MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Greg Stiemsma would have gladly returned to Boston, where he got his first true chance to play in the NBA.
When Minnesota showed new interest in the 6-foot-11, 260-pound defensive specialist, well, he didn't exactly have to mull his decision over.
"You didn't have to twist my arm or convince me too hard to come to this part of the country," Stiemsma said Thursday after signing a two-year contract with the Timberwolves to be their backup center. Only the first season is guaranteed.
"It feels good to be wanted," Stiemsma said. "It feels good to have all your hard work pay off."
His hometown is Randolph, Wis., just a half-day-trip away and a bit north of Madison, where he played four seasons for the Badgers and currently lives and trains. Stiemsma was the only free agent who visited the Timberwolves this summer who was able to drive to Target Center.
"It was nice, from a scheduling standpoint, that we didn't have to purchase an airline ticket," Timberwolves president of basketball operations and general manager David Kahn said, smiling.
Stiemsma was in the background his entire career at Wisconsin, averaging a little more than 11 minutes per game even as a senior. He played in Turkey and South Korea the following season, then moved on to the NBA Developmental League.
There, behind the guidance of a coaching staff that understood his game, he began to build confidence that he could indeed become an NBA player. He was named the 2010 NBADL Defensive Player of the Year after he averaged 9.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and a league-leading 3.7 blocks per game for the Sioux Falls Sky Force. Stiemsma actually signed with the Wolves that April and played on their summer league team but was waived before training camp in the fall.
He returned to Turkey for the 2010-11 season and then finally stuck on an NBA roster, with the Celtics. Fighting plantar faciitis in his left foot and a bone bruise in his right foot, he appeared in 55 games, averaging 2.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 13.9 minutes. His blocks-per-minute average was second in the league behind Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Playoff experience this past spring was invaluable, as was the time spent listening to and watching former Timberwolves great Kevin Garnett.
"He was always willing to teach. He's got such a high knowledge of the game," Stiemsma said.
Stiemsma said his feet are feeling fine these days. He's eager for his second full NBA season to see how much further he can take his game — and help a playoff-caliber team try to get into the postseason for the first time in nine years. Finding his niche has certainly helped his confidence, which he said is at an all-time high.
"There's always those coaches who'd be like, 'You don't do this well. You don't do this well,'" Stiemsma said. "Well, how about we forget about what I don't do well. How about we focus on what I do well?"
The Wolves used the amnesty clause to waive Darko Milicic, creating the opening behind Nikola Pekovic. Stiemsma's past season with the Celtics was enough to catch Minnesota's attention again.
"Because of his proximity to this market and the fact that we did have him for a summer ... we did kind of know who he was," Kahn said. "But I must confide that he really opened our eyes as well."
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