MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves have accomplished their summer mission to bring better 3-point shooters and more positional balance to the roster.
Now the questions left for this team to answer are whether it can successfully guard anyone and how to divide playing time among a suddenly deep, if healthy, group.
The Timberwolves finalized contracts on Friday (Saturday, Manila time) with a pair of small forwards whose skills were central to their plan, Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer, and another, first-round pick Shabazz Muhammad, whose playing-time prospect appears dim for this season after a flurry of post-draft moves.
Budinger agreed to terms last week on a three-year, $16 million contract. Brewer agreed to a three-year, $15 million deal on Wednesday. The Wolves had to maneuver through the league's complicated salary cap rules before they could actually sign them, which led to the trade of guard Luke Ridnour to Milwaukee.
Brewer, of course, was the seventh overall pick in the 2007 draft by the Wolves, but he didn't hit his stride until after he left. Last season with Denver, he averaged 12.1 points in 24.4 minutes per game. Shooting is not his forte, but the Wolves badly needed a reliable defender on the wing, and his athletic ability to run the fast break with fancy-passing point guard Ricky Rubio was what cemented him as the right fit to replace the departed Andrei Kirilenko.
"It's always different when you come in with the expectations of a top-10 pick and you're counted on to carry a team. He's not going to have to carry this team," President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders said.
With Budinger and another veteran acquisition, shooting guard Kevin Martin, Brewer is probably bound for an energy-off-the-bench role. With him, Derrick Williams and the rookie Muhammad, finding time for everyone will be tricky. Williams played a lot of power forward when star Kevin Love was hurt, but with Love back and Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf behind him, that's a crowded position, too.
Saunders stopped short of declaring this the deepest team in the franchise's woebegone history, but he said the group might be more versatile than the 2003-04 squad he coached with Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell that reached the Western Conference finals. That's the only year out of 24 that the Wolves have advanced past the first round of the playoffs.
Budinger was limited to 23 games last season because of a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee. But his familiarity with coach Rick Adelman's system from their prior time together in Houston and his ability to shoot and move without the ball on the wing made him a priority for the Wolves to bring back.
This also is a much taller team than last season, when the 6-foot-2 Ridnour was playing out of position at shooting guard. Assuming center Nikola Pekovic is re-signed, there are three 6-foot-11 guys on the roster with rookie Gorgui Dieng and Chris Johnson. Brewer is 6-foot-9. Budinger and Martin are 6-foot-7. Ronny Turiaf, who was still in the process of finalizing the two-year, $3.2 million deal he agreed to on Thursday, will be a 6-foot-10 backup to Love.
"I do believe that it's going to be a very exciting team to watch play, just because of how we have the ability of the bigs inside to rebound, get out and run with Rubio," Saunders said, adding: "Our big question is, everyone's going to say: 'We think you guys will be able to score. Are you going to be able to defend?' That's why getting Brewer and getting Turiaf, a perimeter defender and an inside defender, I thought was going to be very big for us."
Saunders also praised Adelman's ability to produce capable team defense out of individuals who might not be the best at guarding.
Once Turiaf signs, securing Pekovic is the last piece on the summer to-do list. He's a restricted free agent.
"People think he can go pretty much where he wants to go, and he can sign an offer sheet, but we have the ability to match anything," Saunders said. "Right now where we're set in our budget, we have an ability to sign Pek, so we expect he will be back."