, 240 [pounds]. Guys who play the center … DeAndre Jordan is 275, 280. That’s outweighing me by 40 pounds. But what I don’t make up in weight, I make up in heart and [expletive].”As for interim coach Sam Mitchell‘s plan for the rotation at the five spot, he said, “I’ve got an idea in my mind. But until we get out on the floor and actually watch them play a little bit, then we’ll start to formulate those opinions.

Northwest Notes: Millsap, Alexander, Bjelica

Jazz coach Quin Snyder refuted a report by Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com that stated that the Jazz had lost faith in Elijah Millsap because of his poor shot selection and defensive shortcomings, Ben Dowsett of Basketball Insiders relays in a series of tweets. Snyder said that he checked in with Millsap each week over the summer, and that he was pleased with the progress the 27-year-old guard was making, Dowsett adds. The coach stopped short of saying that Millsap, whose contract is non-guaranteed, would make the regular season roster, but it does appear that the franchise is still invested in his development, Dowsett notes.

Here’s what else is happening in the Northwest Division:

  • Blazers rookie forward Cliff Alexander is hoping to put his difficult freshman season at Kansas behind him and to try and parlay his athleticism and rebounding skills into a regular season roster spot with the team, Mike Richman of The Oregonian writes. Alexander went undrafted this year after entering his freshman campaign as a projected lottery pick.
  • Nemanja Bjelica has already impressed interim Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell with his wide range of skills, writes Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune. “[He’s] very smart, moves the ball, can shoot the ball, just wants to play, unselfish to a fault,” Mitchell said of the 27-year-old rookie. “I like the way he plays. I’ve seen him on tape, but I like him a lot more in person.
  • Thunder coach Billy Donovan is entering his first season as an NBA head man, but the players are excited about the possibilities that he brings with him to the team, Susan Bible of Basketball Insiders writes. But there is still a level of uncertainty for the players with any rookie coach, which is something that forward Nick Collison admitted, Bible adds. “I really won’t know until we get in the season,” Collison said when asked about Donovan. “I think he’s a real high-energy guy, and he’s also very experienced. I feel like our organization does a real good job with providing everything we need. I think they do a lot of work in everything they do, so I assume a coaching change, they put a lot of work into that and feel good about him, so I’m going to put a lot of faith in that. I’ve had quite a few meetings with him already, and I like what he’s talking about. [We’ll] see how it goes. I’ve had a lot of coaches before, so the one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t really know until you get into it, so we’ll see how it goes.

Northwest Notes: Jones, Gallinari, Donovan

The Timberwolves will consider sending Tyus Jones to the NBA D-League this season in order to get the rookie more playing time, Marcus R. Fuller of The Pioneer Press writes. The decision will come down to whether or not the team believes it can get Jones enough playing time to properly develop, Fuller adds. “We haven’t really used [the D-League] in the past, and that’s something we’re trying to rectify,” GM Milt Newton said. “If there’s an opportunity for us to use the D-League, we will do that, with Tyus especially. But it can be a position where you send him to the D-League and he plays only 14, 15, 20 minutes a game, which was the situation last year. For us, we wanted to utilize the D-League. But the team we were associated with, they couldn’t guarantee that our guys would get the minutes that we felt they needed to develop, and so we felt it was better to keep our players here and let [them] practice and get developed from our coaching staff. If we can fix that situation, while we’re in the situation without a D-League team, that’s a decision we’ll have to make.” Jones was the No. 24 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

Here’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Danilo Gallinari, who agreed to a renegotiation and extension of his contract this offseason, wants to remain with the Nuggets for his entire NBA career, Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post relays. “I was just glad to stay in Denver,” Gallinari said. “That was my goal. If you see my history with contracts, it’s never been about money because if it was about money I would have made other choices. But I love Denver and I want to stay here as long as I can. I would like to finish my career here. I was glad we were able to sign this contract.
  • New Thunder head coach Billy Donovan says he has been humbled by the reception he has received from the community and fans of the team since being hired back in April, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes. “The community has been really remarkable in terms of helping myself, helping my kids, my wife adjust. Very very grateful for all the help that so many lended, reached out, to make this a smooth transition,” said Donovan.
  • This season will likely be the final one for Jazz point guard Trey Burke to establish himself as a starter in the league, writes Brad Rock of The Deseret News. With projected starter Dante Exum undergoing surgery on the ACL in his left knee that may cause him to miss the entire season, Utah will need Burke to step up his game if the team is to have a shot at the playoffs this season.
  • The Trail Blazers elected to exercise their team option for Chris Kaman for the 2015/16 season, a move that pleased the veteran big man despite the franchise entering a rebuilding phase, Casey Holdahl of NBA.com writes. “First of all, I was happy to have the opportunity to come back here again because obviously that was something in question,” said Kaman. “I’m grateful to be back here. Even if it’s a rebuilding season and we’re able to make the playoffs or skirt at the edge there and be somewhere at the end of the season where we’re having a great opportunity, I’m happy to be here.

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