The Minnesota Timberwolves worked hard in the off-season to add talented veterans and make the roster deeper and better able to withstand injuries.
Kevin Love's broken right hand is about to put that depth to a serious test. The two-time All-Star will miss the next six to eight weeks after breaking his right hand in a workout.
During a Wednesday morning workout before practice, Love broke the third and fourth metacarpals on his shooting hand, the team said. It's a crushing blow to the Timberwolves, who already will be without star point guard Ricky Rubio for what is expected to be at least the first six weeks of the regular season while he recovers from a torn ACL in his left knee.
The Timberwolves open the regular season at home against Sacramento on Nov. 2.
Love averaged 26 points and 13.3 rebounds last year, leading the team in both categories and emerging as the best power forward in the game. He signed a four-year contract in January worth more than $60 million, then played a key role in Team USA's march to the gold medal in the London Olympics.
He returned to Minnesota in October brimming with confidence and saying that it was time for him to lead this team to the playoffs for the franchise's first time since 2004. That already was going to be a challenge in the powerful Western Conference without Rubio, the dynamic point guard who quickly became the glue that held this young team together before injuring his knee in a game against the Lakers on March 9.
"We have a great training camp and we can get off to a good start and guys stay healthy, there's really no telling what we can do," Love said just before training camp opened. "I know a lot of teams in the Western Conference have loaded up, but I still feel we can knock those teams off and have a really good year."
Two weeks before the season has even started, the wishes for good health are already out the window. Love, who scored 24 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a preseason win over Maccabi Haifa on Tuesday night, was scheduled to fly to New York for an examination by Dr. Andy Weiland on Thursday.
The injury likely means far more playing time for Derrick Williams, last year's second overall pick. With Love at power forward, Williams worked diligently to lose some weight, reshape his body and work on his ball-handling to try to earn more minutes at small forward.
Williams has always been more comfortable at power forward, so this could be the opportunity for him to make a consistent impact that coach Rick Adelman has been waiting to see from him. Williams impressed coaches with his physical conditioning and aggressive approach to practice when training camp began, but the playing time has still been sporadic.
He played just seven minutes on Tuesday night against Haifa while Adelman took longer looks at the starting unit and veteran Dante Cunningham off the bench at power forward. Cunningham and Lou Amundson have both impressed Adelman with their tenacity and aggressiveness both in games and during practice.
"I think he's really an energy guy," Adelman has said of Cunningham. "Very good defender. Does all the little things. Him and Lou are very similar. The things that maybe we didn't do so well last year, running down loose balls, getting to the offensive boards, keeping the boards alive."
Adelman also has the versatile Andrei Kirilenko, who can play both forward positions, to lean on. It also puts more pressure on veteran shooting guard Brandon Roy's knees to hold up. Roy was signed in the off-season after missing last year with chronic knee issues. He has held up very well so far in the preseason, and his scoring now becomes even more crucial to fill Love's void.