Good morning! Prior to all of last night’s “Dunks After Dark” fun, Wolves media day took place deep within the cellar of the Target Center. Here are a few quotes and general observations, in the order the players and coaches went to the podium to talk to those of us assembled:
1. Flip Saunders
– The Wolves’ minority owner/ President of Basketball Operations / Head Coach began with the usual coachspeak platitudes, about being ready to build a contender, being excited to get to camp, and discussing the leadership roles on the team. But he had a few noteworthy quotes that offered a peek into his mindset as the team embarked on its journey to Mankato.
– “One of the great thing about having young players,” Flip said, “is that you have a really significant impact on what they might become down the road.” He also spoke about getting to the grind of camp and working on things with his team daily. “What coaches love are practices. What you have the opportunity to do is mold these players.” But in his mind, it isn’t just up to the coaches to get Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and the other Minnesota youngsters ready to be successful. “The success we have will not (come from) the rookies (alone). It’s the veterans being able to help these rookies out.”
– “I’ve been to 17 camps. This one is going to be the most competitive.” Competition, depth and positional battles were a theme that ran throughout all of the conversations with the players.
– Flip downplayed talk about Ricky Rubio’s contract negotiations. “The way I look at it, there are two kinds of players. Those with contracts, and those without contracts. He has a contract right now. All rookies go through the process. Some get signed, some don’t. It’s evident that we’ve shown Ricky’s important to our team. We like Ricky. But what we’re concentrating on now is working as a team to get better every day.”
– All in all, Flip seemed to be his usual positive self, ready to get to camp. He’s genuinely excited to get back to coaching; whether he can blend that with his front office duties remains to be seen.
2. Thad Young
– If you followed any of the coverage from the Minnesota State Fair, you may already know some of Thad’s story, as well as how he views his role on the team. He takes leadership and mentoring younger players very seriously, and prides himself on being adaptable and coachable. “I’ve always been a guy to do what the coach says. If you need me to run through a brick wall, I’ll run through a brick wall.”
– “This situation right here,” he said, cracking a smile, “is much better than the situation in Philly.”
– Young caused a tiny stir when a quote of his (“26 and 12 didn’t make the playoffs,” referring, of course to Kevin Love) got turned into juicy clickbait. It was alleged that Thad was throwing shade at the departed star; when you read the entirety of what he had to say, it leaves a different impression. At least, it did to me. Young was asked about the pressure of replacing a three-time All-Star, and this is how he responded (in full):
“I’m not here to be Kevin Love. I’m not trying to be Kevin Love. He’s a great player. For now, it’s all about doing my best, going out there to try to help the team make the playoffs. Kevin Love was what… 26 and 12? I’m not trying to replace 26 and 12. 26 and 12 hasn’t made it to the playoffs. If we can get to the playoffs with me doing… 10, or 18, or something like that, I’m great with that. I’m not coming here to be a stat stuffer.”
– My take: he’s clumsily trying to say that just because he can’t duplicate Love’s raw numbers, it doesn’t mean he’ll view his time in Minnesota as less of a success. All he cares about is winning basketball games. Yes, that sounds cliche, but as malleable as he’s been throughout his career, and given his positive reputation, it’s easy to believe that he literally doesn’t care about statistics, only victories.
3. Shabazz Muhammad and Anthony Bennett
– The team’s “Extreme Weight Loss” contestants appeared together, and their physical makeovers were striking. Shabazz said right now is “the best I’ve felt in my entire basketball career” and that he’s down from 245 to 225 pounds. Bennett, for his part, says he’s dropped ten pounds (it looks like it could be even more) and has turned “everything into muscle.”
– When asked if dropping the weight would hurt his post game, Muhammad downplayed the concern. “To be honest, I feel stronger. I feel ripped – I wasn’t really ripped last year. I feel quicker and stronger.”
4. Andrew Wiggins
– I don’t have much for Wiggins, because he didn’t offer much in his time meeting with the media. Truthfully, I understand it. He seemed to be sick and tired of the Cleveland questions, the expectations questions, the trade questions, the face of the franchise questions, the pressure questions… he seemed like a guy who really just wants to get to camp and play basketball.
5. Robbie Hummel and Glenn Robinson III
– Much of the discussion with these two centered around the depth at the wing positions. “It’s going to make everyone better,” Robinson said. Hummel agreed, adding that showing versatility will go a long way toward cementing a spot on the team. “With Coach Adelman last year – and I think this is similar with many NBA offenses – the 2 and the 3 are pretty interchangeable. So you have to know both positions.”
6. Nikola Pekovic and J.J. Barea
– First things first: it must have been a tough day for Barea, whose uncertain status with the team is being speculated about openly. There are currently 16 players with guaranteed contracts for this season (and 15 spots available), plus the team signed Mo Williams (making J.J.’s spot somewhat redundant), so something has to give. He certainly still has some value, but at his price tag ($4.5 million) it’s unlikely any team will trade for him outright. Either Flip is holding onto him in hopes that a team will come calling after a training camp injury, or the two sides are still negotiating a buyout, or Flip is dead serious about turning camp into a legitimate competition, in which case Barea and Glenn Robinson III would presumably duke it out for the 15th spot on the roster. In the meantime, he’s caught in limbo. If it’s weighing on him, he didn’t really show it.
– Pekovic had a couple of great quotes, but this was by far my favorite:
“The medical staff is doing everything to try to keep me healthy. But like I’ve said many times, my way of playing, how many times I get bumped, I get hit… and now, of course, I hit people.”
Yes, Pek. Yes you do.
7. Zach LaVine
– A brief, personal aside, if it’s permissible: I’m 27. I’m still adjusting to the reality that a bunch of the players I cover are not only younger than I am, but MUCH younger than I am. Every time I’m around Zach LaVine, I’m struck by his youth, and I do not mean that in a bad way. He’s not immature; he handles questions and the spotlight a hell of a lot better than I would have at his age. But he’s still just a kid (Kevin Martin called LaVine and Wiggins “babies,” so apparently I’m not the only one), and he’s raw, so his development will take time and require patience from the coaching staff, from teammates, and most of all from the fans.
– LaVine’s family has made the move to Minneapolis from his native Seattle, and he said he believes this will aid his transition to life in the NBA. “It’s going to be big (to have them in town),” he said. “I’m a family-oriented person, so wherever my family is, I’ll be comfortable. I can go up to their apartment, have my mom make some home-cooked food, and I’ll be right at home.”
8. Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin
– Kevin Martin’s quotes deserve their own full writeup at some point. Suffice it to say, he was brutally honest about adjusting to life as a mentor, as a player who will be expected to lead by example, unable to “get away with” some of the stuff he’s been able to in the past. He did have a few interesting things to say about Andrew Wiggins, including that he thinks the Wolves’ rookie has “Hall of Fame potential,” by far the loftiest praise anyone offered throughout the day.
– Rubio discussed the leadership vacuum on the team being filled by multiple people rather than a single person. He said he sees himself, Kevin Martin, Thad Young, Mo Williams and Nikola Pekovic as leaders of the team.
– Ricky also made it clear that he won’t be discussing his contract situation publicly, employing the “I’ll let my agents deal with that, I don’t want to talk to the media about it,” bit. Fair enough.
9. Corey Brewer and Ronny Turiaf
– “I mean, let’s be honest, we all knew (Kevin Love) was outta here.” Corey Brewer, ladies and gentlemen.
10. Gorgui Dieng and Maurice Williams
– Dieng was his usual soft-spoken, reserved self. He said his experience with team Senegal in the FIBA World Cup was a good one, and that he’s excited to get back to the Wolves. He made it clear that he was comfortable playing power forward (“I played there during Summer League,” he said) and is willing to do whatever is asked of him.
– Maurice Williams, on the other hand, is neither soft-spoken nor reserved. “I’d love to play 48 minutes, absolutely,” he said, “but I know that’s probably not a recipe for winning a lot of basketball games. I’m a student of the game. I know the game. But I’m a realist also.”
– Unlike Martin, Williams won’t need to undergo any transformations to become a mentor to younger players. He talked about it being part of the “fabric of who I am. “That’s just my personality,” he explained. “When I was a young player, I didn’t have a veteran guy around to help me. I had to learn a lot of stuff on the fly.” Around his fourth or fifth season, he said, he realized he didn’t want it to be that way for others, so he began to impart his wisdom on the younger players around him.
– Flip sold me on the plan he has for this team,” Williams said. “I’m excited and hopeful everything turns out.”
11. Chase Budinger
– Knees feel great.
– He worked on side pick and rolls and mid pick and rolls this offseason.
– Hasn’t shown what he’s really capable of, yet.
– Is eager to get to camp healthy and ready to contribute for the first time in awhile.
– By the end of media day, reporters are sick of asking questions, players are sick of answering them, and everyone just wants to get to the part where we actually see what this thing is going to look like on the floor. Chase was the final player to speak today, and was perfectly pleasant and honest, but by the time it was over, there was a collective sigh, knowing that the whole charade was over, that it was time to pile in cars and head to Mankato, and time for everyone to get to work. Enough talk. It’s time for some real basketball.