MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With only nine healthy players on the roster and six of their top seven out because of injuries, the Minnesota Timberwolves were in search of any warm body to help lighten the load for the few players still able to hit the court.
They turned to a player many Wolves fans thought they should have drafted almost a decade ago.
The Wolves agreed to terms on a one-year deal with free agent forward Josh Howard on Thursday, pending a passed physical. Howard arrived in the Twin Cities on Thursday afternoon and the plan was for him to be in uniform against Golden State on Friday night.
"We need somebody at that spot," coach Rick Adelman said. "We looked around and he seemed to be a good candidate."
The 32-year-old Howard worked out for the Wolves on Monday in Dallas. Howard averaged 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 43 games with Utah last season. He has also played for Washington and Dallas, which drafted him 29th overall in 2003. The Timberwolves passed on Howard, who was a star at Wake Forest, in favor of high schooler Ndudi Ebi, who was a bust.
Howard went on to make an All-Star team in his seven seasons with the Mavericks, emerging as a potent scorer and athletic defender. He has dealt with numerous injuries in recent seasons, but the Wolves are hoping he can take some of the minutes from Andrei Kirilenko, who has played 44 minutes in each of the last two games.
"He's a versatile player. He's long. He's a good defender," Adelman said. "He should fit in and help us."
At this point, any forward will be welcome. All-Star forward Kevin Love (broken right hand) and dynamic point guard Ricky Rubio (left knee) aren't expected to make their season debuts until December. The Wolves also lost valuable swingman Chase Budinger for three to four months because of a torn meniscus in his left knee, have seen Brandon Roy's chronic knee issues return to keep him out of the last three games and also have been missing Nikola Pekovic (sprained left ankle) and JJ Barea (sprained left foot).
Despite the deluge of injuries, the Wolves won five of their first seven games. The issues appeared to finally catch up with them in an 89-87 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday night, so the Wolves went out and added Howard for the veteran's minimum of $1.2 million.
They waived point guard Will Conroy to make room for Howard.
"It's been hard, but you have to give our guys credit," Adelman said. "We talked to them today about the fact that we can win games, even though you're short-handed."
Adelman said he expects Howard's transition to be fairly seamless given his experience. They'll just have to ease him in a little bit since Howard did not have a training camp to get into game shape. Once he's up and running, the Wolves hope he can give them a spark at both ends of the floor.
"Offensively, we don't have a lot of firepower," Adelman said. "But if you defend well enough, it helps your offense."
Pekovic, Roy and Barea are all questionable for the Warriors game, though Adelman said he doubted any of them would be ready. The Wolves have four days off after Friday night, which may tempt them to sit that game out to give them an additional five days of rest and rehab.
If Pekovic has his way, he'll be in the lineup. He did some running on Thursday and said he felt some pain, which didn't seem to bother the big Montenegrin.
"I can't make it any worse," he said. "I'm just trying to help."
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