More optimistic than the man behind a team with eight healthy players should be. More optimistic than someone who spent his summer swinging deals to break his team’s eight-season playoff drought only to be left with this, a 16-20 record on Jan. 18.
But the Timberwolves’ president of basketball operations is looking at this like there are 46 games left, which there are, and he’s more focused on that loss column than anything else.
Kahn’s team is technically three games behind Houston and Utah, which are tied for the seventh spot in the West, but it has just one more loss than both. Five fewer wins but one more loss, and the losses are what count.
So while Kahn negotiates and the most crucial stretch of the season begins, he has some leeway. His team isn’t out of it yet, and it was granted a hardship exception by the NBA, allowing it to sign a 16th player to its roster on a 10-day deal.
With the NBA mandating that the team must suit up eight players for each game, the Timberwolves are dangerously close to violating that rule — if guard Alexey Shved and center Nikola Pekovic both miss Saturday and the team does not add anyone, it would be down to eight men — but now they’ll have space to sign two players in the short term to swell their ranks.
Mickael Gelabale has been the elephant in the room for the past few days, the player everyone has been expecting to arrive at a moment’s notice upon the end of forward Lazar Hayward’s 10-day deal. He’s the most likely candidate to join the team Saturday, and only FIBA clearance — which the team had not been granted as of Friday — is slowing the process.
Gelabale spent two seasons in Seattle from 2006-08 and is currently playing for Valencia in Spain. The 6-foot-7 forward played in 109 games for the SuperSonics, averaging 4.5 points and 2.1 rebounds on 45.4 percent shooting.
“It’s hard to say until we get him, but obviously he’s a perimeter (player),” acting head coach Terry Porter said of Gelabale. “He can defend. I think he’s a decent shooter, so we’ll just have to wait and see how he fits in. It’s going to be welcome.”
Despite his past NBA experience and the fact that he’s leaving his current team to come overseas, the 29-year-old Gelabale is likely to sign just a 10-day contract with the Timberwolves. The team could sign a player to a longer-term deal to fill its 15th roster spot, but Kahn said he’s not prepared to do so yet based on the shifting personnel and holes all the injuries have created.
Gelabale will be a logical replacement for Josh Howard — who was waived after he tore his ACL — and Hayward — who played small forward, though in exceedingly limited minutes.
However, with Pekovic out for likely 7-10 days with a right quad contusion, the team will need to look to add a big man with its other open spot. Whoever it adds along with Gelabale will be “thrust into the frying pan right away,” according to Porter, which hardly sounds like a pleasant fate.
“There will be no settling in for them,” Porter said. “When we get him (Gelabale), we’re going to have to run a lot of reps for him and give him a lot of our basic, early offenses and a couple of our core sets that we will use.”
Porter said that whenever Gelabale or whomever else the team signs is on the floor, there will probably be a limited package run to help them ease in. There’s really no time for acclimation with games Saturday, Monday and Wednesday and then a back-to-back on the road next Friday and Saturday.
These players will need to provide relief now for a team whose bench appeared downright vacant by the end of Thursday’s 90-77 loss to the Clippers.
For now, Kahn is still thinking in the short term. He spoke last week about the fact that swinging a major deal in January is difficult, and as if to prove him right, the chatter that escalated the next day about Memphis dealing small forward Rudy Gay has quieted.
Kahn still isn’t even sure what kind of trade he’d want to make — “I don’t think it will be something significant,” he said — and he’s still stressing the trade-off between the present and future.
“Whatever we do to address the now, the one thing we have to keep in mind is … it can’t be at the detriment of beyond,” Kahn said. “It has to be sensible for now and for the future.”
Talking to Kahn, you get the sense that he’s juggling too many ideas, too many problems, too many injuries. There must be an element of second-guessing in whatever he does.
After a season like this one, he’d be crazy not to wonder whether — after securing something permanent — another change might render the move a bad idea. It’s no wonder the team seems focused right now on temporary solutions, which also keep its options open in case of further injury and players returning.
Injury updates: Pekovic wasn’t the only player whose status was discussed Friday. Shved, who sprained his left ankle Thursday, is listed as day-to-day, and Porter seemed hesitant to guess that he’d be back for Saturday’s game against the Rockets.
Kahn also discussed the progress of shooting guard Brandon Roy, who Kahn said is unlikely to return in the next couple of weeks. Kahn attended a doctor’s appointment with Roy this week, which he characterized as “a positive visit,” and he said Roy will continue with his treatment because it’s had a positive impact.
For now, the Timberwolves’ number of available players stands at eight.
Healthy: Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams, Greg Stiemsma, Lou Amundson, J.J. Barea, Luke Ridnour, Andrei Kirilenko and Dante Cunningham.
Injured: Chase Budinger (torn left meniscus), Malcolm Lee (right knee and hip surgery, out for season), Pekovic (right quad contusion), Roy (knees), Shved (sprained left ankle) and Kevin Love (broken hand).