MINNEAPOLIS — Outgoing, free-spirited and affable, Ronny Turiaf might be the easiest guy to get along with in a locker room full of friendly faces.
But the 30-year-old Timberwolves center admits he feels just a little isolated at times while transitioning into yet another new habitat.
“I think I’ve adapted pretty well,” Turiaf said. But, he added, “I’m like the lone fish in the water by himself sometimes.”
The Twin Cities are the sixth locale Turiaf has called home in the past five years. Their harsh winters and distinct identity stand in stark contrast to the coastal towns in which he’s spent most of his career. Miami and Los Angeles are far more similar to his native land of Martinique, especially this time of year in the upper Midwest.
Turiaf shares his plight with every professional sports journeyman. Even on among his latest coworkers, he’s not alone in this unfamiliar environment.
Including Turiaf, eight players on Minnesota’s training-camp roster have never played here before. Four of them — Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, Lorenzo Brown and Robbie Hummel — are rookies, and Othyus Jeffers and A.J. Price are here on only a quasi-permanent basis as they fight for a roster spot.
But, barring a trade or other unforeseen circumstances, this will be the ever-charismatic Turiaf’s den for the next two years. Twitter and face-to-face interactions have been his best sources of social excavation — eateries, entertainment, and so forth, of which there are plenty to experience in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“I really enjoy trying to discover, trying to understand what other cool stuff and what other neat stuff and very unique stuff to do here,” Turiaf said. “I’m enjoying it.”
Inside the Target Center’s Lifetime Fitness practice facility, progress has come even more naturally.
While he’s not wont to complain regarding anything to the contrary, Turiaf says he’s rapidly reaching a comfort level with Rick Adelman’s corner offense and team defense concepts. He compares the coach’s philosophies, especially on offense, to those of another pro hoops sage, Phil Jackson.
Turiaf spent the first three years of his career in Los Angeles with the Lakers learning the triangle offense and the importance of providing a defensive spark off the bench.
“I think from a personal standpoint, I feel great,” Turiaf said. “It reminds me a lot of my playing time with the Los Angeles Lakers, as far as the system that we are running. I’m feeling very comfortable.”
The Timberwolves brought in Turiaf as an unrestricted free agent this summer with a pair of goals in mind: play spot defense around the rim and mentor Minnesota’s younger big men. The 6-foot-10, 249-pound Gonzaga product has displayed a keen penchant for both so far.
Through four preseason games, he leads the Timberwolves with eight blocks while playing 18.4 minutes per contest. He may see slighter court time during the regular slate, but eight years in the league and frequent moves around the country apparently haven’t affected his timing or awareness much.
He’s also the most vocal man on a team that needs to communicate better, Adelman and teammates have said.
“He’s a very intelligent defensive player,” Adelman said. “He sees what’s going on. He’s been in the league. He talks. He’s been very active.”
That goes for his interactions with Dieng and starting five-man Nikola Pekovic, too. Although at opposite ends of the experience spectrum, both listen intently when Turiaf points out a mistake or explains a post move.
Dieng has done his best to be receptive.
“Being here, learning, I think that’s the only thing I can do right now,” said Dieng, an international transplant like Turiaf and a first-round draft pick out of Louisville.
His leadership duties keep Turiaf from ever getting too lonely. His mother, Aline Cesar, will be in Minneapolis for the next month-and-a-half to keep him company, too.
Even big, friendly fellows like Turiaf need some reminders of home every once in a while.
“I’m looking forward to having the Carribean flavor added, a little spice into my food,” Turiaf grinned.
Right stuff from Rubio: Adelman had to smile somewhere inside when he watched Ricky Rubio slice off an elbow screen from Pekovic, isolate Celtics forward Jared Sullinger with a crossover and step back to hit a 16-foot jumper in the second quarter Sunday night.
The pass-happy point guard went on to score 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the Timberwolves’ 104-89 exhibition victory at Montreal’s Bell Centre. That’s a much better clip than Rubio’s 7-for-22 mark through three preseason contests and exactly what’s needed for his game to further evolve.
“Yeah, yeah, when Ricky makes shots, it makes it a lot easier,” Adelman said. “He shot the ball all week at practice, and I thought he did a good job tonight.”
Rubio’s ability to set up teammates is no secret entering his third year in the league. But a point guard that can score from different floor locations is much more dangerous and a near necessity in today’s NBA.
It was a primary focus for Rubio during a busy offseason that included cross-training in the mountains of Spain and representing his country at EuroBasket 2013. Forward Kevin Love said he noticed a difference right away during workouts.
But it never really revealed itself to the public eye until Sunday.
“He’s really been shooting the ball particularly well in practice,” Love said. “I told him ‘Get (the misses) out of the way now’ … I know what he’s capable of and what all these guys are capable of, so we need to keep working.”
Love led Minnesota with 22 points on 6-of-14 shooting Sunday, and Kevin Martin added 21 while hitting 5 of 8 3-pointers. As a team, Minnesota shot 43 percent from floor.
“I felt good with energy,” said Rubio, who two of his three 3-point tries. “I have to control the ball and tempo of the game, and at some point we did that.”