Wolves notebook: Injury opens door for other small forwards

BY foxsports • September 27, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS -- Already, a door has been cracked.

It's far from an ideal opportunity: after an offseason fraught with talk of staying healthy, the hiring of new athletic training staffers, and optimism aplenty at the prospects of what a non-maligned Timberwolves bunch could achieve, a starter goes down. Before training camp. With an injury to a knee doctors said was 100 percent.

But Chase Budinger's sudden and surprising cartilage damage also gives a handful of Minnesota players a crack at making a more indelible mark during training camp -- maybe later, too, depending upon the small forward's to-be-determined status.

Corey Brewer may become a starter again, at least temporarily. Derrick Williams' chances of proving he's a viable three increase. Rookie Shabazz Muhammad gets more reps. Even Dante Cunningham, who is much more of a power forward, might see some preseason time on the wing, president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said Friday during a press conference at the Target Center.

"Those guys are gonna have opportunities, and a lot of opportunities," Saunders said. "You move forward as a group. As I've said, we might be disappointed, but does not change where we're going."

After re-signing with Minnesota this summer, Budinger was considered the heir apparent to the starting small forward job. But it was announced Friday his knee that required surery last season is bugging him again, and there's currently no timetable for a return.

With training camp opening Tuesday in Mankato, it puts a much brighter spotlight on the three spot.

Like Budinger, Brewer inked with Minnesota as an unrestricted free agent. His prescribed role was to come off the bench, hound opposing swingmen and chip in a few transition buckets and corner 3s.

If Budinger's not able to go by the Timberwolves' season opener Oct. 30, Brewer may be asked to do the same on a much more frequent basis. It wouldn't be the first time; in 2010-11, his final full year in Minnesota before being traded to Dallas, he started 82 games and averaged a career-high 13 points per game.

Williams will be asked this season to play both forward spots. He's been primarily a four and struggled mightily at the three, but Saunders insists he can work as a flex. Same with Cunningham, to a lesser extent.

And then there's Muhammad. The No. 14 overall draft pick has plenty of room to develop, but his propensity for scoring just might earn him some time in the void left by Budinger.

As for the injured player himself, Flip praised Budinger's tireless work this summer to rehab his knee from a torn meniscus. A visit with Dr. James Andrews -- the same doctor who will scope and inspect his knee Monday -- about a month ago turned up "a clean bill of health," Saunders said, and Budinger had been moving around well enough at pre-camp workouts.

Budinger also passed an intensive physical before re-upping for $15 million over the next three seasons.

"It's just something, really, that's come up in the last month," Saunders said.

Asking Price: The Timberwolves signed point guard A.J. Price to a training-camp contract, giving them four hopefuls fighting for one final spot on the 15-man roster.

A four-year NBA veteran, Price enters the fray after spending a season in Washington. The Indiana Pacers grabbed him in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2009 draft, and he played out his first three years there as a fairly-reliable backup. Last year with the Wizards was his busiest, as he played 22.4 minutes per game and averaged 7.7 points and 3.6 assists.

But Washington let him walk as an unrestricted free agent, and the Timberwolves decided to give him a shot in camp. Price has a previous connection with newly hired general manager Milt Newton, who worked in the Wizards' front office for a decade.

With 207 NBA games under his belt, the 6-foot-2, 181-pound Connecticut product boasts far more experience than his three other preseason aspirants. Undrafted free-agent shooting guard Othyus Jeffers has played in 31, while second-round Timberwolves picks Lorenzo Brown (2013) and Robbie Hummel (2012) have yet to make their NBA debuts.

But that doesn't guarantee Price the gig.

He and Brown are two of five point guards on the roster entering camp, which begins Tuesday at Minnesota State in Mankato. Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea, and Alexey Shved all possess guaranteed contracts for this season and beyond.Saunders said the battle is "wide open," even after the loss of Budinger.

"That spot is open for the player that's gonna be able to help us win maybe one or two extra games, or a guy that we feel might have a great development opportunity down the road," Saunders said. "Every player that's vying for that spot right now, they all bring something different."

Worth the weight: One change Timberwolves observers can expect this year is a bit more transition offense, and at least two players have made an effort to best prepare themselves for that aspect of the game.

Saunders was very pleased to find that both Williams and Muhammad have lost significant weight in preparation for training camp. Muhammad dropped 15 pounds and is down to about 205, and Williams checks in at 236 pounds after losing about 20 this offseason.

That's a great sign, the former coach contends.

"They basically show they've shown discipline and commitment," Saunders said. "And when they show discipline and commitment coming into a season, whether you're a coach or you're in management or fans, you've got be excited about that."

Last year, Minnesota ranked 19th in the NBA with 12.4 fast-break points per game.

Upcoming: The Timberwolves' annual media day is scheduled for Monday. The team will then hold the first four days of training camp at Minnesota State's Bresnan Arena on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of next week.

Coach Rick Adelman will conduct one practice each day. Minnesota's preseason opener is Monday, Oct. 7 at home against Russian professional team CSKA Moscow.

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