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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Rick Adelman was handcuffed in two respects during his first season in Minnesota.
The lockout shortened training camp offered precious little practice time once the season began, preventing the coach from installing even a fraction of his celebrated corner offense with the Timberwolves.
Adelman was also held back by the relative youth of the roster, a collection of superb athletes, care-free personalities and several players who didn’t really know what it took to be successful in the NBA. So he asked for more veterans in the offseason, and president of basketball operations David Kahn delivered them this summer.
Kahn jettisoned youngsters Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph and Wes Johnson as well as veteran Darko Milicic to clear enough room to bring in Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Chase Budinger, Lou Amundson, Greg Stiemsma, Dante Cunningham and Alexey Shved.
The result is a roster with a completely different look. The Wolves still have plenty of youth with Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Derrick Williams, but now that core is surrounded by players who have been in the league for a while and understand the game.
“We’ve got veterans, especially when you look at people like Brandon, Andrei, guys that have been in the league for a while,” Adelman said on Monday. “They know how to play. That’s a big difference. What I like about the group is it’s a team that has a chance to really get better in areas as a team. They don’t have to think so much about what they’re doing; it’s about what the team is doing.”
Adelman didn’t get everything on his wish list. The Wolves are still a little thin in the frontcourt and at shooting guard, where a lot hinges on the condition of Roy’s knees after the former All-Star took last season off.
But Adelman sees a versatile group that he can work with and far more easily than the undisciplined team he had last season. Budinger played for Adelman in Houston so he is familiar with the system, Kirilenko is the kind of do-it-all defender the team has sorely lacked and Roy, if healthy, provides an end-of-game presence that this young team needs.
Love is coming off a gold medal run with Team USA, and Adelman expects him, Roy, Kirilenko and JJ Barea to set a much more professional tone in the locker room this season.
“Too many times last year when we lost a game, they were out of there. They were gone,” Adelman said. “It didn’t hurt enough. We have to have guys that really feel that. And I think the guys we have right now, just watching them, it’s a different atmosphere.”
Adelman will also be able to open up his playbook a little more this season, thanks to the normal amount of training camp and the 82-game schedule, which allows for more practice time. The Wolves relied almost exclusively on pick-and-rolls last year, a very effective approach when Rubio was healthy. But it fell apart after he went down with a knee injury.
“I think you are going to see us doing a lot more things than we used to run,” Adelman said. “That’s one thing that I like. You can really adjust to the people you have, and that’s my job as a coach.”
The Timberwolves open training camp on Tuesday in Mankato, but Rubio doesn’t expect to be playing until December at the earliest. The Wolves went 5-20 without him last season, a free fall that still comes as a shock to Adelman.
“When we lost him, it was almost like the balloon just deflated,” Adelman said. “When you lose a player, somebody else just has to step up. You have to have other people in roles that they weren’t used to doing before.”
With Barea and Luke Ridnour both healthy and Shved coming over after an impressive run in the London Olympics, the Wolves feel they are better equipped to handle Rubio’s absence.
“I think we do have veteran players who know how to win, and how to play basketball at the same time and that is what is going to help us turn the corner,” Love said. “We had guys that could really play last season and were ultra-talented. I just think they weren’t around a winning culture to really help us out.”
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