TWolves ’10-11 Preview
30 teams in 30 days.
by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
The Minnesota Timberwolves accomplished something rare for them during the summer of 2010. While the NBA world followed the free agent frenzy, the Wolves made news on the national scale on a few occasions. The problem, of course, was that the occasions when the team did actually break through into the national view, it was for the wrong reasons.
Mostly, it was due to David Kahn’s mouth.
Now that the team imposed a bit of a gag order on their basketball boss, the Timberwolves can go back to what they state their goal is at this time: attempting to get back to being a competitive team, continue to rebuild and see if they have found a core group of players to build around.
While it is easy for the media to jump on the Timberwolves, making jokes at their expense at almost every opportunity, it is also difficult to admit that the team is making strides in their rebuilding. Compare the team’s financial situation today as opposed to the day Kahn took over and, just as importantly, compare the roster on that same day, comparing it to the roster as it stands today. Without question, the team is in a better place then it was fifteen months ago.
Now, that’s not to say that the Timberwolves are even close to competing for a playoff spot. They still have a long way to go to become a team that holds any sort of significance in the NBA and there are many questions to answer this season.
Possibly the biggest addition the roster in the off-season was the team’s acquisition of Michael Beasley. A player with baggage in his past, Beasley has openly addressed his past demons and made clear his plans towards growing up. At the team’s media day Friday, Beasley made his presence in Minnesota felt by entertaining his new teammates, Wolves staff and media with his quick wit and big promises for his upcoming season. Many wonder if on a new team with increased minutes and responsibility if Beasley has the ability to play the small forward position on a regular basis and if he and Kevin Love can coexist on the same floor, but Beasley himself has guaranteed that he and Love will become leaders on this team.
After a summer of competing alongside some of the best talent in the NBA for Team USA, Kevin Love states how he wants to bring that winning experience back with him to Minnesota. Although it is easy to chuckle at the combination of the phrases “winning experience” alongside “Minnesota,” Love has his chance to show what kind of leader he can be, especially with the departure of Al Jefferson to Utah. Making it clear in numerous interviews that he does not believe he should come off the bench as he did last season, it is time for his game to truly develop and fire those incredibly hyped outlet passes to the new athletes on the team. There is no excuse for Love not to be on the floor for a majority of the minutes at the power forward spot this year.
Darko Milicic has been the butt of jokes his entire career in the NBA and most were more than fair. There is no way that Milicic can ever truly end the joking or ever truly earn the respect of his draft position by Joe Dumars. However, as the jokes continued throughout last season, he put up career-best numbers after his trade to Minnesota in both points and rebounds, all while incredibly out of shape after sitting at the end of New York’s bench. Finally finding a home in the NBA where he is happy and can relax–due to very limited expectations of both he and his team–Milicic should surprise many this season with actual NBA-caliber level play.
The Timberwolves also added rookie Wesley Johnson through the draft and Martell Webster through a trade with Portland. Team officials made comments that Webster is a player who performs better when able to get into a flow that comes with increased minutes. After five years in Portland, Webster also becomes one of the elder statesmen on this team. Whether at the shooting guard or small forward position, Wesley Johnson should find himself receiving many minutes this year as well.
The question that arises from the addition of more talent to the Timberwolves shooting guard/small forward positions is how it will affect the playing time of Corey Brewer. The still-wirey Brewer had the best season of his three-year NBA career in 2009-10, but now has competition for playing time from players with more overall talent or experience. As a fan favorite in Minnesota due to his smile and personality, Brewer also finds himself as an elder statesman on the team and early reports show him using his experience to help teach his teammates the system.
Second year point guard Jonny Flynn continues Minnesota’s tradition of their second year players having injuries. Flynn’s hip will keep him out of the preseason and the team is hopeful he can return at some point in the first month of the regular season. To compensate for the loss of Flynn to begin the season, Luke Ridnour comes to Minnesota, as well as former Timberwolf Sebastian Telfair. One of the main points of emphasis in Timberwolves jokes is there love affair with point guards and, rightfully so, but after admitting an error in acquiring Ramon Sessions last year, the Wolves have three adequate point guards on their roster. The question becomes which player will accept the eventual role of Ricky Rubio’s backup, as the team still firmly believes Rubio will be on the roster next year.
And, of course, adding athletes who like to run also makes the Timberwolves slightly more appealing to Rubio. Whether or not he is or becomes the players the Wolves hope he will be, they are committed to making the team one that will highlight his skills, yet not set Rubio up as a “savior” of the franchise. That’s too much to ask of any player, especially one who has yet to play a minute in the NBA.
The talent on the roster is much better than last year, but the Timberwolves will be one of the youngest teams in the league. Many questions won’t receive an answer until the ball is thrown up for the opening tip and the games begin. Here are a few of the things to keep an eye on…
Has Michael Beasley grown up and show up as the dominant force that many expected from him?
Did the Wolves make the right decision in selecting Wesley Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins?
Will Kevin Love finally receive the playing time and accept a leadership role on this team?
With an up-tempo game, will this young team be able to play without an insane amount of turnovers?
How will Nikola Pekovic’s game translate to the NBA?
How many, if any, of the team’s players with “potential” will blossom?
Will (or when) will David Kahn make another trade?
Agree with the plan or not, the Timberwolves accomplished the next step in their plan to rebuild the team by adding athleticism and length to their roster. Head coach Kurt Rambis now has options at each position and has made it clear that nothing is guaranteed to anyone, including Kevin Love. Training camp has already become competitive and loud, as the roster is full of players who want playing time and are doing what they must to show their coaches they deserve time on the floor in the regular season.
Make no mistake, the 2010-11 campaign will be another incredibly long one for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Yet, with the upgrade in talent and personalities, the season may be a bit easier to swallow, as they will win more games than last year, which is not a great accomplishment. A safe bet would be to pencil the team in for 25-30 wins this season, which still shows they have major room for growth. However, in nearly doubling their win total from a year ago, they can silence some of the critics by showing that the path they are on does have some validity.
To believe that the Timberwolves are anywhere close to finishing their plan of getting back to respectability would be delusional, but to claim that the team has no direction in their rebuilding plan is simply bad journalism.
Previous Season Previews can be found in the archive.