Paul Forrester of CNNSI had a good breakdown of the challenges and prospects facing the eight new NBA coaches this year. I thought it might be good to profile our own head wizard in a similar fashion.
- Defense, Defense, Defense. The Wolves were 5th worse last year in point differential, a hefty -6.78 per game. They gave up 102.37 points per game, 10th worse in the league, and allowed opponents to shoot .472 overall, 4th worse in the league. If Kevin McHale thinks that 20 more wins are coming strictly due to the additions of Kevin Love, Mike Miller and Rodney Carney--all primarily offensive players--there must be truly some fierce hallucinogenic in the Iron Range or North Oaks air. Since the Wolves have no real individual stoppers on the roster--save for an occasional Corey Brewer sighting--Wittman is going to have to develop a team approach to defense, with the idea that good enough may be the best this team can do right now. It's regrettable that McHale couldn't find a Richie Adubato or Dick Harter type of assistant coach who could help Wittman to preach and design schemes on defense.
- The Love Connection. Okay, McHale wanted a shorter, heavier version of himself on the team, albeit with much better passing skills. Only time will tell whether or not the Mayo/Love exchange was justified, but in large part that depends on how Wittman uses Love. The conventional wisdom--both from an offensive and defensive standpoint--has been beaten to death; the time is near to see exactly how Wittman's pairs the kid with Big Al. Will the fans go wild, or be hurling empty chocolate milk cartons toward the Timberwolves bench by mid-season?
- How much progress will be enough? Even the most optimistic Wolves fans probably deep down feel a 20 win improvement is unreasonable. So, no playoffs...again. Yet, fans are starving for some sign of results, and not unlike the current presidential race, may once again be willing to give a failed organization yet another shot at redemption. Too bad Pam Borton signed an extension with the Gophers; she may have been the Palin-esque jolt the coaching staff needs to help Randy keep his job. Seriously though, if the Wolves stay in the 20's, how can Wittman keep his job, other than through his country club connections?
The Wolves have stacked their improvements on the offensive end, which should substantially improve their offensive stats (95.59 points per game, 5th worse in the league last year). Given the acquisition of Love, Miller, and Carney, as well as the re-signing of Gomes, Telfair and Smith, the Wolves can effectively argue they have given Wittman a better chance of success this season. If he were an outsider like Dwyane Casey (or even Bill Blair), this certainly would be a do-or-die season for the Hoosier. In an earlier thread, many of us predicted a win record in the mid-30's; if that's realized, the prospects for Wittman to stay on as head coach are decent to good. On the other hand, if the Wolves start out of the gate as poorly as last year, McHale may be forced to bounce Randy mid-season. But, there's too much talent for him to screw up that badly, right?