MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Ronny Turiaf has traded elbows with Nikola Pekovic in the post and chased Ricky Rubio around the court in international competition long enough.
The eight-year veteran said he’s happy to join the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he will serve as a mentor and an extra big man off the bench to help prepare the younger players for what everyone expects will be a run at the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2004.
“It’s a great thing for me to fit in. I’m tired of playing against Ricky in Spain. It’s good to be on his good side,” Turiaf said on Wednesday, drawing chuckles from the crowd. “I’m actually really being serious about it.”
Turiaf has averaged 4.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in his career and played just over 10 minutes per game last season for the Clippers. But when Flip Saunders went looking for a veteran big man to beef up the team’s bench, he immediately thought of Turiaf. Saunders coached Turiaf in Washington in two years ago, and grew to admire not only his tenacity on the defensive end, but also the tireless outreach in the community.
“He brings that passion, he brings that enthusiasm, he brings what you need, the glue, for a team to have success,” Saunders said.
The team held Turiaf’s introductory press conference on the University of Minnesota campus at the Ronald McDonald House, which houses sick children who are being treated at the hospital nearby. The Timberwolves renovated a basketball court in the building last season and named it in honor of late team executive Conrad Smith. After the press conference, Turiaf played with about a dozen children on the court, playfully swatting away their shot attempts.
With the Timberwolves, Turiaf will be counted on to give them some toughness when they face some of the bigger teams in the league. The Wolves have Pekovic starting at center and drafted Louisville shot-blocker Gorgui Dieng in the first round in June, but protecting the rim is one of the team’s biggest issues going into training camp, which opens on Oct. 1.
Turiaf has averaged 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes over his career and has gone toe-to-toe with some of the best low-post scorers in the game.
“I’m so excited about joining this team because of what they already are and what I can bring to the table,” Turiaf said. “It’s this kid excitement, this pureness about really wanting to accomplish something special.”
Exactly how much playing time he sees probably relies a lot on the development of Dieng as a viable backup to Pekovic. But even if Dieng proves to be ready to handle the role, it’s likely that Turiaf will be a big reason for it. He has played in the playoffs in six of his eight seasons, some experience that could come in handy for a team that has a three-man core — Rubio, Pekovic and Kevin Love — that has never appeared in the postseason.
“I’m a proven player. I know that I can pass and play defense,” Turiaf said. “I can just do whatever needs to be done to win the game. This team has special talent. If I can help people get better, just by giving advice and sharing what I’ve seen … I’m all about winning.”
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