State Of The Timberwolves

I would call myself a generally optimistic person.  If there is an option, I am a glass half full kind of guy.  It just the way I am.

When the Wolves hired David Kahn, I was excited.  As much as Kevin McHale will go down as one of the greatest players in NBA history, his legacy as  an executive will be the opposite.  But this is not about McHale  and a rehashing of his many mistakes.  This is a time to address my concerns with the current state of the Wolves – hence the awesomely-obvious title “State Of The Timberwolves”.

We know that Kahn is not a man to sit nice and quiet in the corner, and that is something I like in a GM – don’t wait for something good to happen, make it happen.  And feelings of making those “good things” happen should feel greater when you are spending the money of the fans.  We want proactive.  And since Kahn has come into “power”, there have been many transactions.  More than McHales whole career – I don’t know if that is true, but it feels that way.

Generally, the moves that Kahn has made with trades, draft picks and free agent signings, I have agreed with enough to justify the move under the umbrella of going younger, getting athletic and building a core of players who can mature and grow together (i.e. Oklahoma City Thunder – granted, a Kevin Durant-type would be nice).

However, some of the recent moves have left me wondering if there is a “direction”.  It is great to say you have a vision, but to ask your fan base to believe in this mystical vision and sit patiently, again, is not something we – the fan base – take lightly.

The Wolves roster when Kahn arrived was not much more than bench/role players, talented youngsters, headcases and Mike Miller – you could say we are there again.  Only Kevin Love and Corey Brewer are left from the team Kahn inherited and the Wolves are substantial under the salary cap.  Sebastian Telfair is back via the trade with the Cavs, but I am doubt he will stay unless they see him as a back-up to Luke Ridnour until Jonny Flynn is back healthy.   But let’s take a look at the rosters and compare the players who were here when Kahn first started to the roster we have now.

Roster When Kahn Arrived:

  • Randy Foye
  • Bobby Brown
  • Telfair
  • Mark Madesn
  • Al Jefferson
  • Jason Collins
  • Kevin Love
  • Craig Smith
  • Corey Brewer
  • Rodney Carney
  • Ryan Gomes
  • Mike Miller

Roster As Of Today:

  • Jonny Flynn
  • Telfair
  • Brewer
  • Love
  • Wes Johnson
  • Martell Webster
  • Lazar Hayward
  • Luke Ridnour
  • Nikola Pekovic
  • Michael Beasley
  • Wayne Ellington
  • Kosta Koufus
  • Anthony Tolliver

The point guard position has been upgraded and is more stable, the wings are more athletic and minus Miller, are better shooters.  The power forwards are better scorers and the centers are actually centers.

It is yet to be seen who, besides Love, is going to rebound and it will be impossible for the centers on the roster to replace Jefferson’s production.  That said, with Minnesota, Milicic had his most productive stint with any team averaging a career high 8.3 ppg and 5.6 rpg (2nd highest) in 25.6 minutes a game (which was the most playing time he has seen).  Pekovic is going to need time to develop, but should see some time from the first game.  But it should be understood, these players are not meant to replace his production.  That will fall on Beasley, Webster and Love.

The roster when Kahn came to Minnesota was filled with veterans who’s potential and upside were gone.  Players like Madsen, Collins, and Bobby Brown were never going to get better with more playing time.  The current roster is filled with guys in the early to mid 20′s and there best years are yet to come – hopefully with the Wolves.

McCants was always a mystery to me, but it looks like Ellington is very comparable minus McCants athleticism.  Ellington is not the headcase the McCants was, but will struggle to find playing time.

Craig Smith was always underrated and if he can find a team, like DeJuan Blair, Smith can be very valuable.

Transactions: Trades

As stated before, Kahn has never been afraid to make trades, but some of the recent moves have me concerned with the “plan” and direction of this organization.  So let’s look at those transactions.

  • Let’s start with the latest trade.  Sessions and Hollins to the Cavs for Telfair and Delonte West.  While I have felt that Sessions was never a fit for this team, I was opposed to trading Hollins.  Hollins has never been a big producer, but he is only 25 and is athletic enough for me to want to see more.  For this season, I am not fan of this trade.
  • Sending Jefferon to Utah made sense for a couple reason.  One – Money!  The move freed up a ton of cap space.  Two – Love and Jefferson struggled to play together, and Love is going to be the face of this franchise.  The Wolves also received Koufus and two future first0round picks.
  • Beasley came to Minnesota for future draft picks.  Their is nothing I don’t like about this.  While in Miami, Beasley 14.8 points and 6.4 rebounds a game and was labeled a failure as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft.  He is only 21 and will have more freedom on the court here in Minnesota.

Free Agent SigningsApril 9, 2010: Milwaukee Bucks guard Luke Ridnour (13) calling out as he brings the ball up the court during the NBA game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Bucks beat the 76ers, 95-90.

The Wolves started the off-season with a good of their salary cap available, something around $19M to resign their own free agents and then sign new players.

  • Luke Ridnour seemed like a strange signing, but after the rumor of the Wolves shopping Sessions, adding Ridnour made sense.  It makes even more sense know that Flynn is out three to four months after having hip surgery.  I will also stand on my previous statement that Gm David Kahn and Head Coach Kurt Rambis moved Session and brought-in Ridnour to make the Wolves guards less threatening to Ricky Rubio.  However, Ridnour will be a nice piece that will steady a young roster.
  • Signing Darko to a four-year $20M contract did not make me happy.  I thought we over-paid for him.  It felt like the Wolves were paying for his draft position, not his production in the league.  Signing him for $1.5-$3M a year would have been more advantageous for the Wolves.  But a deal averaging $5M a year is too much.

Draft Picks

I already responded to Minnesota’s picks, and the trades that followed.  But all in all, I feel positive about the draft.

Outlook for This Season

Last season the Wolves only had five players average in double figures scoring.  Two have been traded (Jefferson’s 17.1 ppg and 9.3 rpg and Ryan Gomes’ 10.9 ppg), one is out for three to four months (Flynn’s 13.5 ppg), and depending on the line-up, you can expect Brewer’s 13 ppg to dip.  Granted, we do have players to take those shots and the bulk of that production will not fall on one person, but I imagine with Webster, Johnson, Ridnour and Beasley, the Wolves will be scoring more this season than last.

Minnesota averaged 98.18 point per game, which was 20th in the league, last season and then gave up 107.78 points a game which ranked MN only behind Golden State for most points allowed.

The whispers are the Wolves are looking to pick-up the tempo and push the ball when possible, and then rely on the triangle set for half-court.  Everything about the last sentence points to Love being much more involved in every aspect.  Love will start this season and will be an All-Star.  His combination of hustle and skill, passing ability and rebounding, make him a fan favorite in Minnesota.  The knock on Love is defense.  You could say the same thing about a handful of players on this team.  And the Wolves did not address that in off-season.

While Kahn has made headlines with trades and draft picks, Michael Beasley, and Webster to a less effect, is the first major addition Kahn has made in his time with the team.  Their perceived success will be linked, along with Rambis.  But what do the Wolves really expect from Beasley?  How will he handle playing on a struggling team?  Was he really a bust in Miami?  These are all questions that will frame Beasley in Minnesota.

ESPN.com asked 93 panelist to vote on the team which will have the “Most Turmoil”, and the Wolves beat out the Cavs and Hornets by one vote.  So the public expectation is failure and trouble. Unhappy players and trade demands.  But that is not what I expect this season.

What Do I Expect?

That is a great question, thanks for asking.  I expect a lot of losses.  I expect to see some exciting basketball.  It should be standard fare for a young basketball team trying to find an identity, a leader, and a way to win.

  • Love:  Starter = Double-double machine = All-Star
  • Beasley:  Smoke less, up scoring and start rebounding.
  • Flynn:  Get healthy and be more aggressive as a team focused point guard
  • Johnson:  Defense + 9 ppg + many nice dunks + good attitude and work ethic = worth it.
  • Webster:  Some me you are a good enough player to make the trade of Luke Babbitt worth while.
  • Ridnour:  I expect big things from the veteran point-guard.  His game is more suited for this team at this point.
  • Wayne Ellington:  Continue improvements seen during summer league.
  • Telfair:  Back-up Ridnour, then when Flynn gets healthy – trade!
  • Hayward:  Prove me wrong.
  • Kosta Koufos:  6 fouls + 10 mins + a block shot or two.
  • Tolliver:  Make more video’s and blocks per game.
  • Brewer:  Increase you shooting %, more intense on defense and more poster-ization’s ala Derek Fischer – see Exhibit A
  • Darko:  I don’t know what to expect.  Improvement.  Desire to play in the NBA.  Turn into Chris Webber.
  • Head Coach Kurt Rambis:  Decide what the hell kind of team you are.
  • Fans:  Patience – again.
  • Kahn:  Direction.  Where are we going with this?

All in all.  The State of The Timberwolves is one of potential and talent.  What we need is chemistry and teamwork.  Having a coach around for longer than a couple seasons would help.

I get the ‘instant gratification” that is coaching in sports, but I would rather give someone some time to find their vision and then get the players to fit that vision.  So I am willing to be patient, again, and let Rambis mature as a coach and a bench leader.

I am willing to see the Wolves lose, a lot.  I am willing to watch bad shot selection, poor coaching and player choices, turnovers, and missed free-throws.  But I want to see this team work, even in games when they are down by 20 points.  Bust your ass, win a few against teams we should not beat and get this state behind Rambis, Kahn, and the Wolves.  Prove to me that this team, these players and the organization is worth puting my winning expectations on hold.  And then get Ricky Rubio in one of those nice new uniforms next season! For the love of God.

Random Facts

  • Team Salary = $46.97M
  • Kevin Love is the 8th highest paid player on the team at $3.6M right behind Johnson and Brewer (both at $3.7M).
  • The Wolves are the youngest team in the NBA, average age is 23.4 years-old.  Followed by the Thunder  at 23.8 years, and then Wizards, Nets and Kings all at 24.2 years.  The oldest is Dallas at 28.2 years-old.
  • Oldest player on the Wolves – Luke Ridnour at 29.

In case you forgot: Exhibit A

Topics: David Kahn, Jonny Flynn, Kevin Love, Kurt Rambis, Ricky Rubio, Wayne Ellington

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