Star Tribune, Bruce Bisping, AP Photo
MINNEAPOLIS — J.J. Barea is ready to team up with Ricky Rubio and add a little spice to the Minnesota Timberwolves' backcourt.
Barea signed his four-year contract with the Timberwolves on Wednesday, and the flashy combo guard will be expected to help the slick-passing Rubio make the transition from Spain to the NBA, as well as provide some veteran leadership and direction for one of the league's youngest teams.
"It's been a tough couple weeks," said Barea, who was hoping to return for another title run with the Dallas Mavericks before being told he was not in their long-term plans. "I just wanted to find a team. I'm excited to be here in Minnesota. I'm here to help this team as much as I can, bring my energy and passion to the game and my competitiveness, help my teammates, my coaches, whatever I have to do for this team to win basketball games."
After losing 132 games over the past two seasons, the Timberwolves can use all the help they can get. As much as they look forward to his playmaking ability and scoring off the bench, coach Rick Adelman and team president David Kahn were equally eager to add a veteran with playoff experience.
"He's a proven leader on the floor and off and I think he can help us in ways well beyond the basketball court," Kahn said. "I think he will be a tremendous help in our locker room in terms of rallying the guys. The coaches need help with that."
Barea averaged 9.5 points and 3.9 assists for the Mavericks last season and emerged as a key cog in their run to the franchise's first NBA title. He formed a formidable pick-and-roll combination with Dirk Nowitzki and gave the Lakers and Heat fits with his jitterbug style of getting into the lane and floating his tear-drop shots through the basket.
"He worked himself to a spot where he was a key player for them," Adelman said. "I think that experience alone is going to help, that he's been through it. You would think our young people would recognize that fact and listen to the things he has to say or follow the way he plays."
If Barea had his choice, he would have returned to the Mavericks to try to defend the championship. He was deeply disappointed when owner Mark Cuban declined to make him a long-term offer.
"I didn't understand why he was going the way he was going," Barea said. "I thought he won and that's what everybody dreams about, winning a championship. So I thought we were going to try to do it again with the same teammates, but it happens so you just have to forget about it and keep going."
Barea did thank Cuban for taking a chance on him as a little-known prospect out of Northeastern University by way of Puerto Rico six years ago.
"I'll use it a little bit but I also have to give him credit for everything he did for me in the last five years," Barea said. "But it hurt a little bit. But we keep it moving."
The Timberwolves have a need for another ball-handler to help stabilize a team that turned the ball over way too many times last season, and has picked up where it left off in training camp. Adelman cracked that he petitioned the league to give them a point for every turnover.
Barea is expected to back up Rubio at point guard, but Adelman said he would also use him and point guard Luke Ridnour occasionally at shooting guard alongside Rubio. Adelman has a history of playing small, from pairing Mike Bibby and Bobby Jackson in Sacramento to using Kyle Lowry and Aaron Brooks together in Houston.
"The way we're handling the ball, I need ball-handlers on the floor, guys who can make plays," Adelman said. "So we're going to try. We're going to get hurt, but that's my plan."
That's fine with Barea, who played in the same backcourt with Jason Kidd for stretches of the Mavs' run to the title. The Spanish-speaking Barea will also help make the transition more comfortable for Rubio, who moved to Minnesota from Spain just two weeks ago.
But Adelman has a rule — only English on the court. The veteran coach has worked with international players for years, including Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic and Hedo Turkoglu in Sacramento, and Yao Ming and Luis Scola in Houston. Now he has Rubio, Barea and Eastern Europeans Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic in Minnesota.
"I'm trying to deny them speaking anything but English," Adelman joked. "I want to know what they're saying. Same with Darko (and Pekovic). I had to do that with Vlade and Peja. You speak English out here. I know we had them talking behind my back or whatever."
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