The Timberwolves are short on a lot of things right now - defense, wing play, an immediately obvious and coherent plan for the franchise besides "Get Ricky Rubio over here and then hope for the best." But one thing they don't seem to have is a "face of the franchise"-type player, the guy who fans come to see and who sells jerseys and who represents the team in the minds of casual fans. Kevin Garnett used to fill that role, of course, but since he left it's been much harder to pick a representative.
This brings up the question - even if the Wolves don't have a star, then who's the most popular player on the team?
Let's examine some candidates:
Al Jefferson - This time two years ago, I would have said that he was the obvious pick. Since then, though, everyone's started to notice how bad his defense is, he missed a bunch of time hurt, and he got arrested for driving drunk. Plus, the Wolves drafted another version of him, and may do so again this year. He may be the best-known Timberwolf, but his popularity is probably on the decline.
Kevin Love - He stopped Twittering, which may have hurt him; he seemed more fun when he was accidentally breaking news via Twitter. Since then, he's been very solid - 65 double-doubles - but has yet to really do anything spectacular. He's never scored 30 in a game; he had one 23-22-2 game last year, but it was in late March when nobody was paying much attention. He might have been best known last year for getting in a semi-public disagreement with Kurt Rambis about whether he should be starting or coming off the bench. I'm not sure he's more popular than anybody else on the team, at this point.
Corey Brewer - His long string of consecutive games with a three-pointer helped, but he seems to be mostly seen as being not quite the answer to the Wolves' problems on the wing. If he were to continue to improve and become an offensive force, I can see him becoming the most popular Wolf - but for now, he's probably not it.
Jonny Flynn - Young, but not exactly electrifying. I suspect most fans are still confused about why he was drafted, and most people are still wondering if he'll ever show any talent for running the triangle.
Ryan Gomes - Well, he's my favorite player - mostly because he's a competent team guy who can play a role, something the Wolves have lacked - but I may very well be the only one who would name him my favorite player.
Brian Cardinal - Only popular with the type of person who loves towel-wavers. This person still misses Mark Madsen, once purchased a Mitch Berger Vikings jersey, and loves any and all quirky and/or wildly overweight baseball relief pitchers. Also probably misses Lew Ford from the Twins.
Sasha Pavlovic - No.
Ricky Rubio - His picture adorns this post, and I'm being semi-serious - even though he may never actually play for the team, can you not make a case for him as the most popular "asset" currently "with" the Wolves? He's an exciting player, he's young, and more importantly, unless you caught any Euroleague games on NBA TV, you have no idea what his failings might be. All we know for sure is that he's supposed to be pretty awesome, that David Kahn seems to talk about him in every interview, and that he won't be here until 2011-12 at the earliest. Put another way - if the team put Rubio jerseys on sale, isn't there a pretty good chance his jersey would be the top seller?
Darko Milicic - No other player engendered playing time-related crowd chants last season. "We want Darko," said the fans, and now it looks like Milicic may be back next season. Is this the place that the much-maligned youngster finally becomes beloved? (Or were we all just so bored at that point that we'd have chanted for anyone for a bit of excitement?)
I'll put up a poll here: who do you think is the most popular Timberwolf? You can vote for your favorite, in the hopes of skewing the results, or you can vote for who you think is the most popular player on the team.