MINNEAPOLIS — Despite his gruff external persona, Rick Adelman isn’t one to raise his voice much.
“He doesn’t get mad very often,” Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio said of his coach, “but when he does, he has 100 percent reason to do it.”
So when Adelman tore into his players Saturday for an apparent lack of energy and “going through the motions,” they listened. Two days off the court to reflect and a pair of long practices the past two days revealed a more focused and vivacious group than the one that dropped two home preseason games last week, Rubio said.
“I think we didn’t start in the right way, the way we wanted,” Rubio said. “But I think we’re doing it the right way right now. We practice hard, especially we practicing our defense and let’s see if we can translate what we doing in practice in the games.”
As the third-year starting point guard from Spain points out, no one outside the team’s inner circle will know if it’s still flat until Sunday when Minnesota takes on Boston in Montreal, Quebec. In the meantime, though, Adelman is using the entire week to give his players a chance to redeem themselves.
For Rubio and the rest of the main rotation guys, that means being in the right spots more frequently and displaying more seeable zeal. For others, it’s a final chance to make an impression that lands them a roster spot.
“I just think these practices are just as important as the three games next week,” Adelman said.
With one open roster spot at the moment and four players trying to fill it, Adelman doesn’t plan on making any cuts until after Sunday’s exhibition. He said Tuesday he’d like to have things fairly set by next week, though, meaning time is short for training camp invitees A.J. Price, Othyus Jeffers, Robbie Hummel and A.J. Price to finish up their applications.Adelman might end up having room for two of them. The Timberwolves appear poised to waive center Chris Johnson, who has yet to play in an exhibition game.
They’re also looking around the league for potential trades or free-agent signings.
“We’re evaluating everything,” Adelman said Tuesday. “It’s not just this group. It’s what else is going on around the league and how else can we improve our team.”
The roster must be pared down to 15 players by 4 p.m. Oct. 28. But getting its mainstays on the same page is just as important as filling out its lower portions.
Especially after such a slow start.
“It really showed that we didn’t have too much chemistry going,” forward Derrick Williams said.
Moving Derrick around: A product of heavy minutes as much as anything else, Williams has put up some of the better scoring numbers among Minnesota reserves this preseason. He’s played both small and power forward at the request of Adelman and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders.
He doesn’t acknowledge one being more comfortable than the other — only that he’s more than willing to play both if it means playing time.
“I don’t really look at it as I’m bouncing back and forth,” said Williams, drafted second overall by the Timberwolves in 2011. “I know both spots, and it’s not like I’m in my first year where I didn’t know which spot I was gonna play and things like that. I’m really taking time to learn both spots, and it’s really been helping.”
When Williams has come off the bench to join the Timberwolves’ starters, it has been at the three in place of Corey Brewer. Later in games, he’s played the four after Kevin Love exits for the day.
During practice, he’s a firm fixture on the second team. Part of his duties is getting the younger players up to speed.
“Some of the guys don’t know the offense too much, so Coach really takes it upon me to get everybody in the spots,” Williams said.
Showing off his skinnier, 236-pound frame for the first time since losing 20 pounds in the offseason, Williams scored 21 points in the Timberwolves’ preseason-opening loss to CSKA Moscow, playing power forward predominantly. He chipped in eight points at Toronto, didn’t play against Milwaukee and had nine at home Saturday versus the Raptors.
While the player expresses comfort in any situation, his coach has observed more of a transition period.”I think with Derrick, it’s been a little bit more difficult,” Adelman said. “He had a decent game at the four spot, but now he’s playing three, too, so now we’re just trying to evaluate what is the best spot for him.”They’re evaluating how long he’ll be around, too. The team has until Oct. 31 to exercise its option on Williams’ contract for 2014-15. Saunders said before training camp he foresaw the Timberwolves keeping Williams on board for the extra year, but the team has yet to make an official announcement.
Love down low: Love has been spending more time in the paint this preseason, posting up and making sure he’s in position for rebounds.
That’s by design, Adelman said. High-percentage shots and boards should, in theory, be easy to come by with Love and Nikola Pekovic teaming up in the post.
“He’s got to be down there,” Adelman said. “We have two good post-up players. It’s got to be a nice mix of what we’re doing. Part of that is getting those two guys on the blocks.”
Love can still pop out and knock down 3-pointers — that’s a huge face of his game’s uniqueness.
But Minnesota needs him collapsing the defense as frequently as he stretches it. That means he’s either scoring in close or finding an open teammate on the perimeter. With Kevin Martin — who practiced again Wednesday after missing two games with a sore Achilles — and Brewer now on the wing, Love has more reason to share the load.
Both Adelman and Rubio said Love has been impressive so far in practice. The injured hand that cost him nearly all of last season isn’t hampering him at all, Adelman said.
“I don’t worry too much about him,” Adelman said. “If he’s healthy, he’s gonna be a real factor.”
Said Rubio: “He make me look good, so that’s good for me, good for him and good for our team. We’re going to try to build that chemistry again and try to win games.”