When Ricky Rubio was ruled out with a sore right ankle just hours before Minnesota played, the Timberwolves got desperate. They only had seven healthy players, one short of what the NBA required, and they needed to find an eighth with little time to spare.
That left just one solution: to literally sign the nearest capable NBA player to a 10-day contract.
"We had to fulfill our rules, so we had to go find somebody that was within a train ride away," Wolves coach Flip Saunders said, via ESPN.
As it turned out, that was Sean Kilpatrick, a college star at Cincinnati who was currently playing in the NBA D-League for the Delaware 87ers. Kilpatrick drove two hours from the Bob Carpenter Center to Madison Square Garden, arrived about 45 minutes before the game tipped off and played his first 10 minutes of NBA action.
"I was just getting ready. We had practice today to get ready to play one of the other D-League teams. I didn't think I was going to end up here," Kilpatrick said. "It's kind of a blessing."
Wait, what's this rule?
Every NBA team must suit up eight active, uninjured players for each game. Rubio's injury dropped the number of healthy players from eight to seven, since Kevin Garnett, Nikola Pekovic, Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad, Gary Neal, Justin Hamilton and Robbie Hummel are all already hurt or sick. (Any more injuries and we're going to have to get a triage unit to Minnesota.)
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Did it help?
Kilpatrick didn't score, but the Timberwolves won 95-92. Since both teams are tanking pretty hard for the worst record, that might not actually be a good thing, but we'll say it is.
Who is Sean Kilpatrick?
He starred at the University of Cincinnati last season as a senior, leading the Bearcats by averaging 20.6 points a game. He had worked out with Minnesota before the season, so he wasn't a total stranger to the organization, but location definitely helped.
"We had him in before so we worked him out, so we knew about him and we've been following him, but there's no question that geography helped," Saunders said. "We had to have a guy here ready to play at 7:30."
But let's say there wasn't a D-League team that was close enough. The Timberwolves totally would have gone into the crowd, asked for volunteers and picked out someone who looked relatively athletic, right?
Will Kilpatrick stick around?
About half of the injured Timberwolves are just sick or expected to soon return from minor injuries. Kilpatrick's 10-day contract should give enough time for Minnesota to field enough of a team to finish the season. The Timberwolves had to apply for an injury hardship exception from the NBA to sign Kilpatrick and now have 16 players on their roster, so even if he impresses, it's unlikely that they'd cut someone to keep him around. But for Kilpatrick, it can't hurt to get his name out there, even in this odd set of circumstances.