MINNEAPOLIS (AP/WCCO) — Even just 16 games into the new season, one thing had become abundantly clear in Minnesota: Derrick Williams wasn’t fitting in with the Timberwolves.
Coach Rick Adelman was playing him only as a matter of last resort despite a glaring need for help off the bench, and Williams was growing increasingly frustrated with the sporadic minutes.
With all that in mind, new Wolves President Flip Saunders swallowed hard and made the decision to part with the former No. 2 overall draft pick, sending him to Sacramento for defensive specialist Luc Mbah Moute.
“We need to do something where coach can get some trust into his bench and play those guys more,” Saunders said after the deal was completed on Tuesday. “Coach is going to play guys that he feels he trusts that can go out there and play for him and help him win.”
Williams was the highest draft pick in franchise history when the Wolves grabbed him in 2011. But his style of play didn’t mesh with Adelman’s system, he played the same position as the team’s best player and the impasse reached a breaking point early this season. Williams missed one game because of back spasms and did not play in four other games as Adelman elected to go with Robbie Hummel and Dante Cunningham with the second unit instead.
Adelman wanted to see more energy from Williams on both ends of court. But Williams often said that he had difficulty getting into the flow of the game when he only played in fits and starts. He bounced between small forward and power forward in two-plus years with the Wolves, averaging 10.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.
And so the Wolves cut ties with a 22-year-old whose value on the market had plunged right along with his playing time.
“I just didn’t foresee Derrick being able to play much,” Saunders said. “And if a guy’s not playing, usually your value is not going to go up. So when we’ve got someone we thought was going to fit what we were looking for, we just thought it was right.”
The Kings are hoping Williams can bring some offensive punch to a team that could use some more of it in the frontcourt alongside DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings have been searching for an answer at power forward after Carl Landry went out with a torn hip flexor in the preseason. They’ve used Jason Thompson and Patrick Patterson to varying degrees of success and see Williams as a player who may just need a change of scenery to realize his potential.
“We’re excited to acquire a player with Derrick’s skillset,” Kings GM Pete D’Alessandro said in a statement issued by the team. “He will add size, length and serve as a scoring threat in our frontcourt. We also want to thank Luc for his contributions during the short time he was a King. We wish him the best.”
Williams is more comfortable playing the power forward, which he showed when filling in for the injured Kevin Love last season. But with Love back healthy this year, and Cunningham earning Adelman’s trust as a veteran off the bench, there was little room for the 22-year-old. Williams played less than 15 minutes per game this season, much of it in garbage time during blowouts.
“Derrick’s still young and still has that potential,” Saunders said. “Unfortunately, many times for that potential to be able to marinate and develop, sometimes they have to get extended minutes.”
The move will help the Wolves balance their roster a little bit, relieving a glut at power forward while addressing a weakness at small forward. The 6-foot-8 Mbah a Moute played with Love in college at UCLA and brings some toughness and defensive presence that the Wolves are sorely lacking.
With Chase Budinger still not close to playing while he recovers from knee surgery, the Wolves needed another body to help take some of the pressure off of Corey Brewer as the team’s primary perimeter defender.
Adelman has told others in the organization that he likes Mbah a Moute’s game, an important endorsement if the Wolves were going to cut ties with Williams.
Mbah a Moute’s size will help the Wolves better matchup with some of the toughest covers in the West, including Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, the Clippers’ Blake Griffin and Dirk Nowitzki from Dallas.
Aside from Ricky Rubio, the fifth overall pick in 2009, the Wolves have gotten next to nothing from former President David Kahn’s drafts. Jonny Flynn (sixth overall in 2009), Wes Johnson (fourth overall in 2010) and now Williams are all gone.
While Flynn is out of the league and Johnson has struggled to find carve a niche, Saunders believes Williams isn’t a bust, just a player in need of a better fit.
“I believe Rick was just forced into a situation where you’re playing a guy who’s playing like MVP of the league, which he has been,” Saunders said of Love, “and you don’t see that really changing.”
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