The Minnesota Timberwolves have gotten off to a solid start this season with a 4-2 record heading into a matchup Monday night with the Dallas Mavericks, but their injury list continues to grow with guard Brandon Roy being bothered by soreness in one of his knees and swingman Chase Budinger going down with a lateral meniscus tear in his left knee during last Saturday’s game against the Chicago Bulls.
Roy has been deemed a “game-time decision” for Monday night’s game, while Budinger is slated to have surgery later this week. At that point more will be known about Budinger’s status, but it can be assumed he will be out for at least a few weeks. Even if Roy is able to get back on the court soon, just how effective he can be with his past knee issues in mind is a big question. Of course the Timberwolves are already without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio for around another month, and guard J.J. Barea is dealing with a mid-foot sprain and will miss his second straight game Monday night.
So Minnesota has some depth issues with five key players being out or at minimum being big questions, leaving Alexey Shved, Malcom Lee and Will Conroy in line for more minutes. Shved has had some good moments early this season and should be able to take on a bigger role seamlessly, but if Lee and Conroy have to play significant minutes that is not an ideal situation for anyone in the Timberwolves’ organization. So they may have to look at some available veterans in order to keep the early season momentum going as the returns of Love and Rubio get closer over the next few weeks.
One of the bigger names currently available is swingman Josh Howard, who spent last season with the Utah Jazz and averaged 8.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game over 43 games (18 starts). He had some reported interest from multiple teams over the summer, but nothing came to fruition as knee issues over the past couple years and declining production seems to have turned teams off. Howard played just 18 games during the 2010-2011 season with the Washington Wizards after tearing the ACL in his left knee in March of 2010. He had arthroscopic surgery on the same knee late last season, but was able to return for the playoffs.
Howard’s best years came as a member of the Mavericks after he was drafted by them in the first round (29th overall) in 2003. He averaged a career-high 19.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game during the 2007-2008 season, but he made his lone career All-Star Game in 2007 and finished the 2006-2007 season with averages of 18.9 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in 70 games played (69 starts). For his career he is averaging 14.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game over nine NBA seasons and 496 games (399 starts).
The Timberwolves could have selected Howard with the 26th overall pick in 2003, choosing instead to select an unproven high schooler named Ndudi Ebi. That was obviously a poor move as the team soon started a downhill slide that would continue for awhile while Howard became a prominent piece of a perennial playoff contender in Dallas.
Howard is clearly not the player he was was five years ago, and at age 32 with knee problems he will not be expected to ever recapture that form. But the Timberwolves are not seeking someone who can play 40 minutes a game, and depending on his salary demands Howard could be a good fit. Obviously there are the durability concerns and the big red flag that he is still available at this point, but signing Howard would be no bigger a risk than signing Roy was and would certainly come cheaper.