MINNEAPOLIS – Derrick Williams must have known this offseason would be full of uncertainty.
His name had already been rumored among trade talks before the March 15 deadline, and the Minnesota Timberwolves were clear that roster changes would be in store over the offseason. So much of Williams’ status in those changes would hinge on his summer, the extent to which he could improve and how much he could earn the trust of his team.
Back in April, it seemed like it would be easy to plan. Head back to California and train with assistant coach Bill Bayno, check in with Rick Adelman every once in a while, use Kevin Love’s trainer, Gunnar Peterson, attend summer league in Las Vegas.
Now, though, the summer has taken on a few new twists for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft. He’s already seeing more concrete results to his training than anyone might have imagined, and if he returns to the Timberwolves next season as expected, Williams will be without a nagging medical problem and paired with another player who’s familiar with his game.
At the end of the 2011-12 season, Timberwolves trainer Gregg Farnam recommended that Williams have his septum fixed. Williams went in for the surgery, and in doing so learned that he actually had several fractures in his nose he didn’t even know about. The fractures were corrected, and the surgery should benefit his breathing, conditioning and endurance on the court.
Obviously, that surgery changed Williams’ training outlook. Still, he was able to begin working out again the day after Memorial Day, and he’s been making rapid progress since then despite coming down with pink eye in the days before this year’s NBA draft.
“I was pleased with what I saw (when) I watched a workout he had last week,” Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn said in late June. “It was a very intense, near-two hour workout.”
Not only did Williams decide to follow Love’s lead with his selection of a trainer, but he also seems to have adopted his older teammate’s focus on health. A year ago at the Chicago predraft combine, Williams weighed in at 248 pounds, up from his 241-pound listing on the University of Arizona website. By June 27, though, his weight was down to 233, and Kahn said Williams is hoping to trim down to about 225 before the season.
Kahn added that the weight loss was Williams’ own initiative, not a mandate from anyone within the organization. Even so, Kahn and the coaches are pleased with it, and it’s likely contributing to the progress Williams has made with his workouts.
Another unseen development in Williams’ offseason was the addition of Chase Budinger, whom the Timberwolves acquired from Houston on June 26. Budinger played at the University of Arizona from 2006-09, and though he never overlapped on a team with Williams, he does know him well. Williams began his tenure at Arizona during the 2009-10 season, Budinger’s first in the NBA, but he was recruited when Budinger was on the team.
“I remember playing pick-up with him when he was a freshman there,” Budinger said. “I was just amazed at his athletic ability and his rawness to the game, but he’s made strides every year and he’s gotten better and better. He’s an extremely good athlete and his shot is getting better. He’s a big guy. He’s going to be fun to play with.”
In Budinger, Williams will likely have an advocate along with a friend, and the familiarity between the two can’t hurt. It’s not a game-changing acquisition, but a familiar face never hurts.
For now, Williams still has a week until summer league, months of training before the preseason begins. He’ll likely continue to hear trade rumors, from far-fetched to doable, and he’ll have to internalize them and prevent them from impacting his training. With a young player, especially one as unassuming and dedicated as Williams, rumors must be hard. They’re a part of the game, though, a part of the business side of sports that Williams needs to learn is never going to go away.
Two months into the offseason, and there’s little more certainty for Williams than there was in April. But two months of a successful routine can do wonders for confidence, and to learn that there might have been something unknown – the nose problems – hurting his play last season can also be comforting. Regardless, Williams shouldn’t see this early success and feel complacent. He still has goals to reach, from a specific weight target to the need to find some intangible measure of consistency.
Last fall, the Timberwolves got a new, trimmer, fitter Love. He’d exceeded expectations, set a new standard for what a player can do in an offseason. There’s no way Williams is going to amaze Wolves fans in the same way, not with Love’s transformation so fresh in everyone’s minds. But to mimic Love would not be the worst thing, and Williams seems well on his way to doing so.