Minnesota dominates Milwaukee in preseason finale

Chase Budinger scored 20 and Nikola Pekovic added 19 as the Minnesota Timberwolves dominated from the opening tip against the Milwaukee Bucks in the preseason finale as Minnesota earned an easy 100-74 victory Friday night at the Resch Center in Green Bay.

Milwaukee started out quickly, ahead 6-3, but Minnesota scored 10 consecutive points to put the Timberwolves ahead by seven. The run included 3-pointers by Budinger and Brandon Roy, forcing Milwaukee to call its first timeout of the game.

Roy only played 16 minutes, but scored seven points on 2-of-3 shooting and added an assist as well. Budinger made 4-of-5 3-pointers, leading the way for the Wolves.

The Bucks tried to make a comeback, having an 8-0 run to cut it to 36-27. With a few minutes left in the half, Milwaukee got the crowd involved, as off of a steal, Brandon Jennings made a tip pass to Marquis Daniels for the dunk, which cut the Minnesota lead to 43-33.

But with three seconds left in the first half, Alexey Shved made a nifty pass to fellow Russian newcomer Andrei Kirilenko for the two-handed dunk, posterizing Ekpe Udoh, and giving the Timberwolves a 48-36 lead into halftime.

Shved had a game-high eight assists to go along with six points. Kirilenko filled up the stat sheet again, scoring eight points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He also dished out four assists and had a game-high six steals.

Shved was back at it to start the second half, as he buried a 3-pointer from the right wing and was fouled. He made the free throw to complete the 4-point play. That was followed by a Budinger 3-pointer and a Budinger alley-oop from Shved on the next two possessions for the Timberwolves to make it a 57-38.

Milwaukee made a few mini runs in the second half, including a crazy layup by Jennings and a foul. He made the free throw to cut it to 68-53.

Jennings led the Bucks with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting.  He also added five rebounds and three assists, but turned the ball over five times.

The Green Bay crowd gave a standing ovation to Wisconsin native and former University of Wisconsin big man Greg Stiemsma when he checked in in the fourth quarter. He wasted little time making an impact as Will Conroy found Stiemsma for an alley-oop to put the Timberwolves ahead 82-62 midway through the fourth.

That was Stiemsma’s only basket in eight minutes of action. He also grabbed a pair of rebounds.

After a basket by Milwaukee, Conroy missed an open 3-pointer, but Derrick Williams cleaned up the mess with a putback slam.

Williams finished with 13 points in 21 minutes of action. He also grabbed six rebounds.

Another big ovation came in the fourth when former University of Wisconsin star Alando Tucker entered the game for the Bucks.

Wisconsin’s all-time scoring leader did not disappoint, splashing a mid-range jumper late in the fourth for his only basket of the game in two attempts. He finished with three points and one rebound against his former team.

Minnesota shot 51.4 percent from the field to Milwaukee’s 36.1 percent and outrebounded the Bucks 44-40. The Timberwolves also led in steals 13-7 and destroyed the Bucks in the paint, outscoring Milwaukee 48-26 in that area.

In addition to Pekovic’s 19 points, he also hauled in nine rebounds, second on the team.

Monte Ellis had a game he’d like to forget for the Bucks, shooting just 1-for-11 from the field and turned the ball over five times.

The Timberwolves open up their season next Friday against the Sacramento Kings at 7 pm at the Target Center.

Roy returns where it all started

Back during the 2006 NBA Draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves held the sixth pick in the draft and were looking to draft a guard. Minnesota took Brandon Roy, a shooting guard out of the University of Washington. With the next pick, Portland selected combo guard Randy Foye out of Villanova. Not long after the picks were announced, the Timberwolves traded Roy to Portland for Foye. Multiple knee surgeries and a missed season later, Roy made a comeback and signed with the team that originally drafted him July 31.

Roy showed Minnesota what it missed by trading him as he scored 16.8 points per game in earning Rookie of the Year. In comparison, Foye averaged 10.1 points per game for the Wolves.

Roy had everything going for him early in his career. After earning Rookie of the Year honors in 2007, he made three straight All-Star games, scoring at 19 points per game each season. In the 2008-09 season, he led the Blazers to the playoffs and averaged a career-high 22.6 points per game. In addition to a career high in points, he also had a career high in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and rebounds. In the playoffs, he averaged 26.7 points per game, but the team lost in six games to the Houston Rockets. He finished 9th in the MVP voting that year.

But the injuries started piling the next season. After missing time with a hamstring injury, he injured his right knee in April that required surgery. In December, Roy’s knees acted up again due to his lack of cartilage. He had problems with his knees at Washington and then again the previous year. In January of 2011, he underwent arthroscopic surgery on both of his knees. His knees never fully recovered and was forced to retire prior to last season. Before he left, he gave the Blazers one last moment. Down 2-1 in the playoff series to the Dallas Mavericks and down 67-44 late in the third quarter, Roy showed he could still play. He scored 18 points of his 24 points in the fourth quarter to help the Blazers pull out an improbable 84-82 victory.

After Roy’s retirement, Portland used the amnesty clause on him to create more cap space. In June, Roy decided to make a comeback. He had the platelet-rich plasma procedure that Kobe Bryant has also had to keep his knees healthy. He entered free agency and came back to Minnesota and officially signed with the team July 31.

He is not expected to play 30 minutes right away until the team knows his knees can hold up. But he will be a big part of the offense with the Wolves desperately needing production from that position. If he can be even half as what he was four years ago, the Wolves have the shooting guard position solved.

Greg Stiemsma’s long road leads back to Minneapolis

Two years ago, Greg Stiemsma was invited to the training camp of the Minnesota Timberwolves. As an undrafted free agent two years before, Stiemsma had to make an impression as it may be his only chance at making an NBA roster. He didn’t make it out of training camp and was waived by the Timberwolves. But other than pouting and feeling sorry for himself, he worked his way back and after having a solid season with the Boston Celtics, he returned to the Minnesota Timberwolves, signing a two-year contract to back up Nikola Pekovic.

As a highly regarded recruit out of Randolph, Wis., Stiemsma stayed home and attended the University of Wisconsin. But in four years, he averaged just 2.7 points per game. As a sophomore, Wisconsin jumped out to a 14-2 start, but Stiemsma’s grades were slipping. Normally an exceptional student, his slip in grades was the red flag that caused his teammates and coaches to wonder if something was going on. The reason for his slip in grades was depression, a condition shared by one out of every 10 adults according to the American Psychiatric Association. He started taking antidepressants and in 2006, returned to help the Badgers to back-to-back 30 win seasons, including a Sweet 16 appearance as a senior.

After college, he signed with Oyak Renault of the Turkish Basketball League before heading to the Seoul SK Knights of the Korean Basketball League. At the conclusion of the 2009 season, Stiemsma decided to come back to the United States and play for the Sioux Falls Skyforce to reunite with Sioux Falls assistant coach Tanner Bronson, who he played with at Wisconsin. During the 2009-10 season, he averaged 8.8 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per games in 45 games, earning the NBA Development League Defensive Player of the Year.

He went to the Timberwolves training camp, but failed to make the roster. After a 10-day contract with Minnesota and Cleveland, he went overseas for a year before coming back to Sioux Falls.

Shortly into the NBA D-League season, Stiemsma earned another shot. He signed a league minimum contract with Boston. Stiemsma made the most of his opportunity. In his first game, he registered a Celtics rookie record six blocks in a 97-78 loss to New Orleans. He played in 55 games, starting three. He averaged 2.9 points and 1.6 blocks per game. Stiemsma was second in the league behind Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka in blocks per 36 minutes.

Last month, Stiemsma signed a restricted free agent offer by the Timberwolves and Boston rescinded their qualifying offer and Stiemsma joined the Timberwolves August 2.

Stiemsma was signed by Minnesota to back up Pekovic after they amnestied Darko Milicic. Minnesota hopes Stiemsma can provide what it thought Milicic would be able to. Stiemsma is a shot blocker who knows his role on the team. He is a high IQ player who will not attempt bad shots and has a nice mid-range game. Stiemsma looks to provide great depth for the Wolves and judging by his work ethic and basketball IQ, Stiemsma will be a nice breath of fresh air from what the team has had in the past.

From Russia with love

Two of Minnesota’s free agent acquisitions, forward Andrei Kirilenko and guard Alexey Shved are impressing so far during the 2012 Olympics for Russia, as they try to lead the Russians to its first basketball medal since becoming an independent country.. The duo is helping lead the country to a 4-0 start in pool play, including an upset victory over Spain, the No. 2 team in the world.

Things could not have started any better for Russia…….or for the Timberwolves, as the newest Wolves teamed together to lead the Russians to a 95-75 blowout victory of host country Great Britain. Shved put all of his abilities on display, scoring 16 points and dishing out 13 assists, with most of those going to his current and future teammate, who scored a  game-high 35 points on 14-for-17 shooting.

Shved is tied for first in the Olympics in assists, averaging 6.3 in the four games, while Kirilenko is tied for fifth in the Olympics in scoring, averaging 19.5 points per game. In the upset of Spain, both players had their numbers take a hit. After being down 20-2 to start, the Russians stormed back to shock the Spaniards 77-74.

Even though the Russians won, both teams struggled offensively. Kirilenko stood out on defense once again, but struggled shooting, going 2-for-8 and just scoring eight points. Shved struggled mightily early and only played seven minutes and missing all three shots he took. He also turned the ball over twice while having no assists.

Shved did show how clutch he can be, though, in the third game against Brazil. Even after committing six turnovers against Brazil, he came up with the second biggest shot of the game. With the Russians down three, Shved calmly went down the floor and stepped up and knocked down a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left to tie up the game.

With the victory against Spain, Russia won group B and will not have to face the defending gold medalists from the United States until the gold medal match should it advance that far. The Russians end pool play with a game against Australia Monday, which had a comeback of its own today, going on a huge run after being 15 points down and stormed by Great Britain 106-75.

Timberwolves, Lynx well represented in London

With men’s basketball beginning tomorrow in the Olympics and the women starting earlier today, there will be a strong Timberwolves and Lynx feel to them, with three members of the team playing in the games. Kevin Love will be playing for the United States while new Timberwolves acquisitions Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko will be suiting up for Russia. Ricky Rubio would have been the fourth player, but is still out with a torn ACL he suffered against Los Angeles in March.

The Lynx have three players playing for Team USA on the women’s side, Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus. The trio combined for 15 points in today’s 81-56 win over Croatia. The team next plays Monday against Angola

Love averaged a career-high 26 points per game last season for the Timberwolves and will be making his first appearance in the Olympics. Love and Team USA open its bid for a gold medal repeat against Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum and France. The Americans are the clear favorites to repeat, but several teams could challenge the US, including Spain, who features Marc and Pau Gasol as well as Serge Ibaka.

Russia will open tomorrow against the host country Great Breat Britain, led by Luol Deng. Russia will some work to do if it wants to earn a medal. It will have to knock off Manu Ginobili and Argentina, which earned the bronze in 2008 and gold in 2004.

Kirilenko, a former NBA All-Star, won the Euroleague MVP last season for CKSA Moscow, averaging 14.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. In his 10 seasons with the Utah Jazz, Kirilenko averaged 12.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He has always been known as a tremendous defender and a player who is good at all aspects of his game, but does not excel at a single aspect, except for defense.

Shved was a teammate of Kirilenko on CKSA Moscow, scored 11.3 points per game while shooting 37 percent from deep while in Russia. He is expected to battle fellow newcomer Brandon Roy for the starting shooting guard spot for the Timberwolves.

On the women’s side, Team USA is even more of a favorite than the men’s team. The women cruised to an Olympic gold medal in Beijing. Augtustus returns to the Olympics after winning gold with the 2008 team. Moore nearly averages 15 points per game for the Lynx, but has cracked 20 the past two games before the Olympic break. Whalen, a Minnesota native, is making her first Olympic appearance and had nine points in the win today.

If you’re a Minnesota fan and looking for a reason to watch the Olympics, here are six good reasons. It will be interesting to see if Russia can shock people and pass Argentina and France and win an Olympic medal. One thing is for sure, Minnesotans will have plenty of opportunities to cheer for their own in the upcoming two weeks.

Where do we go from here?

Wolves fans have been on a roller coaster ride in pursuit of Nicolas Batum over the past two weeks. It appears that it will finally be coming to an end very soon, but unfortunately, without actually landing the man they were courting. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort, or lack of Batum’s desire to play in Minnesota, but just that Portland holds all the cards.

Chasing restricted free agents has this negative side effect, but there wasn’t any name near as big as Batum’s in unrestricted free agency. So having not gotten Batum, knowing unrestricted free agents aren’t quite the high quality Batum is… Where do we go from here?

A few names have been tossed around regarding free agents. The two in particular that seem to be most desired by the Wolves are Courtney Lee and Greg Stiemsma.

Courtney Lee can bring improved play to the wings, especially from beyond the arc. The Wolves had the worst corner 3-point shooter in the entire league last year, where Courtney Lee is one of the best. Ricky Rubio could certainly see benefit from Courtney Lee just like Lee would see from Ricky.

“Greggers” could add something special: A last name with 4 consecutive consonants. But wait, that’s not all! He’s also a defensive-minded big, which is something the Wolves don’t have, especially after shedding absent-minded big, Darko Milicic. Stiemsma only averaged 13.9 minutes per game with Boston last year, but in that time he averaged 1.5 blocks. That places him at second best blocks per 48 minutes, behind only Serge Ibaka, whose name I cannot say without yelling IBLOCKA!!

Outside of those two, it is looking very likely that the Wolves will pick up Alexey Shved, an international combo guard who could especially help until Ricky is back at 100%. But more on him later, when we’re hopefully posting a “Welcome to Minnesota, Shved” article.

If not free agency, there are some good targets in the trade market. None may fit the Wolves needs better than Andre Iguodala. “Iggy” has averaged 15.3ppg over his career while playing excellent defense at the small forward position. Not only that, he may be able to be had without giving up a great deal of assets. The reason for that is that his contract is fairly large. This upcoming season he will be due to make $14.7M, with a player option for the next year at $15.9M. The new AI may be a risk as he could bolt after a single season, but if the Wolves think they could resign him once his contract is up in two years, he could certainly be a very realistic target.

At a minimum, the Wolves will be heading into next season without Martell Webster, Brad Miller or Darko Milicic. It was recently announced that Darko would be designated as the team’s amnesty option, Brad Miller has been traded, along with a pair of seconds in exchange for a second round pick, and Martell Webster had a team option that was not picked up. These moves shed about $16M total for the Wolves, money which will be thrown at Batum.

And now, we wait…

How about a few contests?!

Hey all!

Please, remember that in this exciting time that is NBA Free Agency,
rapidly approaching the Wolves Summer League games, that Wolfpack is still
very much here! Please come discuss the Wolves while they make their moves,
for better or worse.

The first contest will be who makes the most “quality” posts in the
Wolfpack. Basically a “quality” post is anything that isn’t simply a “me
too”, a emoticon, or something like that. If it adds any actual value it’ll
be counted.

Try and get all of your friends to come join as well!

Which brings me to the second contest!

The person who brings in the most new users (who make at least 25 posts
before the end of the month) will also win a contest!

Each person who wins a contest wins a $25 gift card, for any site where I
can gift a card from. Amazon, iTunes, whatever you want, you decide!

Finally, there will be another contest, but a much longer term one…
Fantasy Football! The prize has yet to be decided, but the league will be
free to play, and most likely limited to 12 teams, so please show interest
on the forum for that. It will most likely be an actual trophy and a cash
prize of some sort that you win.

Thanks all, get your friends to join in, and if you have any suggestions
for the site, don’t hesitate to let me know!

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

As of July 1, free agency had begun, but not until tonight at midnight EST will players officially be able to sign with their new teams. One of the more interesting players to watch is Portland restricted free agent Nicolas Batum.

Batum and his agent have stated their desire for Batum to play in Minnesota and he was offered a 4-year $45 million contract last week. However, Portland has stated it will match any offer, but has since softened its stance.

Once Batum officially signs the offer sheet from Minnesota, Portland will have three days for it to match it. So after 10 days of waiting before they can actually have the offer sheet signed, the Timberwolves will have to wait up to three days to see what Portland does.

A sign and trade is the most likely scenario. Portland just drafted Weber State PG Damian Lillard with pick No. 6 this year, but has no depth behind him. Luke Ridnour is a prime target to possibly be going to Portland in the deal. Ridnour has family issues and a trade to Portland would be ideal since he would just be a few hours from home. A protected first rounder of the Memphis Grizzlies might be included as well.

Batum averaged 14 points per game a year ago on 45 percent shooting and most importantly for Timberwolves fans, he shot 39 percent from 3-point territory. Both Batum and his agent feel he was misused in Portland and a chance of scenery is necessary.

He could be the final piece in what could be a playoff run for Minnesota. The Timberwolves have been active this offseason with the trade for SF Chase Budinger and agreeing to terms with SGs Brandon Roy and Russian Alexey Shved. Batum could slide in and fill in the starting small forward spot and play alongside Roy, his former teammate in Portland.

The Timberwolves would still not be done in free agency. They have talked to Los Angeles Lakers PF Jordan Hill and Boston Celtics restricted free agent C Greg Stiemsma. If Batum ends up in Minnesota, Stiemsma would complete the two-deep roster and would fill as the shot blocking center behind Nikola Pekovic. If Batum doesn’t sign, Minnesota may dangle Derrick Williams in front of Philadelphia in attempt to acquire Andre Iguodala, which would make Hill more appealing to the Wolves.

Minnesota fans don’t have to worry too much longer. In a few short days, the Timberwolves and their fans will finally hear news from Batum and the long wait of almost two weeks will come to a close.

With Nets acquisition of Johnson, is Howard next?

The Brooklyn Nets are wasting no time making an impact during the free agent period. Officially, moves can’t be made until the official start of free agency beginning July 11, but the Nets are making their presence felt early.

Monday, Brooklyn and the Atlanta Hawks agreed to a trade, which sent talented, but high-priced shooting guard Joe Johnson to Brooklyn for four players and a protected first round pick. Atlanta and new general manager Danny Ferry traded Johnson to shed cap. Immediately after trading Johnson, he also shipped small forward Marvin Williams to Utah in exchange for point guard Devin Harris.

The deal hinged on Brooklyn re-signing star point guard Deron Williams, who signed a 5-year $100 million contract to stay with the Nets yesterday. However, the Nets may not be done.

Monday, Orlando Magic superstar Dwight Howard officially demanded a trade to Brooklyn and some wondered that a trade for Johnson would hurt their chances for Howard.

But then yesterday, rumors started swirling that the Nets are pursuing Howard and have offered three players, including center Brook Lopez, and three first round picks for the star big man.

It’s clear that Orlando, with the inevitable loss of Howard, will be rebuilding, as will Atlanta with the trades by each team. New Jersey is the beneficiary and will look at building its own “super team.” With Miami’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the Nets are looking to make their own “big three” of Williams, Howard and Johnson.

Time will only tell if the Nets can pull through and acquire their “big three,” but with all of the drama surrounding Howard, one could only imagine how this team would be received.

Wolves trade No. 18 for Budinger, Eliyahu

Minnesota upgraded one of its weakest positions with a trade two days before draft night with the Houston Rockets, acquiring small forward Chase Budinger and Euro prospect Lior Eliyahu for the No. 18 pick in Thursday night’s draft.

Budinger, 24, played under Adelman for two seasons in Houston. Last year, he averaged 9.6 points per game, shooting 44 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the arc. He shot 48 percent from corner 3s last season while Timberwolves players shot 36 percent from the corner last season.

“I’m very excited,” Budinger said from his home in San Diego this morning. “Rick Adelman was a great, great coach for me. I have much respect for him. I love his system. I feel like it fit me very well.”

Eliyahu, 26, was selected by the Orlando Magic in the second round of the 2006 NBA Draft. According to Draft Express’ twitter, Eliyahu will join Minnesota’s Summer League team in Las vegas in August. This past year, he scored 15 points per game and haulng in seven rebounds a game and dishing out 2.4 assists per game in Europe.

Houston is looking at packaging multiple picks and trade with Sacramento in attempt to acquire the No. 6 pick and try to ultimately trade for Orlando’s Dwight Howard.

This trade creates even more of a logjam at the small forward position. With Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson already on the team and Derrick Williams having the ability to play there, more moves are coming for Minnesota. Beasley won’t be back, but it’s just a matter of if he leaves via a sign-and-trade or if he leaves via free agency.

Whether Williams is traded or not will depend on what they could get for him. As their only real trade asset, the Timberwolves have to make sure it is exactly what they want before parting with Williams.