During this hectic offseason, the enthusiasm of long suffering Timberwolves fans has been tempered by numerous commentators. John Hollinger excoriated the Timberwolves for the offer sheet directed to Nicolas Batum and repeatedly talked about how it was financially impossible. Bill Simmons recently said in a recent podcast that the Timberwolves were not a playoff team. Local radio host Henry Lake droned on about how the Timberwolves had not actually done that much in the offseason and the changes would not translate into a drastically improved winning percentage, although he did clamor for the Timberwolves to add Nick Young last season, so I cannot value his opinion too highly. The big point that commentators seem to be overlooking is the additions the team has made by subtraction.
Lets start with Michael Beasley. Beasley would make a great playground basketball player or he would have excelled on one of Paul Westhead's old Denver Nuggets teams that sought to score 130 points per game. However, Beasley's means of scoring is not conducive to fluid, team oriented basketball. When he scored 34 points in a brilliant performance against the Rockets this past season, the bulk of the field goals came off of sets in which he played on one side of the floor with the other four Wolves creating space by standing on the other side of the lane. Defensively, Beasley's effort and intensity were non-existent.
Wesley Johnson played well during the Summer League, averaging 20 per game. The only problem with translating this success to the NBA is that the bulk of his points came on three pointers. He still displayed dribbling skills that could best be described as spastic when he attempted to use the bounce to get to the rim. After watching him aim three pointers for much of last year, Johnson does not seem to be a player that can be trusted to consistently knock down long balls. With no other plus skill, he becomes a liability and not an asset. At 24 minutes a game, it would be hard to not improve the team with a substitute for those minutes.
I would mention Darko Milicic, but what can you say about a guy who plays without passion, content to flick up ten foot jump hooks and spend his life as a bust? Milicic's time in Minnesota thankfully came to an end, along with another dispassionate front court player in Anthony Randolph. Randolph is far removed from the player who repeatedly dunked on Yao Ming, yelled, and thumped his chest. Randolph rarely cracked a smile, somehow got into Rick Adelman's doghouse, and racked up DNP's - coaches decisions. There can be little argument that the Timberwolves improved their front court on both ends,of the floor, as well as adding depth with Budinger, Derrick Williams, and Stiemsma coming off of the bench.
The Timberolves added pieces over the offseason, all of which are capable of contributing something, even if just taking Luke Ridnour out of the starting lineup as a 6'1" shooting guard and making the Timberwolves tougher, defensively. Chase Budinger is a spot up shooter that the Timberwolves desperately needed at the three last season. Andrei Kirilenko offers many skills and does not need to handle the ball in order to generate his own offense. Greg Stiemsma is a competent shot blocker off the bench. The two shooting guards, Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved, offer ball handling skills, which could be prove to be valuable as Ricky Rubio recuperates from knee surgery.
The Minnesota Timberwolves will make the playoffs due to their decisions to discard basketball players that were not going to contribute anything meaningful going forward, while adding players with skills the team can put to use. Coach Adelman has a plethora of interesting lineups he can use against various teams (e.g. Pekovic and Stiemsma against the Lakers, small ball against the Mavericks, etc.). Timberwolves fans should be enthusiastic about the upcoming season and should look forward to a long awaited return to watching meaningful games being played in April and May.