Wilkins excited about trade to Timberwolves|Anxious for ‘fresh start’ with new team

Published 10:42 am Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sports Editor

After spending the last five years with the Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder, Damien Wilkins admitted that joining a new team felt “strange.” However, it was a good kind of strange for the Washington native.
Wilkins was sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves, along with Chucky Atkins, for Etan Thomas. The NBA veteran was ecstatic about the trade.
“I love it,” Wilkins said Monday. “When they called and told me it was done, I was excited. I’m still excited. I’m going to a team that’s young, but everyone is starting over from scratch.”
Wilkins, who played in 310 games with his former team, holds career averages of 7.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.9 steals per game. He has scored 2,359 points, pulled down 802 rebounds, dished off 476 assists and snagged 270 steals.
It looked like Wilkins was about to break out with Seattle two years ago, posting career-high averages of 9.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists.
However, when the team moved to Oklahoma City last year, Wilkins found himself on the bench for half of his team’s games. During a disappointing and frustrating season, Wilkins averaged career-lows of 5.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 0.5 steals.
The 6-6, 225-pound guard/forward was more than happy to leave the Thunder.
“There are no hidden agendas,” Wilkins said about the Timberwolves. “I was there for four days and I had a great conversation with the general manager (David Kahn).
“I worked out for the team and the coaches said they liked what they saw. They said they didn’t know what they’d be getting and we’re happy with what they saw, and that was music to my ears.”
Wilkins is going to a Minnesota team, 24-58 last year, that is still without a coach. However, the affable Wilkins sees that as a plus.
“I see it as a good situation,” said Wilkins, who holds an annual “Fun Day” event and basketball camp in Washington. “Sometimes coaches get caught up in who they are going to play and how much they’re going to play them. When you go to a new team, sometimes you don’t have a chance to play because you’re already behind the eight-ball.
“Everybody is new to the team. You just go there and everybody works their way up from there.”
Wilkins, who is averaging 41.9 percent (876 of 2,091) shooting from the field, including 33.8 percent (157 of 464) from 3-point range, and 80.9 percent (450 of 556) at the free throw line, is anxious to get started with his new team.
“There’s a brand new general manager and no coach, so that makes it new for everyone,” Wilkins said. “We’re all starting at zero and building up from there. There are no hidden agendas.
“I see this as an opportunity of a lifetime.”
While Wilkins was in Minnesota earlier this summer, he said it took awhile to get accustomed to the new surroundings.
“It was a little strange (going to a new team),” he said. “I’m wearing a different uniform; it was different in the locker room; there are different teammates and staff. It felt different, but it felt good.
“I felt confident while I was there.”
Wilkins said he knew a little about the Timberwolves, who play in the same conference (Northwest Division of the Western Conference) as the Thunder.
“I know they are young,” he said. “I know they drafted a guard (Jonny Flynn) out of Syracuse and a guard (Wayne Ellington) from North Carolina.
“I know they want to play transition basketball. I know a couple guys there. They’re trying to build something there and I am happy to be a part of it.”
Wilkins is ready to help the team right away.
“My goal is that I want to be a starter,” he said. “My attitude shouldn’t be to settle for anything less. I think everybody will have that same attitude, and that competition will make us all better.”
Wilkins will report to Minnesota for a team function early next week. The players report to camp Sept. 29, though Wilkins will arrive in Minnesota much earlier.
“Going early says a lot about your commitment to the team,” he said. “I want get there, get familiar with the city and get settled in earlier.”
Though he’ll have to deal with snow and cold, something he’s not accustomed to, Wilkins is ready.
“I’m ready for any kind of weather,” he said with a laugh. “I’m just glad to be there.”
Wilkins sees the trade as something positive to his career.
“It’s definitely a fresh start,” Wilkins said. “On paper, it’s a home run. I’m excited about the opportunity.
“I can’t wait to get started and just get there and take advantage of my opportunity.”