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Season Preview, 2010-11 Edition


Team Name: Minnesota Timberwolves

Last Year’s Record: 15-67

Key Losses: Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, 2010 #16 (Luke Babbitt), Ramon Sessions, Brian Cardinal (you heard me), Delonte West (yeah, that’s right, key)

Key Additions: Michael Beasley, Martell Webster, Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson, Nikola Pekovic, Anthony Tolliver

1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?


Trading Al Jefferson means that the remaining tangible return for Kevin Garnett consists of Wayne Ellington, Kosta Koufos, part of Martell Webster and some draft picks. Despite being the man pegged as KG’s alpha dog heir and having the best low-post offensive moves in the league, Al’s welcome wore out in Minnesota with Kurt Rambis looking to pick up the offensive pace and fans’ confidence in Al as a championship caliber franchise player waning.


The real significance of David Kahn’s second offseason can’t be found in any singular move, though. It’s the sheer volume of player movement that sticks out.


There are only 3 players on the Wolves roster whose tenure exceeds Kahn’s. Sebastian Telfair wasn’t even here last year and has watched shooting guard Wayne Ellington pick up minutes at the backup point this preseason. Corey Brewer’s time in Minnesota may be up with some apparent regression in his offensive game and 3 new swingmen to compete with for time. Only Kevin Love appears to have a definite future with the Wolves.


But under Kahn nobody’s safe. No other team has churned its roster more in the last two years. In fact, the Wolves have only 4 returners from last year and had only 5 last year. The Heat? 6 returning players this year. New York, New Jersey, Golden State, and Washington each have 4 or fewer returners, but all had more than 5 last year.


Despite having only two preseason games with which to build a case, it’s beginning to appear that the Wolves’ moves this summer have succeeded in building them an identity: an up-tempo, athletic team that looks for solid spacing and outside shooting opportunities. Oh, and they're all-in on Ricky Rubio in case anyone hasn't figured this out already.  


2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?


This is where it gets tricky. I have no idea what this team's biggest strengths are. I know what they should be: Rebounding and getting to the line. The team also should have a fairly decent second unit. Wes Johnson, Martell Webster, Nikola Pekovic, and Anthony Tolliver are massive upgrades over Sasha Pavlovic, Damien Wilkins, Stewie, and Brian Cardinal. The Wolves could (I repeat: could) be causing fans to deal with the word "depth" for the first time in a few years.

However, all of that being said, the biggest problem with writing about this team is that I do not believe anybody (yes, anybody) has any idea how all of these parts will play together. Last season was such a massive failure on all fronts that we have no idea how (or if) Kurt Rambis can really coach, if his system is really a system, or if anyone involved with the team has any clear idea what the hell they are doing. Last season was that big of an abomination. It was a fraud perpetrated on the purchasing public and it is amazing that there are still fans who...well, those of us who are still around really like pro basketball and there's not really a logical way to explain our attachment to the franchise that continues to poke a finger in our eyes. More on this later.

In theory, this team should control the boards on both ends of the court, play decent defense on the wings, shoot well from beyond the arc, and win 10-15 games simply by showing up and shooting the rock at a general percentage unseen in the post-KG era. In practice, I'll believe it when I see it. I like what I've seen so far this preseason, but the current mixture of this club is volatile and could go south in a hurry. Martell Webster and Wes Johnson are not known as good shot creators off of the dribble, Michael Beasley hasn't proven he can be a solid gunner, Jonny Flynn is suffering through the 2nd-year Wolves curse, this coaching staff has shown exactly nothing so far, and [insert your own possible blunder here]. When this team is winning games (or losing in a competitive manner) Kahn's "plan" will seem like it is headed down the right track, as we should see lots of hustle, athleticism, length, passing (especially from the bigs) and good shooting. When this squad is losing games, it will certainly be pitched by the team as a work in progress (and, to be fair, it is), but it will also still be the result of a long-running tradition of horrific front office decisions (both pre and during the Era of Kahn). At the end of the day, this is still a 15 win franchise with an under-performing coaching staff and front office that passed on the BPA with a top 5 pick and was unable to turn additional (and multiple) 1st round draft picks into anything other than Martell Webster. The one thing they have going in their favor is that anything approaching average will be greeted by us die-hards as honest-to-Pete manna from heaven. The soft bigotry of low expectations finally has a home at 600 First Avenue.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?


They haven't proven anything. Period. As hard as it is to predict the strengths of a group of guys that do not have a lot of shared court time together, it is equally hard to tell what they do not do well together. They should turn the ball over a lot. They should have trouble creating their own shots in a 1/2 court setting. As many assets as they have poured into the point guard position over the past 2 years, it is still a largely unsettled part of the roster that saw Wayne Ellington get minutes at the spot during the pre-season (seriously, how crazy is it that after two top 10 picks and 2 free agents that the team had to play Ellington at the point?!). Their coaching staff has not shown itself to be able to improve a roster. Their front office staff has not shown itself to be able to make an above average roster.  At this point, and with their track record, the question is what aren't their weaknesses? 


4. What are the goals for this team?

Not perpetrating fraud upon the paying public. I know it's kind of harsh, but last year was an unmitigated disaster that was not only one of the two or three worst seasons in franchise history, but was also an 82-game washout that became (according to team legend) a testing ground for the long term plans of Coach Rambis and POBO Kahn. I'm sure all of you who paid for a ticket are happy to hear that.  

I want competitive and entertaining action on a night-in/night-out basis. This probably means that we'll need to see some solid coaching and player development. For better or worse (most likely for the sake of addiction), I appear to be the type of fan that is in this thing for the long haul. My goal this year is to not feel like a dupe for following this team. Again, congratulations Timberwolves--low expectations have garnered you another victory.


5a- B-Easy is OK but DMC is a no go?

See if you can make sense of this paragraph from Chad Ford's off-season grade post about Our Beloved Puppies:

The Wolves started off the summer with the selection of Wesley Johnson with the No. 4 pick in the draft. There were better players -- see DeMarcus Cousins -- on the board, but Johnson filled a need and was a better fit, personalitywise, with the culture the team is trying to build. The Wolves also got a bit of a steal in early July when the team landed Beasley for essentially nothing. Beasley may not fit the culture, but he was the No. 2 pick in the draft two years ago and is a big-time talent. The move cost the Wolves little; there was only upside there.

Mr. Ford didn't feel it necessary to put two and two together, but I will: If you pass on DMC because of attitude but then take a flier on Beasley despite of it, that doesn't make any sense. BPA, BPA, BPA. It's not that hard. To be fair to the Wolves, and to say something negative about their abilities to pick the BPA, we believe that they honestly thought Wes Johnson was the better player than Cousins. We promise not to dwell on this horrible pick going forward, but we do want to make something very, very clear: This was a draft blunder on par with Foye/Roy. Wes Johnson will be a nice pro. DMC will be a beast. I think we have made our thoughts on this subject known for quite some time and this is the last we will speak of it. If they were scared away by the guy's personality, it doesn't say much about their ability to groom young players (especially in light of what the Kings are doing).  If they had Johnson ranked ahead of him, it doesn't say much about their ability to judge college talent.  Either way you cut it, it was the wrong pick--always was, always will be.  15 win teams don't get to draft for fit...especially for the fit of a certain teenage point guard 1/2 way around the globe.  

5b- Is this the end of the line for Corey Brewer?

It doesn't look good for the former Gator.  Aside from having an unpredictable POBO with no real attachment to anyone on the active roster (his allegiances lay in Europe), the Wolves added two players in Martell Webster and Wes Johnson who appear to be souped-up versions of the skinniest 6'8" guy on the planet.   His qualifying offer is nearly $5 million and he is going to a) have to show a lot of improvement this season (even over what he showed last year) and b) get a lot of playing time at both the 2 and 3 to show his worth to the club going forward.  Martell Webster will make over $5 mil next year.  Wes Johnson will make just over $4.  Corey Brewer is really going to have to distinguish himself if the team is going to plow $15 mil into slightly-above-replacement-value performers at the 2/3.   My hope is that one of these 3 guys distinguishes himself at the 2 and that Mike Beasley can lock down the 3.  If anything, all of this should provide some solid motivation for Brewer to make this a fantastic year.  No matter if he ends up on the Wolves or not, he has plenty to prove and he will be pushed at every step of the way.  Early returns from Johnson, Webster, and Brewer do not place things in Corey's favor.  

5c- Is Kevin Love an All Star performer? 

Regular readers of this site know that I have long viewed Kevin Love as the best player on the squad.  Regular readers will also know that instead of getting geeked about the Flynn/Love/Darko connection, there is nothing that irritates me more about this franchise than knowing that it very easily could have (and should have) been Curry/Love/DMC.  Efficient scorers?  Check.  Monster rebounders?  Double check.  Did I mention that I would never bring up the DMC bit again?  Sorry.  Back to Love. 

Love is an absurdly efficient and productive player.  In his first two seasons with the team, he was either 2nd or 1st in WP/48.  He was the team's best rebounder on both ends of the court by a country mile (leading the league in Oreb% in his rookie season).  In his first year with the team he was a +3 on an OE/DE differential.  In his second year he was +4.  Think about that for a moment.  Think about how bad the Wolves were over the past two seasons and then think about how Love managed to come out with a net positive or 3-4 points for every 100 possessions he was on the floor.  How does he do this?  First, he's not as bad of a defender as everyone would like to pretend.  In fact, he holds his opponents to less than their average production in direct match ups. Will he have trouble guarding gigantic centers and athletic power forwards?  Of course.  However, in aggregate, he more than holds his own.  

Second, Love is one of the best possession-by-possession finishers in the NBA.  The ultimate goal of any player is to end as many possessions in his team's favor as possible at both ends of the court.  Love is not only the best offensive and defensive rebounder on his team, but he is top-5 in the entire league.  The guy has the ability to grab nearly 30% of available rebounds on the defensive side of the court.  He gets his mitts on roughly 15% of available rebounds on offense. That's a single player positively ending nearly 30% of any miss by the opposing team while extending the possession of 15% of his own team's misses at the other end of the court.  It is pretty hard to overstate just how important this is for a team that doesn't shoot the ball well.  

Moving beyond rebounds, Love does not turn the ball over at a high rate.  Last year he had the 3rd highest Ast% on the team while carrying the 4th lowest TO%.  This year he will have the opportunity to put these numbers through the roof.  One of the most striking things about the first two preseason games is that Minny bigs are going to have lots of opportunities to hand the ball off to guys who can but the ball in the bucket from long range.  If Webster and Johnson are hitting their jumpers, Love could have an even more absurdly efficient season.  

Rounding things out, the guy gets to the line at a higher clip than anyone else on the team.  Rebounding, free throws, decent shooter, not a lot of really can't ask for too much more from the guy.  He could have a break-out season this year that puts him at a level where talking about All Star status isn't such a ridiculous proposition.  Love is far and away (at least for me) the number one reason to follow this club.  

Wrapping It Up:

I have to be completely honest.  I have no idea how to write about this team anymore.  The more I think about last season's whitewash, and the more I think about how little I think of David Kahn, the less I want to think about the club.  The ownership, coaching staff, and front office of this franchise has underperformed (and obviously so) for such a long time that it has become second nature for any remaining fan to view what happens off-the-court as somehow eclipsing (at least in terms of interest and entertainment) what happens on-the-court.  This is a tremendously negative thing and it's kind of a downer.  Just look at the tone of this post.  It's terrible, no fun, and kind of a drag, and I'm tired of dancing the dance.  

How long have we been talking about Blueprints, Plans, or whatever iteration of "hold on while we wait to get lucky" the team is feeding its season ticket holders? How many different versions of Foye/Roy have we been through?  When was the last time anything happened on-the-court that was worth talking about?  Corey Brewer's dunk against the Lakers is the only thing I can think of during the last two seasons.  

I have zero faith in the ability of David Kahn to pull off whatever it is he thinks he's doing.  I disagree with those who say he doesn't have an obvious general strategy (he's all-in on Rubio), but I find nothing in his resume or performance to suggest that he deserved (or continues to deserve) the job.  

I have zero faith in the ability of Kurt Rambis to get the most out of whatever roster is put in front of him.  Last season was an absolute embarrassment, and a lot of it came from the complete inability of the coaching staff to coax out anything approaching player development.  The guy has shown nothing.  

All of this being said, I'm tired of focusing my attention at the off-the-court issues of this franchise.  I'm tired of knowing from day 1 that the most interesting thing during the season will be putting together a college draft board.  I don't want to worry about systems or the never-ending series of roster moves that are probably still on the horizon with a guy who seems to value busy work over smart work.  I just want to watch entertaining basketball and I no longer care how the sausage is made.  That's my bar for this team.  Either they are entertaining on-the-court or I flip the League Pass over to OKC.  I don't want the soap opera or another Blueprint.  There is no longer anything off-the-court that is worth my allegiance or attention and I want results because I'm tired of waiting.  This is what apathy for a die hard fan looks like.  I'm not going to be duped by this franchise anymore.  I'm not going to get excited over table scraps.  This is a 15 win team that has proven nothing.  

Entertain me with competitive ball or I turn the channel with no complaints or comments.  It's that simple.  

My hope is that I can find some things to be excited about with this team on-the-court.  My hope is that Wes Johnson competes for R.O.Y.  My hope is that Kevin Love puts in an All Star caliber season.  My hope is that Michael Beasley is given the chance to become an A1 scoring option.  My hope is that the team competes night-in/night-out and that we don't have to dip into the off-the-court jar for things to talk about in mid-November, which is when the on-the-court product of the past few years has gone stale.  

My biggest wish for the season is that David Kahn continues to maintain an ultra-low profile.  It is in everybody's best interest that he says as little as possible, as he has a tremendous knack for being either prodigiously condescending or for putting his foot in his mouth.  Even when he does something worthwhile, he is really hard to root for.  Again, the focus of anything related to this franchise needs to be pointed back on-the-court.  In order for this to happen, we need continued radio silence from the POBO.  

As negative as all of this has seemed (and it's largely aimed at ownership and the front office), I'm genuinely (and cautiously) optimistic that the Wolves will have an entertaining team this year.  My head tells me that this position is filled with contradiction and is against my best interests, but I'm rolling with it anyway.  I've been writing about off-the-court issues with this franchise for such a long time that just the thought of getting it back to what is on the hardwood is kind of entertaining by itself.  

I've rambled on long enough.  What say you about the upcoming season?  

Until later.