Coming into this year, the Minnesota Timberwolves thought they were fairly set with their main rotation. However, due to several key injuries they were forced to sign a couple of extra bodies halfway through the season to fill in here and there. At first, Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale were simply going to be “band-aids.” Wolves fans had not heard of them before, nor thought they would have any sort of impact. At this point, both have become somewhat of fan favorites around the Twin Cities.
With only a couple months to go in the season, these two have had their share of bright spots. Johnson was signed to a 10 day contract in mid January. Previously, he had two separate stints with the Portland Trail Blazers, a year with the New Orleans Hornets, and spent his rookie year with the Boston Celtics. Having not managed to stay on a team for more than one season, he seems to have found a home in Minnesota, for now. He has not played more than 24 minutes in a single game this year, yet has managed to fill in nicely when called upon. This season, though only stretching from mid-January until now, has arguably been his best and most improved of his career. In January, Johnson averaged just over nine points, a shade under four rebounds, and slightly above one block per game. In February he managed to only play in about half of the Wolves’ games because of the fact that Nikola Pekovic was in and out of the lineup. When he did, he was only given around eight minutes per game on average.
Mickael who? Minnesotans have had to pronounce some unusual names in the past, and this guy fits right in. Gelabale came into the NBA in 2006 after being drafted by Seattle in 2005. He played a season in between for Real Madrid before signing a two year deal with the Sonics in 2006. In his second year with Seattle he tore his ACL, and was not re-signed as he became a free agent. Since then he has appeared on a handful of international teams as well as the Los Angeles Lakers practice squad, but never making the final roster. In January the Wolves signed him to a 10 day contract and he played his first game with the team along with Johnson on January 19th. As a member of the Wolves, he has established career highs in points at 5.5, steals (.5), rebounds (3.0), free throw percentage (85%) and field goal percentage (49%) in just under 12 minutes a game (also a career high). The more minutes Johnson has played in a game so far, the more production the Wolves have gotten out of him.
Both Johnson and Gelabale have had a solid stint with Minnesota and at least deserve a shot to play in their summer league and receive an invite to camp. When Nikola Pekovic is healthy, it will be hard to fit Johnson into the rotation unless something happens with Dante Cunningham over the offseason. As for Gelabale, his minutes will be significantly reduced once Chase Budinger is back. The not-so-impossible scenario here is that the Wolves could trade Derrick Williams over the offseason, as his name has been on the block quite a bit and his trade value has risen as of late. It is also unclear what will happen with Andrei Kirilenko, as he cannot stay completely healthy either. If either Williams or Kirilenko are gone (or both), I could see Minnesota giving Gelabale a shot to come back next year.
In any event, Johnson and Gelabale have both given the Wolves a boost this season. A lot of Minnesota fans have cheered them loudly when they have gotten ready to check into the game, and deservedly so. David Kahn will undoubtedly have his hands full this summer in trying to bolster this roster and build around Ricky Rubio for a playoff run in 2014. If Wolves fans have anything to do with it, I have a feeling Kahn will be thinking long and hard about retaining this hard-working duo.