Below is the second half of the writers roundtable, featuring some of the best writers in the Wolves blogesphere. To read the first half, click here.
Featured this time around (only listing their Wolves blogs, but most of them write all over the internet, and do it quite well): William Bohl and Steve McPherson of A Wolf Among Wolves, Andy G and Patrick J of Punch Drunk Wolves, and Derek James of Howlin' T-Wolf.
*NOTE*: These questions were all given out and answered before these Kevin Love rumors took form, so the answers may not seem entirely timely.
1. There's still basketball to be played, and it really isn't "the offseason" yet. But early on, what need would you say it the most vital to address this summer?
Bohl: Off the court: hire the right coach and keep building a good relationship with Kevin Love, priorities with a symbiotic relationship. On the court: find someone, anyone, who can defend on the perimeter without taking unnecessary gambles. Pekovic and Love will never be mistake for rim protectors, but the team's poor defensive field goal percentage in the paint could isn't entirely their fault. A quality rotation wing who can keep guys in front of him would do wonders to help the Wolves get stops, especially late in games.
McPherson: I made a joke yesterday that their number one priority has to be a new head coach because I'm pretty sure you have to have one to start the season. It's just required. To that end, what they definitely will have next season is a new head coach. What they might not have is a clear commitment from Kevin Love, so I think that needs to be the priority. It doesn't really matter if we know about it -- it's likely better if a big deal isn't made about it, actually -- but the organization as a whole needs to be moving forward on solid ground. That can either mean Love staying or leaving, but it will be very difficult for the team to start the season cohesively if there isn't at least a tacit understanding of Love's situation.
AG: They need a coach, and preferably one with some creative ideas to maximize the productivity and defensive performance of this unique set of Timberwolves players. Barring a major trade (read: something involving Kevin Love or Nikola Pekovic) the roster is pretty much established, and will look very similar to last season's. But the sideline will look a lot different, due to the retirement of Rick Adelman and (presumed) departures of his assistants. Flip Saunders needs to find a coach that can build on the significant developments that took place under Adelman's watch, and improve things like paint defense and fourth-quarter scoring to get this team into the playoffs.
PJ: Hiring a coach! I hate to be Captain Obvious right off the bat, but the caliber of a team's coach can be almost as important as having one more star player on the court. While the Wolves continue their search at a deliberate pace, Stan Van Gundy (Pistons) and Steve Kerr (Warriors) were hired by other teams. Meanwhile, George Karl has repeatedly broadcast his interest in the Wolves job but can't get a call-back, and any forward movement seems weirdly contingent on Tom Izzo, whose season ended two months ago and already said he doesn't want the job. Which I interpret to mean that the stalemate will last forever, foreseeably forcing Othyus "Yolomite" Jeffers into a new role as player-coach. Ugh. Just hire someone, or hire yourself, Flip.
James: I think it all starts with landing the right coach. Do that and then you know the best way to go about tweaking the roster and bolstering the bench. It all rolls downhill to me.
2. Which player do you expect the biggest leap of improvement from next season?
Bohl: I love this question, there are so many different ways to go with it... I'll say Chase Budinger, especially if you mean "improvement over what we've seen recently." He's been bad during his two injury-riddled seasons with the Wolves, but at the end of the year, he finally seemed to be getting his legs back. From March 20th through April 4th (a span of 8 games), he averaged 11 points, 4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 24.3 minutes with 47/39/88 shooting splits. 65-75 games at or near that level of production would help the Wolves' bench immensely.
McPherson: I'm going to go way out on a limb and say -- relative to his production as a member of the Wolves so far -- Chase Budinger will make the biggest leap. It's also entirely possible that his knees make it impossible for him to ever really be a big contributor again, but if his offseason goes well and he comes into the season confident in his shot, I think we could suddenly see him fitting really well into the role of perimeter gunner on a team that needs shooters.
AG: Ricky Rubio. As great of a coach as Adelman was (and I think that his performance in Minnesota has become underrated due to the short memories and "What have you done for me lately?" nature of sports punditry) he was not an ideal coach for Rubio; not after his system was installed this past year, anyway. Most NBA coaches favor pick-and-roll action with their point guard over the more unconventional, forward-initiating sets taught by Adelman since his Sacramento days with Pete Carril on his staff. Rubio should find himself playing off of more ball screens, hopefully with more space. We saw in his rookie season how dynamic that action can be. I think his advanced age and experience, combined with more of those sets, will lead to a bump in his overall productivity.
PJ: Gorgui Dieng. Dieng's production surged after he replaced injured center Nikola Pekovic in the starting lineup. As good as Dieng was, however, he still had the look of a rookie (the deer-in-headlights looks, the gawky physical awkwardness of a young seven-footer, the uncertainty over when to pass the ball, the strain of trying to read angles, etc.). At 24, Dieng was old for a rookie. As far as old rookies go, Dieng is basically the anti-Wes Johnson. That is a very good thing for the Timberwolves.
James: Based on what we've seen, Gorgui Dieng, probably. He's a second year player, so he should get better, but he's also in his mid-20s, nearing his physical prime. I would expect Dieng to continue to work on his build and hone his skills to really fortify the team's depth at center. Tops on my wishlist: a Dirk-like stepback.
3. What's the best part about covering a game at the Target Center?
Bohl: Hanging out and talking hoops with all of you fine people! (AWWWWWW!) But seriously, the grace and athleticism on display in the NBA, on any given night, is a sight to behold, especially from our privileged vantage point. Then there are the little things - the way players interact with one another and the officials, the demeanor of coaches on the sidelines, and all of Ronny Turiaf's zaniness, that you just don't pick up from telecasts. Finally, the nights YOU-KNOW-WHO leaves enough M&M's for the rest of us during the halftime snack in the media room are also pretty sweet.
McPherson: As someone who hates traffic and parking, I have to say it's having an excuse to get there before everyone and leave well after them. I'm someone who is totally happy to get to the airport three hours ahead of a flight if it means less stress about going through security, so this is perfect for me.
AG:The conversations with other Timberwolves writers. For bloggers like myself, so much of the discourse takes place on computers. It's fun to get a chance to meet in real life and talk hoops with people who know the game better than I do.
PJ: Hearing Corey Brewer's *ahem* unique voice in playful banter with teammates in the post-game locker room. But I suppose that the great seats, postgame press conferences, and conversations with some of the smartest Wolves observers out there is a pretty close second.
James: Covering games at Target Center as a whole is an incredible experience and privilege. However, I would have to say the Haikrew of row three and watching games with other like-minded basketball people is one of the best parts. There's always something you can learn from someone whether it's about the game or how you can do your own job better.