Wolves young players holding their own in training camp practices
Shabazz Muhammad and young teammates held their own against veterans in Wednesday's Wolves practice.
By PHIL ERVINFS North
MANKATO, Minn. -- Corey Brewer hobbled to the Bresnan Arena baseline to chat with reporters Wednesday, his torso and both legs wrapped heavily with bags of ice -- the size you'd buy from Holiday to keep a 12-pack chilled.
Kevin Martin eased back into a first-row seat behind the basket in similar pain after a 3 1/2-hour, Rick Adelman-instituted workout.
Kevin Love spent a good 15 minutes in the Minnesota State training room before emerging for his post-practice media session.
And Tuesday was apparently even tougher on the Timberwolves.
"I cut down a couple of things," Adelman said. "You want to be sure you don't overextend them. So we changed some drills around to make sure that we got something done, but we weren't just going to kill them out there."
"Maybe in his eyes," Martin said dryly.
Shabazz Muhammad didn't express marked discomfort following Day 2 of the Timberwolves' four-day training camp excursion to owner Glen Taylor's alma mater. And Othyus Jeffers looked and sounded ready for another 5-on-5 scrimmage even after an afternoon full of them.
As is the case at most NBA boot camps this time of year, it's hungry pitted against comfortable. So far in Mankato, Minnesota's younger, second-unit players are winning out.
"They're hungrier than us," said Martin, entering his 10th year in the league and first with the Timberwolves. "It reminds me of when I was in Sacramento. I was a young guy going up against Mike (Bibby) and Peja (Stojakovic) and C-Webb (Chris Webber). Me and (player development coach and fellow former King) Bobby (Jackson) was just talking about it -- we used to put a licking on them a lot. But then in game nights, it was the complete opposite."
Martin, Brewer, Love and the rest of the Timberwolves' higher-ups know their spots aren't going anywhere. For them, these first days of training camp are about returning to playing shape and re-familiarizing themselves with teammates new and old.
For their younger counterparts, it's about flat-out fighting. Four of them -- Jeffers, Robbie Hummel, Lorenzo Brown and A.J. Price -- are gunning for one potential open roster spot. Even those with guaranteed contracts like Muhammad have roles to define, minutes to vie for.
The verdict so far: they're at the very least battlers.
"I think all of our young guys are playing really hard," Adelman said. "They just kicked the tails of our nine guys who are gonna play a lot."
With Love and fellow stars Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic playing a total of 15 minutes together last year due to injuries, Adelman's had the three of them and the rest of the Timberwolves' projected primary rotation scrimmage together. The rookies, training-camp bodies and second-unit guys have been grouped on the other side of the floor in a scout-team-like scenario.
But they're not in place to mimic opposing teams' schemes. They're trying to earn job.
So Chris Johnson is free to throw down an alley-oop from Jeffers then swat Love from behind at the other end of the floor, as he did Wednesday afternoon. And Muhammad can crash the offensive boards with reckless abandon, a habit that's already drawing praise from his demanding coach and more tenured comrades.
Wednesday, a scrimmage squad comprised of Muhammad, Jeffers, Johnson, Price, Hummel, Brown Gorgui Dieng and Derrick Williams handily defeated a group that included Love, Pekovic, Rubio, Brewer and Martin -- the Timberwolves' starting five if the season were to begin tomorrow.
It's not a sign of weakness on the top tier's part, but a welcome sight for a coach who's running tough one-a-day sessions and already testing the limits of his main players.
"These guys are pushing our veterans," Adelman said. "They're pushing. They're going at it. They're not afraid."
Not at all, Muhammad said.
"Being hungry like that and working like that makes the first unit work as hard as us," the first-round draft pick said. "We want to challenge our team."
'Blessed' Jeffers: It'd be especially easy for Jeffers to be timid.
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound shooting guard suffered at the worst possible time an injury that renders some athletes hesitant the rest of their careers. After bouncing between the NBA D-League, Europe and stints with the Utah Jazz and
San Antonio Spurs for three years, Jeffers played the final 16 games of the 2010-11 season in Washington under Flip Saunders -- then the Wizards' head coach, now the Timberwolves' president of basketball operations.
Washington had an offer sheet drawn up for him to stick around the next year, but both sides were waiting until the league and its players union drafted a new collective bargaining agreement.By the time the 2011 lockout was lifted and the season began, Jeffers was about halfway through rehab for a torn ACL.
"Bad timing," the jovial two-guard said with a smile.
He suffered the injury during summer preparations, working through what seemed like a harmless cone dribbling drill. It would keep him sidelined until the shortened 2011-12 regular season was almost over.
Jeffers spent last year with the Iowa Energy of the D-League but never lost sight of a possible NBA return. He landed a job on the Timberwolves' summer league team and defended well enough there to get a training camp invite.
"That taste of the NBA is like no other taste," Jeffers said, "and I'm in a situation right now where I really feel like I could get an opportunity."
To do that, he'll have to convince he's a viable enough flex guard that signing a point man (Brown or Price) or a small forward (Hummel) isn't as beneficial for Minnesota. Adelman stressed the need for flexibility in the team's final opening-day roster spot -- should the Timberwolves choose to fill it -- but said it's far too early in the race for anyone to have a leg up.
Jeffers' question: Why not him?
"If I get the opportunity, they bless me with that situation, I won't let them down," he said. "I'm blessed, and I'm happy to be here."
Talk 'em up: Adelman doesn't get it.
His players have no problem yucking it up before and after practice. But when it comes to defensive communication, they've got a long way to go before the season commences.
"You have to talk," Adelman said. "It's funny. Every coach you'd probably ever talk to would say that his guys don't talk enough. When they get in the locker room, they're talking all the time, and when they get on the court, they don't. That's just the way it is."
Vocal connection is especially imperative in Minnesota's defense. The team's current lineup boasts only one frightening individual defender, Brewer, meaning switches and cuts must be voiced clearly and quickly in order for defensive players to avoid losing ground.
A lot of responsibility falls upon the center, who can see everything in front of him and alert teammates as to opponents' whereabouts.
Ronny Turiaf's great at it, but he's in line for more of a limited role. Pekovic, who will get the lion's load of minutes at the five, has to communicate better.
"And in English, too," Adelman said of the Montenegro native.
"We both talk a lot off the court, so we damn well better be able to talk on the court," Love said. "Pek, I think sometimes he has that thick ... eastern bloc accent, so sometimes it's hard to understand him. We'll make him more vocal."
Upcoming: The Timberwolves will have two more one-a-day sessions Thursday and Friday in Mankato then return to the Twin Cities for the remainder of preseason practice. Their first exhibition game is Monday against CSKA Moscow, the Russian team Minnesota guard Alexey Shved and former small forward Andrei Kirilenko used to play for.
The regular season opens Oct. 30 at the Target Center against Orlando.