MINNEAPOLIS — Timberwolves officials had better keep an eye on Ettore Messina on Monday night.
If no one’s looking, the CSKA Moscow coach wouldn’t mind kidnapping Alexey Shved and taking him back to Russia.
“We should take him in the plane and put him in the back and carry him back home,” Messina joked before his team’s exhibition matchup with Minnesota. “Seriously, we’re just happy that he’s enjoying success here.”
Messina coached Shved during his first two years of professional basketball and has watched the Timberwolves guard’s career with great interest ever since. Shved was 16 when he made his CSKA debut, and Messina recalls a long-haired, uncontrollable youngster who insisted upon playing point guard and had yet to even fully grow into his body.
“He was a wild horse,” Messina said.
A lot has changed since coach and player worked together in the Russian capital.
Shved grew into a formidable European star, improving his shooting and athleticism while adding a little muscle to his bony frame. In 2011-12, he averaged 11.6 points and 3.3 assists in Russian League play and 10.6 points and three boards on the way to the Euroleague finals.
That caught the eye of former Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn, who signed Shved to a three-year free-agent deal last summer.
Messina was long gone by then. He’d resigned in 2009 and spent two seasons coach Spanish League club Real Madrid. He then worked on Mike Brown’s Los Angeles Lakers staff for the 2011-12 campaign.
He interviewed for the vacant Atlanta Hawks head coaching job this summer but “came short,” as he put it, and decided to return to the place where he won two Euroleague titles.
All the while, he kept tabs on Shved, who played a bevy of minutes due to injury in his rookie NBA season and averaged 8.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game. Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman wants him to work on moving and communicating without the ball and develop into a hybrid guard he can use at either the one or the two.
“He already had, I think, some very nice moments in his first season,” Messina said. “It looks like he can really become a good player. If he becomes a little bit stronger and when also he will start to get a little more respect in the league, he will establish himself as a good player.”
Just before tipoff Monday, Shved — whose current teammates and coach say he needs to enjoy himself more and communicate better — introduced his former team to a sparse Target Center crowd.
The Belgorod, Russia native was all smiles.
Barea, Cunningham out: Dante Cunningham suited up for Monday’s preseason opener, but coach Rick Adelman said it was unlikely he’d play. The forward has been suffering from flu-like symptoms since Sunday.
Guard J.J. Barea was not with the team as of game time Monday due to personal reasons. He’s expected back within the next few days.
Small forward Chase Budinger remains out indefinitely following surgery to remove the meniscus in his left knee. The Timberwolves’ other 16 members of the preseason roster were suited up and fully healthy Monday.
First of four: Minnesota heads to Toronto for Game 2 of its preseason slate Wednesday — the second of four contests in six days.
There will be no easing into game form for players, which is a challenge, forward Derrick Williams said. But adjusting to a quick turnaround early will prepare the Timberwolves for back-to-backs and other tougher portions of their regular-season schedule.
Adelman may have the toughest job: figuring out rotations that keep his starters sharp, give him a good look at his reserves and ensure a fair shot for guys trying to make the 15-man roster.
“It’s a little tough,” said Williams, who will play both forward positions this preseason. “Especially when we have so many people. Everybody wants to play. I think that’s the main thing. We have so many games, and everybody’s gonna play. Coach already said that, and people just have to be ready.”