The first time Derrick Williams saw his name appear in trade rumors, it stung him a little bit.
The former No. 2 overall draft choice had barely been in Minnesota long enough to find himself a winter coat when the first chatter about the Timberwolves moving him surfaced.
Now just 21 years old and not even finished with his second full season, Williams has become a grizzled veteran at handling the uncertainty that comes with trade talk in the NBA.
With the trade deadline two days away, Williams was asked on Tuesday what would surprise him more — if the Timberwolves would move him or if he stayed in Minnesota.
“I wouldn’t be surprised at all either way,” he said after the team’s first practice following the All-Star break. “I’m just here to play basketball. I’ve heard trades since the day I got picked. It’s nothing new. The first time I heard it, I was a little surprised. It’s been a year and a half now, so I wouldn’t be surprised either way.”
Williams’ playing time has been sporadic under head coach Rick Adelman, who has often been frustrated by what he perceives as inconsistent focus from Williams on both ends of the court.
Adelman’s dissatisfaction has made Williams the constant subject of trade lists that include the most likely to be moved players.
To Williams’ credit, he has thrown himself into extra work after practice and before games to try and carve a niche for himself in Minnesota.
With Kevin Love out because of a broken hand, Williams has been seeing the first consistent playing time of his young career and has responded well on the stat sheet. He is averaging 16.0 points and 7.8 rebounds over the past five games and is beginning to look like the confident, aggressive player he was in college at Arizona.
A starting role and about 28 minutes a game have helped Williams find a rhythm that has been so elusive.
But he is the first one to say he’s still got a lot of improving to do.
Finishing at the rim has been one of his biggest issues on offense. He’s shooting just 51.2 percent on shots inside of 5 feet, according to NBA.com’s stats database, which ranks him among the poorest in the league.
“I can get a lot better,” Williams said. “I’m still struggling. Whether I’m playing good right now, I feel like I’m still struggling.”
And there are still plenty of questions about where Williams fits when Love is healthy, which means the trade talk likely will not subside anytime soon.
Both players seem best suited to play power forward, and both like to stretch defenses with 3-point shooting. So if the Timberwolves are going to land the difference-making wing player they desperately need, Williams could be a player they use to try to land him.
“Whatever happens happens,” Williams said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a business. It’s a lot different from college. We’re all living the dream that we want to. Just have to play the game.”
Early indications are that Williams will stay put through Thursday.
The Wolves are buried in the Western Conference standings, making the urgency to swing a big trade and push for the playoffs not as great.
If he does move, the more likely scenario appears to be this summer. A smaller deal, involving draft picks or perhaps veteran guard Luke Ridnour, remains a possibility, as does seeing the team stand pat and finish the season out with the roster as is.
The Wolves have lost 16 of their past 19 games to fall to 12th in the West. Point guard Ricky Rubio said he isn’t giving up on the season yet.
“We still have a chance,” Rubio said. “It’s a small, small chance. But we want to improve a lot, and we have to. We have to improve.”
If the Wolves are going to do that, they can’t be worried about what is going to happen at the trade deadline.
“That’s how it is,” Rubio said. “You never know how it can go. You have to be professional. You have to fight for your team and where you are right now. Right now, everyone is here with the Timberwolves and we’re going to fight.”
Adelman missed practice on Tuesday to attend a doctor’s appointment with his wife, Mary Kay, who has been suffering from seizures. He was expected to be back for the game against Philadelphia on Wednesday night.
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