Health is the No. 1 concern for new Timberwolves power forward Anthony Bennett, following an ugly rookie campaign.
New Timberwolves power forward Anthony Bennett waves to the gathering at the Minnesota State Fair on Tuesday.
Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports
By Phil Ervin
FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. -- Pop. Pop. Pop.
The sound of high-top against basketball reverberated around the Target Center the morning of Nov. 13, 2013 as Cavaliers veterans booted the game's essential piece of equipment high into the stands. In a typical rookie initiation ritual, Cleveland's first-year players were charged with retrieving them. Matthew Dellavedova and Sergey Karasev bolted after the wayward balls enthusiastically, grinning their way through what they considered a humorous hazing session.
But Anthony Bennett trudged through the seats forlornly, moping his way between seats without a hint of efficaciousness on his face. That night, the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft went 3 for 11 from the floor and pulled down five rebounds in a 124-95 loss.
The ninth game day of his professional career proved a microcosm of an aggravating rookie campaign gone awry.
Shoulder surgery and conditioning issues cost him most of his preseason workout routine. Injuries and disease cost him 30 games. Struggling to adapt to the NBA game cost him the chance to live up to his draft status.
And it all has Bennett pining to prove 2013-14 was an anomaly as he resets in the Twin Cities.
"I can play," Bennett said Tuesday at the Minnesota State Fair, a hint of pleading in his deep, 21-year-old voice. "I know last year I never really got a chance to showcase that, because I wasn't really playing throughout the summer."
That leaves health as the No. 1 concern for Bennett as he prepares for Year 2, said Timberwolves president Flip Saunders, who acquired the 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward along with Andrew Wiggins and Thaddeus Young in the trade that sent Kevin Love to Cleveland last weekend.
"We looked at what's happened, the things that he's gone through over the last six months," Saunders said. "There's been a lot of medical issues that they've tried to take care of. If we can get him healthy, that's the first step."
Last May, Bennett underwent rotator cuff surgery to repair a tear in his labrum that kept him out of summer league play. Midway through the preseason, then-Cavs coach Mike Brown revealed the UNLV product has sleep apnea and asthma that caused him trouble breathing and catching his wind during games and workouts.
Bennett had his tonsils and adenoids removed this summer in hopes of alleviating his sleep apnea, a chronic condition that causes trouble breathing while one sleeps. He also says he's fully recovered from his shoulder operation and a left patellar tendon strain that kept him out of 17 straight games before playing in Cleveland's finale.
"He's in a lot better shape than he was this past summer," Saunders said. "He's a big guy that has the ability to shoot the ball . . . has great hands, has the ability to handle the ball, pass the ball. So he's a multidimensional player."
Bennett developed that knack in one season at UNLV, averaging 16.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.
But he wasn't regarded as a potential top-of-the-crop prospect. Cavs general manager David Griffin shook up NBA draft boards when he picked him first overall in a relatively weak draft class.
That No. 1 next to his name makes his 4.2 points and three rebounds per game last year look even more disappointing.
"I just want to come out here this year and play well," said Bennett, who was introduced Tuesday at the fair along with his other new teammates. "I'm just trying to reach my full potential."
He showed flashes of it during his first summer league foray, averaging 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in 29.8 minutes per game. Moreover, he looked like he was having fun again.
"I've been happy with him since the camp started," new Cavs coach David Blatt said at summer league in Las Vegas. "He's a kid who's trying to do something about his situation, and that's the right way to go about it."
Saunders also gleaned from Brown that, when healthy, Bennett can be a pesky pick-and-roll defender -- an area of great need for defensively challenged Minnesota.
"That was a pleasant surprise," Saunders said.
Throughout the offseason -- along with Wiggins, his former Canadian junior national team and AAU teammate -- Bennett dealt with trade rumors regarding his name. Preliminary reports had him coming to Minneapolis in the Love deal then being swapped immediately for Young.
But Bennett now has the opportunity to germinate gradually, with Young, a seven-year veteran, there to ease the transition.
And, Bennett hopes, he'll look and feel more like himself.
"He's a guy that plays with a spirit and an intensity," UNLV assistant Todd Simon said. "It's part of what makes him great. He's got that confidence. Just seeing his emotions start to come back and all that stuff, he's enjoying the game again."