Ben Garvin, Pioneer Press
The Wolves are finally not a punchline (mostly....)
Team Name: Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Year's Record: 26-40
Key Losses: Michael Beasley, Wes Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Anthony Randolph, Anthony Tolliver, Brad Miller
Key Additions: Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved, Dante Cunningham, Greg Stiemsma, Lou Amundson
Debatable whether losing him is a loss or really an addition: Darko Milicic
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
Hoo boy. Where do we even start? As we've discussed earlier here on Canis Hoopus, the Wolves have cycled through a staggering 33 players in just the past three years, and this year was no different.
The Wolves ended last season in desperate need of more maturity and a better-balanced roster. Check and check. Minnesota let go of Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph...two guys who could be monsters if they get it in the future, but clearly weren't getting it now....Darko Milicic, a guy who pretty clearly just isn't going to get it, and Wes Johnson, who's first two seasons as a pro have been tremendously disappointing.
Replacing them are two former All Stars, Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy; a sharpshooter and Adelman favorite, Chase Budinger; a dynamo combo guard with worlds of potential, Alexey Shved; and a no-nonsense blue-collar worker who takes no prisoners and has an intensity level that sometimes reaches Garnett levels, Dante Cunningham. On top of that, the first four guys on the list are wing players...positions the Wolves have gotten nothing real out of since Ricky Davis in 2008.
Kevin Love made some not-so-veiled threats about the team failing to make the playoffs this past summer during the Olympics. And with Rick Adelman as the head coach, Love was probably only the second-most frustrated person on the team over that. So the Wolves did something they traditionally haven't been inclined to do: they swung for the home run. And against their own historical odds, they actually managed to hit one.
What are the team's biggest strengths?
Easy: post play. With Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic (and without Ricky Rubio for at least half the year), the Wolves are more than ever an inside-out team. Love and the Godfather combined for a gaudy 40 points and 21 rebounds a game least season, and even those numbers were artificially low because Pek didn't break into Adelman's rotation until halfway through the season. Given a fast enough pace (and assuming he can avoid fouling out...) Pekovic could push being a 20-10 player himself, which would give the Wolves a nearly unprecedented two 20-10 players in the paint at the same time.
What are the team's biggest weaknesses?
Weakness one, until proven otherwise, is defense. Rubio's injury last year exposed the extreme terribleness of this team on the defensive end. The Wolves have taken some big steps towards correcting that with Kirilenko, Stiemsma, and Cunningham, but the fact remains that Rubio is the only real pressure on-the-ball defender on the perimeter, and neither Love or Pekovic do much on defense in space or from the weakside.
The other possible big weakness? A lack of a go-to scorer. Last season, the Wolves had guys who could create plays for others or capitalize on created plays, but no one who could do both. The team has two guys who could possibly fill that role this season, but both are huge risk/reward players: Brandon Roy has the knees of an 80 year old, and Alexey Shved hasn't played a single real game in the NBA yet. If neither can step up, 'Sota could find itself in a lot of trouble in close late-game situations, especially sans-Rubio.
What are the goals for this team?
One is to get Rubio back healthy, and with no side-effects. The Spanish Unicorn is worth having around for ticket sales reasons alone, never mind the fact that he's the one guy who could make this team truly special going forward. ACL injuries aren't something you just walk off. Minnesota needs to make sure they take the necessary time to get Rubio back to 100% before he jumps back into the fire. Better safe than sorry.
The other goal, obviously, is to make the playoffs. Point blank, even without Rubio, this team has no excuse for not making an 8th seed.
What's going to happen with Derrick Williams?
Cliff notes version: Williams is a stretch 4 trying (so far unsuccessfully) to transform himself into a 3, on a team with no room to play him at either position. A #2 pick owed $6 million+ on a team that can't put him on the floor. Not a good situation for either party.
What happens if this doesn't work?
There is a danger to what the Wolves did this offseason: in order to stock the shelves, the front office used up the team's cap space and firesaled a lot of draft picks, and on some players with no guarantees. Kirilenko spent last year playing in Russia. Roy didn't play at all because he was all but forced to retire for medical reasons. Shved hasn't played a single minute of real NBA basketball, and Rubio's still in limbo recovering from a season-ending injury. That's a lot of red flags.
Oh, and Pekovic is due for a contract extension that the Wolves, quite frankly, don't appear capable of affording at this point.
If this doesn't work, 'Sota will be stuck with some heavy contracts that will likely prevent them from signing the one that needs to be signed, with no draft picks to salve the wounds. It's a Debby Downer scenario, but we shouldn't pretend it isn't possible.