By Myles Brown
Show me that smile again. Don’t waste another minute on your cryin’. We’re nowhere near the end. The best is ready to begin…(Get familiar!)
Even after the promise of his youth was marred by selfish teammates, draft sanctions and playoff frustration, Kevin Garnett remained loyal to the Minnesota Timberwolves. With the same unbridled emotion with which he defended the paint, Garnett continually rejected trade rumors and focused his efforts on providing a solid foundation capable of bringing a championship to the Target Center. Unfortunately, he could only accomplish that by leaving. The Celtics may have a million more well wishers in the Twin Cities than they did last year, but Wolves fans are also excited about a talented group of young players eager to fill Da Kid’s shoes.
Minnesota’s nucleus is now comprised of eight players under 24, none of whom have more than three years of experience. Free from the pressure of any immediate expectations, these young Wolves will have the opportunity to grow together, similar to the Baby Bulls of the post-Jordan era. Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green and Sebastian Telfair all have a grasp of each others strengths and weaknesses from their time in Boston, and they’ve also crossed paths with their new teammates on their respective roads to the NBA. Gomes competed with Randy Foye and Craig Smith for years in the Big East and Telfair has matched up against Foye in both high school and AAU battles. Jefferson and rookie Corey Brewer also balled in the same summer leagues as high schoolers. Their familiarity with each other should provide the cohesion needed for them to develop as a unit.
Several individuals on the team have made it known that they’re not as comfortable with the idea of losing as the critics say they should be. This can be attributed to a youthful hubris, or perhaps they already see just how compatible their skills are. Al Jefferson is the consistent presence in the post that was missing and he’s also equipped with a respectable midrange jumper. His ability to secure rebounds and run the floor gives the Wolves offense a flexibility to play in the half court or fast break. And even when the nightly double double threat takes a break, there will be no rest for the weary. Craig Smith is another big body that can bang in the paint with an athleticism that belies his 270lb frame. Alongside hybird forward Ryan Gomes, the team can send out an impressive second unit frontcourt capable of finishing at the basket and extending the defense. Gomes versatility also means even more depth at the small forward, where Brewer’s length and defensive intensity will be matched by the explosive scoring of Green who can put up 20 points on any given night. The Wolves have all the instruments for an impressive offense, they just need the right conductor.
In a limited role last year, combo guard Randy Foye showed flashes of potential greatness in the ease with which he attacked the basket and his effectiveness from long range, but they were eclipsed by an unacceptable assist to turnover ratio and a noticeable uncertainty in his role as an NBA playmaker. After another strong performance in Vegas this summer and extensive workouts with assistants, Coach Randy Wittman has a decision to make: continue to experiment with Foye at the point or move him to the shooting guard where he can flourish? Wittman has been back and forth on the issue and it is still unclear which of his gifted guards is best suited to orchestrate the offense. The other guard of course, is Sebastian Telfair, another of Coney Island’s Finest with a sketchy history both on and off the court. However, just as the case was with his cousin, this may be Bassy’s best opportunity to succeed. As a quintessential New York point god, his creativity in creating for teammates is exactly what’s needed from the position and his deficiencies aren’t beyond repair. While his shaky jumpshot and lackadaisical defense may keep him from starting immediately, he should still be able to convincingly lead the second team and eventually may share a backcourt with Foye.
As long as we got each other, we got the world spinnin’ right in our hands. Baby you and me, we gotta be the luckiest dreamers who never quit dreamin’….
Usually teams jettison players of questionable character following an influx of young and impressionable talent. Ricky Davis is well acquainted with this tradition, since he was placed on the first flight out of Cleveland upon the arrival of LeBron James. But in a strange twist of fate, he’s been reunited with his transplanted Celtic teammates and his tenured status has thrust him into an unlikely leadership position. Davis, though expendable, is still a valuable player and has certainly toned down his act over the past few years. Unless management comes upon a a deal they simply can’t refuse, it might be best to see if he actually can set the tone for the Wolves swingmen with his scoring and defensive prowess. While some interpreted Ricky’s absence from the teams media day as an early sign of discontent, so far at the Wolves training camp in Turkey Davis has been all smiles and eager to embrace his new role.
However if Davis is to be traded, it certainly won’t be Minnesota’s last move. Point guard Marko Jaric has already voiced his displeasure with the team in a trade request and Juwan Howard-who has a player option next summer-seems far less excited to be on a team without Garnett. Their grumbling, along with the bait of oft injured center Theo Ratliff’s $12 million expiring contract practically ensures more roster turnover during the upcoming season that will be a interesting situation to say the least. Management has a shaky history of trades and as players are acquired, it remains to be seen if those new arrivals will be conducive to the teams development or simply more entrants in a revolving door of marginal talent. Wolves fans will be patient with their new stars, but they won’t sit quietly and watch another group of youngsters potential diminished by an inability to complement them with the right pieces.
Though they began the season with playoff hopes, Minnesota stumbled into April last year, losing eight of their last ten and 24 of their last 33 games. Finishing with a paltry 32-50 record, the team had seemed to have reached it’s bottom, but the prevailing logic has been that the Wolves couldn’t possibly be better this year without KG. The depth obtained at multiple positions and balance of post and perimeter scoring along with strong rebounding more than compensates for the loss of Garnett’s production. Their collective inexperience and questionable team defense may result in a Brownesque number of varying lineups, but as the players find their niches expect the Wolves to catch more than a few opponents sleeping. However this is still by no means a playoff team, so the lingering questions are the same as with any other failing franchise: how will the malaise of losing affect team chemistry and more importantly, as the season wears on will management actually encourage losses to secure a high lottery pick?
As long as we keep on givin’, we can take anything that comes our way. Baby rain or shine-all the time-we got each other, sharing the laughter and love….
Prediction: The T’Wolves have the talent to compete with the second tier of both Conferences, but they’re outmatched against just as many teams. They open the season with a particularly difficult schedule and learning to play together under a new system only increases the challenge. I expect a slight regression from last year and see them finishing with 28-30 wins, but with another year of experience under their belts and the addition of another lottery pick, it should actually be seen as somewhat of an improvement. Oh, and watch Indiana. If their losses continue to pile up and Jermaine O’Neal begins to look for the exit again, rest assured that Kevin McHale will pick up the phone and try to use another of his old Celtic connections to the Wolves advantage. Right Kevin?
*One more thing. Disregard my previous predictions and pencil Minnesota in for the NBA Finals if they trade in their current warmups for this delightful ensemble. Never underestimate the power of the wolf shirt. An interweb classic. I’ll be there decked out in mine this season, giving you more SLAM game notes.