Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  By PHIL ERVIN  |  Last updated 11/14/13
MINNEAPOLIS -- Things have changed a little around the PepsiCenter since Timberwolves forward Corey Brewer last suited up for a game there.The coach that helped him grow into the firestarter he istoday is analyzing NBA goings-on for ESPN. The general manager that brought himto the mountains now works in Canada. The swingman he helped spell during theNuggets' club-record campaign last year is starting for Golden State againstOklahoma City on Thursday night.This isn't the Denver Brewer left behind as an unrestrictedfree agent this offseason. That team rode the leadership of coach George Karlto a 57-25 overall record, a 38-3 home mark, a 15-game win streak and theWestern Conference's No. 3 seed.But after the Nuggets bowed out in the first round for theseventh time in eight seasons under Karl, the 2013-14 NBA coach of the year waslet go. Executive of the year Masai Ujiri bolted for Toronto's general managerjob, and starting small forward Andre Iguodala signed with the Warriors --reportedly for less money than Denver had offered him.Brewer left, too, seeking a fresh start with the team thatdrafted him in Minnesota. He's put forth that and more -- 14.9 points per game,including 27 in the Timberwolves' win against Cleveland on Wednesday -- whileadjusting comfortably into a starting role."We had a good thing going (in Denver)," Brewersaid, "but I guess they wanted to change it up. It worked out for the bestfor me, I guess you could say."That's been the case so far.Brewer became the de facto No. 1 three when Chase Budingerwent down with a preseason meniscus injury. Minnesota signed him for his stoppingability, which Karl cultivated for two years and used as his first option offthe Nuggets' bench.Those were important days for Brewer, who during his firstTimberwolves stint never lived up to expectations that come with a No. 7overall selection."George loved me," Brewer said. "When youhave a coach that's behind you and just lets you go out there and do you, youfind out what you can do and what you can't do. It started working out forme."Minnesota is reaping the benefits.Not only has Brewer limited the likes of Kevin Durant andCarmelo Anthony with his pesky wing defense; he's also proven invaluable as atransition scorer, often snagging Kevin Love outlet passes and flying in fortransition buckets. The connection between those two has the Timberwolvesranked second in the NBA with 18.8 fast-break points per game."Hes kind of made for the outlet pass," saidLove, who's averaging 5.1 assists per game. "I love having him on theteam. Hes a guy that helps me look good."Brewer has even exceeded coach Rick Adelman's expectationsthus far, starting with a 5-for-5 3-point outing Wednesday."Corey's just pretty amazing and never seems to gettired," Adelman said after his team's short practice Thursday. "Hejust keeps playing."When he shoots the ball that well like he did lastnight, it makes the game a lot easier. He had that ability in Denver, and heshot the ball pretty good there, he ran the floor really good. But he's better,I think, than we had anticipated."Brewer, for his part, said there's not much emotion attachedto his first return to the Mile High City."I really don't care about going back there, to behonest," Brewer said. "I loved Denver. Denver fans are great. Thewhole organization was good for me. They were good to me. But right now, man,we trying to get to the playoffs. So for us, we've got to get a win."It's not a given, even early in the year against a team thatunderwent what seems like a lot of turnover. The Nuggets' core, save forIguodala, returns mostly intact, and they seem to have found a groove invictories over Utah and the Lakers after a 1-3 start.Coach Brian Shaw's philosophies have had time to marinate.The roster new general manager Tim Connelly built is starting to gel.And there's always the altitude. Just ask Brewer."It's a real thing," he said. "Fourthquarter, you know you're in Denver."Budinger back soon: The Timberwolves announced Thursday thatBudinger has been cleared to return to Minneapolis and continue working toreturn from his second meniscus surgery in the past calendar year.During preseason practice, the small forward reinjured thesame meniscus he tore last season and had it removed Sept. 30. He'd been rehabbing in Florida.Now, Budinger can return to the Twin Cities and beginrunning on a treadmill and shoot set shots, according to president ofbasketball operations Flip Saunders' Twitter account. "Makingprogress," Saunders put at the end of his tweet.Coming into the year, Budinger was expected to contend withBrewer for Minnesota's starting small forward spot. The 6-foot-7, 209-poundArizona product averaged 9.4 points per game and shot 32.1 percent from 3-pointrange in the 23 games he was able to play last season.Martin back in lineup: Robbie Hummel knew his first dip intoan NBA starting lineup was going to be a short one.Kevin Martin, whom Hummel replaced on the Timberwolves'first unit Wednesday,was back at practice Thursday and is a full-go for Friday's 7 p.m. tilt withthe Nuggets. Martin watched his team's 124-95 victory over Cleveland at homewhile battling flu symptoms.Hummel had a hunch his 10-point showing wasn't quite enoughto usurp the NBA's No. 6 scorer at the moment."I think he'll probably get his job backtomorrow," Hummel said with a grin. "I was just trying to go outthere -- Im obviously not gonna replace him -- and just kind of fill the voidand, I guess, not make too many mistakes in his absence."He didn't, playing more than 28 minutes, hitting a pair of3s and avoiding both foul trouble and turnovers. Martin liked what he saw,especially knowing that Hummel battled through two torn ACLs and a meniscustear just to get to an NBA training camp."The journey he took to get here and to get anopportunity like that," Martin said, "I was just a proud big brotherof Robbies last night."Hummel did earn himself a shot at increased playing timewith Minnesota' second unit, coach Rick Adelman said. He'd played more than6:55 in just one of the Timberwolves' first eight contests before Wednesday."He's played well since the first day of camp, but tostart the season, I was trying different people," Adelman said. "He'sgonna get an opportunity to see how consistent he can be, but I neverdoubted."Getting Shved going: Adelman moved Brewer to the two andstarted Hummel at small forward Wednesday, in part because Minnesota doesn'thave a true shooting guard behind Martin at the moment. The preseason hope wassecond-year pro Alexey Shved could help fill that role, but so far, that's beena mostly-failed experiment.A point guard who's more naturally comfortable with the ballin his hands, Shved has played less than 10 minutes per game and is shooting20.8 percent from the floor. He's spent most of his time at the two alongsidebackup point man J.J. Barea.The best way for him to improve is by experience, Adelmansaid."We just have to keep putting him out there," thecoach said. "Guys have to find their way through it. There's not a lot ofanswers that you can do; you try to give them the ball, give them spots. Ithink he's getting less minutes than last year, and that's hard."With a slew of injuries derailing the Timberwolves' 2012-13campaign, Shved tallied 23.9 minutes and 8.6 points per game. But he seemed towear as the season went on, and he hasn't looked any more energized orcomfortable so far this year.Until he does, Shved -- who's due to make 3 million thisyear -- won't figure much into Minnesota's regular rotation."He's always had the ball in his hands, and that's howhe's played," Adelman said. "With our group, it's not always gonna bethe case. He's got to learn how to move without the ball." Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter
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