The biggest news to come out of Minnesota Timberwolves media day, or at least to come out around that time, is that Chase Budinger is undergoing knee surgery and is out indefinitely, as Marc Weinreich of SI.com reported. This means that Shabazz Muhammad likely will back up Kevin Martin at the 2.
Minnesota is hoping that it is not a harbinger of things to come, especially after the toll injuries took on this team last season.
In general, the Wolves are eager to put last season behind them—especially superstar forward Kevin Love, who battled injures and former general manager David Kahn—and look forward to next season. This team has playoff aspirations and is looking to return to respectability for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era.
Budinger Is Still Having Knee Issues
The biggest news discussed at media day was Budinger’s injury. After re-signing him to a three-year, $15 million deal, the Timberwolves hoped that his knee problems were behind him and that they would have a reliable backup at the 2 and another viable option at the 3.
“He’s the type of player who can really add to what we can do offensively,” said head coach Rick Adelman. “I feel bad for him and I really don’t want it to become a trend.”
Derrick Williams, who got big minutes as a second-year player last season because just about everyone else around him was in a suit and tie, emphasized that all the Budinger injury means is that someone has to come in and take his place.
“When injuries occur, someone has to step up,” he said. “[W]e already had one and I like to put it on myself to try and fill that position.”
Williams was referring to the 3, of course. Muhammad will probably take over as the backup shooting guard behind Martin, although he too can play the 3.
“I have to go out there and earn it,” said Muhammad, who acknowledged that the Budinger injury probably gives him a better shot of seeing playing time early on in the season.
“I have to go out there and work hard. I have to do things I have to do to help us win. Defense, rebounding, whatever I have to do.”
This is a refreshing statement for Wolves fans who listened to the buyer beware stories that suggested Muhammad only played on the offensive end of the court.
Injuries Are Still a Concern, but Team Has Put Last Year Behind It
Seeing Budinger go down before the regular season even started was concerning for the Wolves, and certainly everyone who has been a part of the organization for the past few years knows Minnesota has struggled. But every player was adamant that last season was behind them and that things are going to be different from here on out.
“We all know what happened last year,” said Kevin Love, “and we just want to move forward and take care of the unfinished business.”
“We use [that as] motivation,” echoed Barea, “we just battled with injuries last year. But we’re not talking about that this year.”
Love in particular wanted to put last year behind him. Not only did he break his hand twice, which limited him to 18 games played, but he infamously battled with erstwhile general manager David Kahn, questioning if he had a plan for the team’s future.
“Last year is last year,” he said. “I think that’s the beauty of this world, you get fresh starts and you live to fight another day and you continue to move forward.
“I’ve never been so excited to play some basketball and stop hearing about last year.”
He rolled his eyes while saying those last five words.
The Offense Is Going to Be Productive, Defense Still a Concern
Everyone knows it: Minnesota is going to put up big numbers this year, but there are serious questions about individual defenders.
Ricky Rubio is a great ball distributor, Martin can hit threes, Love can play inside and outside, and Pekovic is a force down low, but this team has trouble with interior defense and has been known to give up open threes.
“I think we will see a ton of points, but we can’t rely on that on a nightly basis,” said Martin, who was brought in for offense rather than his ability to stop the ball. “We have to play defense.”
Brewer should help with perimeter defense. Rubio is a good defensive player when healthy and Pekovic will improve his play at the rim, but the team needs other players who are not great defenders individually to lock down as a team.
“I mentioned the energy that we have with this team,” said Love. “[This] year I’ve felt it more than any other year. We have to be the team that hits first. We can’t be hit first and then try to pick ourselves back up.”
Love, Williams and Muhammad Have Slimmed Down
Love is chiseled, Williams is skinny, and apparently Muhammad isn’t on the Chad Johnson diet anymore.
“I’m in great health, weight is great,” said Love, who was a little pudgy at UCLA and has slimmed down since. “I don’t know what it is this morning. I just feel great.”
Williams too was looking svelte. He was at about 250 pounds last year, up from the 245 he played at in college, but dropped to 235 this season. It was no easy task, given that he had jaw surgery on May 16 in the offseason and put on a little weight after that.
He used the same doctor as Love. Somehow I feel that guy isn’t doing the Ochocinco diet either, given that his last two patients have slimmed down like Jared Fogle.
“I’m used to being a little bigger,” said Williams, “especially playing the 4 I had to put on more weight.”
Williams felt and looked out of place at the 4 last season. His best bet for minutes are at the 3 now that Muhammad has to back up Martin.
Speaking of Muhammad, the maligned UCLA star made a statement by coming to media day looking like he had hit the gym big-time in the offseason—a sign of his commitment to success in the NBA.
“I just [have] been trying to stay in shape,” he said. “I’m trying to change my body by the way I’m eating. I’m in the best shape of my life right now, slimming down, and I really feel better on the court.”
Everyone feels better when they have Wheaties and a homemade omelet instead of a McGriddle in the morning.
Muhammad Wants to Be More Professional This Year
For the first time in his life, Muhammad will not be the star of his team.
It became well-publicized that his father carved out a path for him to the NBA and that he fudged his birthday so he would be a year older than his competition in college. He also was criticized for not celebrating with his team when he did not receive a pass at the last second and saw his teammate hit a game-winning shot against Pac-12 rival Washington.
He knows that he is no longer the star on the team and said he is willing to do whatever it takes to find a role to get a regular spot in the rotation.
“I’m not gonna do much on this team, stepping in as a rookie,” he said. “I’m gonna do the things everyone needs me to, when coaches tell me, whether that’s passing the ball, rebounding. I’m bringing heritage to this team and that’s what I’m gonna do to help us win.”
Martin said that he reached out to Muhammad via text and is willing to mentor him this season.
“I think I’m at the point in my career where I feel comfortable doing things like that because I know it’s only going to help the player,” he said. “I just told him, it’s time to focus on basketball.”
Adelman Explains Why He Took So Long to Come Back
Not that it needed any explanation. Given Mary Kay Adelman’s trouble with seizures and his advanced age, everyone would have understood if Adelman, 67, retired after last season.
Then again, it seemed like a given that he would come back, seeing as how the team has improved in the offseason and Adelman, despite all he’s accomplished at the game’s highest level, has yet to win an NBA Championship.
“I didn’t really have my doubts,” said Martin, a former Sacramento King and Houston Rocket, who is reunited with Adelman for the third time in his career. “I know how much he loves the game and I knew that his wife was progressing well so I had a good feeling he’d be back.”
“We love him as a coach,” echoed Barea, “and we want him to be there with us and we are excited he’s back.”
Love was a huge proponent of bringing Adelman to the Twin Cities in 2011. Adelman had some of his best years coaching the Portland Trail Blazers, and Love grew up in Oregon.
“It makes it a lot easier for all of us,” said Love. “He’s a Hall of Fame coach and everybody knows what he’s done in the league.”
Adelman went into depth about the decision but wanted to let everyone know that he was back for good and is going to be around the whole year no matter what happens.
“I remember last year I said I wanted to make up my mind fairly quickly,” he said. “It’s not one of those situations where you operate and it’s over with. It’s just been a constant process all summer.”
Doctors have struggled to pinpoint exactly why his wife is having seizures, and assistant coach Terry Porter had to take over for him as an interim coach for 11 games. Adelman had helped Porter deal with the passing of his parents when Porter was a player and he was the coach in Portland.
“We really didn’t know how everything was going to react,” said Adelman, referring to Mary Kay’s seizures.
He admitted that he contemplated retiring, but in the end he was driven to return and help the Wolves get back to respectability.
“There were some real doubts and the biggest thing was, do we want to do this?” he asked rhetorically. “Not only from my wife’s standpoint, but mine too.”
He’s back and in it for good, and Wolves Nation is rejoicing because of it.
The Timberwolves are going to be good offensively and could make a playoff run if they stay healthy this year. They also realize that they have to crack down defensively or, as Martin pointed out, they will probably be swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Nobody on the team wants to talk about last year. They are motivated by past troubles, but they're focused more on having a good season in 2013-14.
“Things have happened over the two years that [were] out of everybody’s control and I wanted to finish it,” said Adelman. “We had more pieces, we’ve changed a lot of people, so I think the organization is going in the right direction.”
Love, Williams and Muhammad are all in good shape. The latter is focused on establishing himself as a bona fide professional rather than a sideshow. The rest of the team is full of energy and in high spirits.
Something has changed dramatically in the Timberwolves organization, and it should manifest itself in good results this season.
For the first time since Garnett wore No. 21 for the Wolves, basketball fans in Minnesota can pack the Target Center expecting their team to do something big.
There was a change in the air back in 2011 when Love and Rubio first played together and the arena got back to full capacity, but Love was concussed and Rubio injured his knee. Last season things were supposed to turn around, but Rubio began the year on the disabled list and Love quickly joined him by breaking his hand doing knuckle pushups. And then, well, almost everyone else got injured.
A healthy Wolves team should be a dark-horse playoff team in the Western Conference. It’s hard to avoid injury, however, especially in a grueling 82-game season.
When asked what Love did to prepare himself for this season, he offered a curt reply: “I tried to be a lot more lucky.”
That just about sums things up, doesn’t it?
Thank you to Mark Remme of Timberwolves.com, who provided me with a transcript of select interviews from media day.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.