The former first-round pick will have to prove he is worth the investment this season.
By PHIL ERVIN FS North
This is the 11th in a 17-part series profiling each player on the Timberwolves' roster leading up to training camp.
There may be no player with more on the line entering Timberwolves training camp this year than
Money is a big part of it. The team has until Oct. 31 to decide whether or not to exercise its option on Williams' contract for 2014-15. If they keep him for the fourth year of his rookie deal, he'll receive a $1.3 million raise that likely puts Minnesota up near the luxury tax.
But this goes way beyond the financial mumbo-jumbo.
This is the best chance, so far, for Derrick Williams to prove he belongs. The 2011 lockout stunted his rookie growth. So did stepping in as the team's No. 1 power forward when Kevin Love went down last year -- Williams, his performance showed, wasn't ready.
But when he heads to Mankato with the rest of his teammates next week, he'll be on the proving path. There are three ways for Williams to go: plateau, in which case his future looks as uncertain as his present (see below); convince the Timberwolves his game is worth their investment (new president of basketball operations Flip Saunders seems to think it is), or show well enough to lure another team into a trade (he's been mentioned as a candidate all offseason).
At least part of the 6-foot-8, 243-pound forward's fate resides in his own hands.
Last year: With Love missing 64 games last season, Williams got every opportunity to show he can make it as a stretch four in the NBA.
Yet 56 starts and a full offseason later, the jury is still deliberating.
Like many young players, Williams showed flashes during his second year in the league. There were games where he went off for more than 20 points. There were others in which he was barely noticeable.
He has yet to establish a comfort level offensively, which caused him to hesitate often in his decision-making. He didn't shoot well enough from the floor -- 43 percent -- to turn a whole lot of heads.
Williams did show he's agile enough to defend NBA athletes, but he's undersized for a power forward and doesn't present a physically imposed roadblock for more traditional, post-up big men.
His rookie status hasn't done him any favors, either.
Previous front-office head David Kahn drafted Williams second overall in 2011, guaranteeing him a hefty salary out of the gate and placing almost impossible expectations upon the good-natured kid out of Arizona.
So when he looked so erratic last year, trade talk began to swirl. He'd fit better elsewhere, some said, after failing to establish himself as a four but not excelling when used on the wing his rookie year. He's another Kahn-era bust, others mused.
Which brings Williams to next week.
This year: Love is back. So is small forward Chase Budinger, and the Timberwolves added Corey Brewer to create substantial depth at the three position.
Yet Saunders has said he'd like to try Williams at both forward spots. If new-look Minnesota's season falls somewhere in accord with plan and Love remains healthy, Williams isn't going to get No. 2-overall-pick-type minutes at the four.
But if he can continue to grow his outside game -- his 3-point shooting actually improved significantly from his rookie year, and he possesses a smooth, fluid shooting motion -- and make better decisions with the ball, he just might fill the niche Saunders is hoping to create for him.
It would appear the former Timberwolves coach is banking on it; while the team continues to deliberate Williams' future, Saunders strongly suggested last week they will, in fact, pick up his option.
That, of course, could merely be to lock up what Saunders deems a valuable trade asset.
But it also could present Williams more of a chance with the team that thought so highly of him two summers ago.
From the front office: "Derrick hasn't lived up to that second pick in the draft. Now, part of it is his fault; you always have to take responsibility for yourself as a player. The biggest thing he has to do as an inside player: he misses a lot of easy shots. He plays small at the rim, and part of that is he doesn't locate the rim. It's almost like he shies away from some contact." -- Saunders on KFAN 100.3