By Rob Mahoney
The state of the Timberwolves is this: Six rotation players are out with injuries; Andrei Kirilenko is locked into 42-plus minutes a night in order to keep the team competitive; Dante Cunningham may oddly be the best small forward option; and the wheels would have come off entirely if not for rookie guard Alexey Shved. This is a brave new world, and one pretty much demanding of a mid-course roster adjustment.
So one came. As reported by Chris Broussard of ESPN.com, the Timberwolves have signed 32-year-old swingman Josh Howard to a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum. Roster limits demand that the Wolves release a player to make room for Howard, and seldom-used guard Will Conroy is the most likely candidate for dismissal. Howard is at least usable in an NBA rotation at this point, whereas Conroy hasn't yet demonstrated much utility on the pro level. No team in the league was in more need of a stopgap, and Howard -- though ill-suited for anything more -- can certainly accommodate in that regard.
That said, Howard isn't necessarily the most convenient plug-and-play candidate. Without the ability to operate in the pick-and-roll or any capacity whatsoever to produce from beyond the arc (Howard has converted less than 30 percent of his three-point tries in each of his last three seasons), the newest Timberwolf is primarily left to work off of impromptu drives and mid-range isolations. That's a fairly inefficient way to make a living, but it's the lot that Howard has chosen over the course of his career. With each passing season, the pure hustle plays that defined Howard's early NBA days become more and more rare, all while his ball-stopping habits unfortunately persist.
Howard still has the capacity to work well as a cutter, but understanding when and where to dive through the lane is a skill built on familiarity -- a luxury not afforded to Howard at his latest NBA stop. New arrivals tend to create clutter when they try to move too much, but Howard has the Wolves' current limitations working in his favor in that respect. Though we should hardly expect him to look like a natural fit in Minnesota's offense from the get-go, there's not much for Howard to disrupt at the moment; the Wolves are so starved for scoring that importing a resourceful player who shoots just 40 percent from the field seems like a rather significant gain. And until some of the Wolves' regulars limp back into the lineup, it is. Howard doesn't solve any problems or address any direct weaknesses, but he fills minutes admirably and gives coach Rick Adelman more flexibility in his lineups. That's not for nothing when dealing with four absent starters and then some, and there's no doubt the Wolves will appreciate having another able body around -- even if they don't always appreciate Howard's shot selection.