MINNEAPOLIS — The nine-player Timberwolves are no longer.
In the aftermath of four injuries in a week, the Timberwolves have agreed to contract terms with 32-year-old veteran wing player Josh Howard, pending a physical. He reportedly will sign a veteran’s minimum contract, which in his case would be worth $1.23 million. In order to sign Howard, the Timberwolves had to cut a player per NBA rules; that player was point guard Will Conroy, who appeared in four games, totaling one point and one rebound in 20 minutes.
Howard, a nine-year NBA veteran, has been out of the league this season after spending 2011-12 with Utah, where he averaged 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds. Those numbers were down from his career highs of 19.9 points and 7.0 rebounds in 2007-08 with Dallas, but if that’s the kind of production he brings to the Timberwolves, it should be plenty to fill in for Chase Budinger over the next three or four months as he recovers from a torn meniscus.
“We needed somebody at that spot,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. “We just looked around, and he seemed to be a good candidate.”
“He’s a versatile player. He’s long, he’s a good defender, he should fit in and help us.”
Howard is a career 33.3 percent shooter from beyond the 3-point arc and a 44.8 percent shooter from the field, but like his scoring and rebounding, those numbers have also declined from their high points when he was with the Mavericks in the early years of his career.
The 6-foot-7, 210-pound swingman has been based in Dallas, which is where the Timberwolves played Monday night. Adelman and other team officials watched him work out while they were in town, and the coach said that from what he saw, Howard looks to be in decent shape. That said, he never went through a preseason and hasn’t played since last spring, so there will be a learning curve.
“I have to talk to him, see where he’s at,” Adelman said. “I would think he’s been around long enough, and everything else, we can get him familiar. We cut back a lot on what we’re doing offensively, so he should be familiar with a lot of stuff we do. A lot of it is what everybody in the league does.”
Realistically, Adelman would like Howard to take some of the heat off small forward Andrei Kirilenko, who’s played more than 40 minutes in each of the past three games. Right now, the coach is hoping for five or six minutes each half from Howard to relieve Kirilenko, and his presence will also allow the coach to switch the Russian from small forward to power forward if need be, which the team was doing early to compensate for Kevin Love’s absence.
Howard was an NBA All-Star in 2007, but he hasn’t been a consistent starter since that career year in Dallas. Since then, he’s played in an average of just 32 games per year due mostly to the aftermath of a torn ACL in February 2010. However, he rebounded last season after leaving Washington for Utah, playing 43 games and starting 18 in the lockout-shortened season.
Howard has been actively seeking a roster spot all fall after his one-year, $2.15 million deal in Utah expired, NBA.com reported in October, and once the final rosters were set, he was poised to step in in the case of an injury like Budinger’s. He’ll be in Minneapolis by Thursday evening, and within 24 hours, he’ll have his first chance to prove his worth and – more important – give some of these exhausted Timberwolves a breather, however short.