Cole Aldrich and his wife, Brittany, were vacationing in early July in Italy when the 6-foot-11 former Kansas center agreed to terms on a three-year, $21.9 million contract with his hometown Minnesota Timberwolves.
“We were thinking, ‘Wow, this might be the first year we have Christmas at the house.’ No Christmas at the house. We’re going to be in Oklahoma City,” Aldrich said with a laugh.
The seven-year NBA veteran’s Timberwolves will be playing the Thunder on Dec. 25 in OKC, meaning the house Cole and Britt bought three years ago to live in during the NBA offseason in Minnesota, will sit still on the holiday.
“It’s a blessing, though. My seven years in the league, I’ll be (playing) on Christmas every year I’ve played. It’s just kind of what I know,” Aldrich added of Christmas contests shown on national TV.
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Aldrich, who turns 28 on Halloween, was born in Burnsville, Minn., and attended Jefferson High in Bloomington before heading to KU for three years from 2007-10. The No. 11 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft has played for Oklahoma City, Houston, Sacramento, New York and the Los Angeles Clippers during his first six years in the league.
He’s been on one-year deals since his rookie contract expired, finally hitting the jackpot with Minnesota.
“The way I look at the deal is just to have a little stability, have a few years of not necessarily taking a relaxing breath, but knowing that I’ve got three years,” Aldrich said. “The previous four years it’s been one-year deals and free agency every summer. The next summer is going to be a little different, not having to do free agency, but it’s going to be real nice.”
Aldrich — he averaged 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 13.3 minutes a game last season with the Clippers (he had 21 points and 18 rebounds against Utah on April 8) — concedes it will be nice to play before family and friends on a regular basis in Minnesota.
“The whole family is really excited. They are excited to have me home and have me around,” Aldrich said. “Not many guys do have that opportunity to play at home. I’m going to try to take full advantage of it, do a lot of community stuff. This is the city, the state I grew up in. They supported me for so long. For me to give back means a lot.”
Aldrich also gets to return to the vicinity of his college home in a few weeks.
The Timberwolves will play the Miami Heat in a preseason game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8, at the Sprint Center. Tickets are available at SprintCenter.com.
“I’m really excited. I got an opportunity my rookie year when I was in Oklahoma City,” Aldrich said. “We played the Miami Heat in Sprint Center and it was awesome to have the fans come out and support me, Nick Collison and Mario Chalmers, who all were in that game. Now we have me, Andrew (Wiggins) and Brandon (Rush) on our team. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Former KU guard Wiggins is beginning his third year with the Wolves and former Jayhawks wing Rush is in his first in Minnesota after two seasons with Golden State. Aldrich was a teammate of Rush on KU’s 2008 NCAA title team.
“Oh they are good,” Aldrich said of Rush and Wiggins. “We just got done at the gym today. Andrew is uber-talented. He’s going to be a heck of a player. Brandon is a great guy, one of the best teammates. He’s been on a great team the last few years (NBA champions two seasons ago and runner-up last season). He will bring that experience to our group.”
Now an experienced NBA veteran, Aldrich will likely provide double-digit minutes off the bench again this season.
“I’m not sure. It kind of depends on what they do,” Aldrich said when asked if he’ll start games for the Wolves. “If they play Karl (-Anthony Towns) at the 5, I’m kind of going to be the defensive anchor for the second unit, which will be great. That’s kind of where I make my presence on the court, on the defensive side. Whether I start or don’t start, it doesn’t really matter. …
“For me, it’s finding ways of getting better. I think every year I’ve gotten better. I really feel the last year or two I’m just starting my prime. I’m still young. I hope to play another eight years.”
By the end of his career, he may finally have replaced one of his two front teeth, which was knocked out at KU.
“My tooth is still missing. When I first knocked it out my sophomore year we put in process extracting the tooth and all that. You put an implant in,” Aldrich explained. “After about half a year or more it failed on me, so I kind of now am back at square one. Last season I was going to get it done. Things happened and I didn’t get time. It’s a long drawn out process. I’ll get it fixed at some point.”
It’ll give KU coach Bill Self and the current Jayhawks something to talk about before or after the upcoming game at the Sprint Center.
The Jayhawks will surely be on hand for that Saturday night game with the three KU players now on the Wolves.
“When I make it back every summer (for the Rock Chalk Roundball Classic charity game in Lawrence) I always try to show my face around there (KU),” Aldrich said. “When I was a player, I know how much it meant to have a guy who played in the NBA to come back and hang out a bit, work out with the guys, spend some time with them. They are trying to fight, play in the league and be where we are. It means a lot to them.”