MINNEAPOLIS And then there were nine.
The Timberwolves announced at shootaround Wednesday that, in addition to Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Chase Budinger (all out with long-term injures), Brandon Roy, J.J. Barea and Nikola Pekovic will be unavailable for Wednesday's game against the Bobcats.
Barea sprained his left foot last Wednesday night and has not played since. Coach Rick Adelman said he's getting better, and he did a few things on the floor at shootaround. Roy, too, is close, Adelman said, describing the shooting guard as "day-to-day" with his sore right knee. Same thing with Pekovic there's no timetable for his recovery from a sprained left ankle, he was present at shootaround, and he won't be on the court tonight.
"It's a day-to-day situation with all these guys," Adelman said. "I have no idea until tomorrow, (when) we'll find out where they are, and Friday we'll find out where they are. But after Friday, we do have four days, so that's going to help us."
The Timberwolves play Golden State (minus Andrew Bogut, who is not traveling) Friday and then Denver next Wednesday, and they couldn't ask for a break at a better time. And though it doesn't look like the injuries to Barea or Pekovic will be long-term, the Roy situation might cause a few raised eyebrows. There's been no official medical diagnosis of what's wrong with him released, other than saying he has a sore right knee, which with Roy's history is enough to suffice. But Wednesday night's game will be the third he's missed entirely after sitting out the second half of last Wednesday's win over the Magic, and this seems like more than just a little bump. If it isn't, then it's the first indication of how tenuous things might be with the shooting guard.
Fortunately for the Timberwolves, Roy hasn't been a major contributor so far this season, averaging just 5.8 points, 4.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds. Still, though, it's becoming easier to imagine a situation in which these prolonged absences might occur every month or so, and that's hardly what the team would want out of the three-time All-Star shooting guard.
The Charlotte team that the Timberwolves face Wednesday is much improved from the Bobcats of 2011-12. They've already won three games, nearly half their total from all of last season (a whopping seven), and two of those wins have come against quality opponents, Dallas and Indiana. This game isn't going to be a gimme, especially for such a shorthanded Timberwolves team.
"Now, you just can't keep losing people," Adelman said. "Eventually, attrition is going to set in, and that's really true, probably We're going to have to have guys step up tonight offensively because, if Pek can't play, that's a big, big hole in our lineup."
Check out this starting lineup: Greg Stiemsma at center. Derrick Williams at power forward. Andrei Kirilenko at small forward. Malcolm Lee at shooting guard. Luke Ridnour at point guard.
Nope, not a joke.
The injury exception: When asked about the possibility of being granted the NBA's injury exception, Adelman remained mum. He doesn't know the rules of the thing, he said, and he's never dealt with it before. Plus, despite his obvious involvement with personnel decisions, Adelman is the coach, and this kind of thing falls under the purview of general managers and owners.
If you're in the same boat as Adelman and unfamiliar with the exception, here's the lowdown, which indicates that the chances of the Timberwolves being granted one are slim:
At its core, the exception is meant to help teams with season-ending injuries, not teams with half their lineups decimated. It's based on quality, not quantity. The exception provides that a team that loses a player to what might feasibly be a season-ending injury before Nov. 30 can sign a player to replace the injured player at half his salary (up to the league's average salary).
With Budinger given a three- to four-month recovery window, the exception doesn't seem to apply. Granted, there's some vagueness to the language in these cases, the NBA determines how significant a chance there is that the injury is season-ending and rules based on that but it really seems like a long shot for the Timberwolves. For instance, the Heat were granted and exception for Udonis Haslem in December 2010, and he returned in the Eastern Conference finals. But with Budinger looking at a February or March return, Love and Rubio at December returns and Pekovic, Barea and Roy at even nearer term returns, the situation seems pretty clear cut.
The Timberwolves do have one other option, though. With Budinger out the longest of any player currently hurt, the team will be thin at the wing, which is where it would most likely look in terms of signing an extra player. Even if it's not granted an exception, the team could cut point guard Will Conroy and replace him with a wing player at a veteran's minimum salary. Sounds like a great plan, right? The only catch is that that kind of pay isn't going to attract the kind of player the Timberwolves want, and the market is already thin.
Kevin Love's coat drive: Love and the Timberwolves announced Wednesday that the power forward's fifth annual coat drive has begun. Love partnered with Comcast and the Salvation Army for a promotion in which fans can donate new and gently used coats in exchange for a pair of tickets (one pair per coat) to one of two selected Timberwolves games: Dec. 26 vs. Houston or Dec. 29 vs. Phoenix. The drives goes from now until Dec. 12.
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