MINNEAPOLIS — An overspent, frustrated Corey Brewer left the Twin Cities two and a half years ago.
According to the Timberwolves’ newest swingman, it’s a smarter, more prudent Brewer that’ll return this season.
“I’ve learned what I can do and can’t do,” said Brewer, who signed Friday with the team that originally drafted him.
What the 6-foot-9, 185-pound Florida product can do is hound opposing shooters. He can make plays in transition, especially with an on-the-fly distributor like Ricky Rubio leading the charge. He can knock down the very occasional shot, most notably the corner 3-pointer.
What Brewer can’t do, he’s come to grips with, is carry a team on his shoulders. Many expected something close to that when Kevin McHale selected him seventh overall in the 2007 NBA Draft.
By the time he began contributing on a meaningful level in his third year, the Timberwolves were assessing his trade value. That eventually led to the transaction that sent him into journeyman mode — first the New York Knicks for one week, next the remainder of that season on the bench for eventual champion Dallas, then the past two years in Denver.
It was a process that opened his eyes to championship-level basketball deep in the heart of Texas and helped him accept his role as an energetic, off-the-bench defender out in the mountains.
But he hadn’t desired to leave the North behind.
“I never thought I’d be coming back,” Brewer told reporters during a conference call Sunday morning, “but I’m happy for the opportunity to. I didn’t want to leave, so it’s really good to come back.”
He re-enters a situation that’s evolved as much as he has the past few seasons. Front office leadership’s changed twice since he was drafted, and Rubio and Kevin Love form a central core not seen in the Cities since the Kevin Garnett days.
That’s a luxury Brewer didn’t have the first time around — the same summer Minnesota selected him, it traded Garnett to the Boston Celtics.
With little to work with around him, Brewer sputtered to about six points and 3.5 rebounds per game his first two seasons in the league. Starting all 82 contests in 2009-10, he averaged a career-best 13 points per game.
But that came during a franchise-worst-tying 15-67 season. Brewer then returned to his pedestrian numbers in 2010-11 (8.5 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game), hence the trade that February before his rookie contract ran out.
“He’s developed a lot since he left here,” said president of basketball operations Flip Saunders, who took over in May after David Khan was fired. “It’s always different when you come in with the expectations of a top-10 pick and you’re counted on to carry a team.
“He’s not going to have to carry this team.”
With Love, Nikola Pekovic (provided the restricted free agent center re-signs), and Kevin Martin providing three varied and effective scoring options, Brewer will be counted on to provide Rubio a target in the open floor and smother opposing teams’ top offensive threats.
He learned how to do both admirably under George Karl the past two seasons. Last year, he saw 24.4 minutes of action per game and upped his scoring total 12.1 points per game. A lot of those buckets came via the fast break; Brewer’s just a 29.8 percent 3-point shooter, though he did hit 41.1 percent of his 3s from the left corner.
Adelman’s offensive system should give him ample looks from that spot.
Whether he tries to replicate those roles from the starting lineup or the bench is up to Adelman, Saunders said. But in an age of professional hoops where individualism reigns supreme, Brewer plans to meet either scenario with the humble acceptance he pledges to bring back with him.
“For me, it doesn’t matter; I would love to start, but we’ve got a lot of good players,” Brewer said. “I can just come in and play my game and get some easy stuff. I’m like the fourth option, fifth option on the floor. That’s a good thing.”
Brewer also gets to team up with longtime friend Martin, Minnesota’s other big external, unrestricted free-agent get this summer.
Martin played a big role in recruiting Brewer to come back to the Timberwolves. When Minnesota brass realized Andrei Kirilenko likely wasn’t coming back — he opted out of the second year of his contract and ended up signing with the Brooklyn Nets — Saunders hounded Brewer over the phone, and owner Glen Taylor even gave him a ring.
“That felt really good,” Brewer said. “Mr. Taylor was always good to me when I was here.”
But Brewer’s offseason workout buddy of the past four or five seasons proved an even more valuable salesman. With a handful of teams, including defending NBA champion Miami, courting him, the chance to work alongside Martin in a town he fell in love with upon entering the league was too golden a situation.
As soon as Martin agreed to terms with Minnesota, his attention turned toward text messaging and calling Brewer incessantly.
“I can’t wait to play with Kevin — that’s my guy,” said Brewer, whose contract is reportedly worth $15 million over the next three years. “He was recruiting me more than Flip and Glen were. We complement each other well; I can play D, and he can light it up on offense.”
Such willing delegation from the seven-year veteran will be key if his second stint here is to go better than the first.
But it’s the existence of surrounding talent with which to share the load combined with newfound recognition and execution of his particular role that have Brewer feeling much better about his chances this time around.
“I liked all the people, all the fans,” Brewer said of his first foray with the Timberwolves. “When you’re winning, the fans in Minneapolis are great. The organization was great; we had a tough go with guys leaving. There was a lot of turnover when I was there. Now I feel like we’ve got something going in the right direction.”