Wolves pick up option year on Derrick Williams’ contract

MINNEAPOLIS — All the
trade chatter, criticisms and role confusion swirling around Derrick Williams
the past two years have left the Minnesota Timberwolves forward with two
options.

Embrace
the uncertainty, or wilt beneath it.

“It’s
tough,” Williams told reporters after practice Tuesday. “Ever since
I’ve been here, I’ve heard trade rumors, since I got picked. It seems like
every other day it’s something new.”

They’re
not going anywhere. But after two years of trying to grow his game while
surrounded by talk about his future, the 6-foot-8, slimmed-down swingman
received a noted vote of confidence Tuesday morning.

President
of basketball operations Flip Saunders told him via telephone the team will
exercise the option on his contract for 2014-15 — the most clarity Williams
has had since signing his rookie deal in 2011.

Even
for a guy who uses doubt for incentive, a weight was lifted.

“Your
security is here,” Williams said. “You’re guaranteed at least one
more year in the NBA. As long as you have that, I think everything is
good.”

Williams’
critics scoffed at his high selection after he spent most of his rookie season
backing up Kevin Love. Then they wondered how he’d ever fit into a Timberwolves
system where he’s played both the three and the four.

The
final stretch of last season gave him a chance to silence them a bit. Playing
primarily power forward in place of Love — out with a broken hand — he
averaged 15.2 points on 44.7 percent shooting during Minnesota’s final 33
games.

That
bolstered faith in his skill set but subsequently thrust his name into trade
discussions. With Love coming back, conventional wisdom mused, it’d make sense
to deal Williams for a better fit at another position while Williams’ value is
still high.

Through
an offseason that included jaw surgery and him working to lose 20 pounds in
order to better defend perimeter players, Williams heard the chirping.

Yet
here he is.

“The
only thing you can do about that is to keep playing,” said Williams, who
will make $5.3 million this season and $6.7 million next year. “My
security is here. I’m not really looking at what other people say. I’m just
here to play basketball. If all those rumors were true, I would have been gone
by now.”

Rather
than pigeonhole Williams behind Love, coach Rick Adelman and Flip Saunders are
hoping to use him at both the three and the four this year. His ability to play
the wing is especially highlighted now with Chase Budinger out.

Next-in-line
small forward Corey Brewer grew more accustomed to coming off the bench during
two years in Denver before inking with the Timberwolves as an unrestricted free
agent. He started Minnesota’s first three preseason games before Williams got
the nod Sunday in Montreal against Boston.

“I
haven’t really talked to him about it, but you do see the difference when he
came off the bench the other night,” Adelman said of Brewer. “He just
brings so much energy. So I don’t know. I know he did that for Denver last
year, and I think you just have to find out what’s best for your team that we
have right here.”

Barring
a trade, that would’ve included Williams whether Minnesota allowed him to walk
after this year or not. The decision provides no guarantee that he’ll end up
being the Minnesota star previous management banked on when it drafted him;
only that the Timberwolves can get something in return should they decide he
doesn’t fit into the mix here.

And it
potentially buys Williams more time to prove he can.

“I
think he’s played very hard,” Adelman said. “He rebounded the ball
very well the other night, and it’s a process for him. It’s kind of a
disadvantage when he has to play two spots. You’re jumping back and forth.

“But
right now, that’s what we have to do.”

So one
key training-camp choice is set in stone. Saunders plans to meet with Williams
on Friday to finalize the particulars.

In the
meantime, Adelman has a small forward starter to name and a roster to pare down
to 15 by Oct. 28. He said he’ll try different names at the three during the
Timberwolves’ final two exhibition contests.

Those
matchups Wednesday at Philadelphia and Thursday at Detroit are also the final
auditions for training-camp invitees Othyus Jeffers, A.J. Price, Robbie Hummel
and Lorenzo Brown to make a case for guaranteed-contract consideration.

“We’ll
try to give a chance for some of those people to play,” Adelman said.
“We’ve talked about the situation. It’ll come down after the two games
where we’ll sit down and say ‘What’s best? What’s the best 15 for our
group?'”

Right
now, that includes Williams. For how long still hangs in the balance.

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