Once again the SBN NBA blogs are writing team previews in a uniform format. We are early in the process, but they all will be available here.
Key Losses: Gone from the last year's team are Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved, both traded to the Sixers; A.J. Price and Othyus Jeffers. Oh yeah. Some guy named Kevin Love too. I think he's in Cleveland now. We'll see if he makes the team.
Key Additions: Mo Williams signed as a free agent for one season. Thad Young acquired from the Sixers. Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett acquired from the Cavaliers. Zach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III draft picks.
What significant moves were made in the off-season? Yeah, there was a big one. After yet another disappointing year out of the playoffs for the Wolves, superstar power forward Kevin Love made it clear to the Wolves that he wanted out. With a year remaining on his deal before he could become an unrestricted free agent, he informed the Wolves that he had no intention of re-signing, and he would prefer an immediate trade somewhere he could win.
Early in the off-season, it seemed likely that he would go to a team such as the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics (remember his weekend visit?) or Golden State Warriors, for a collection of young talent and draft picks. None of those teams made an offer that President Flip Saunders liked, however, and he showed patience in waiting until after the draft. Things changed once LeBron James decided to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, making them both an attractive destination for Love and a team looking to win sooner rather than later.
The result was the blockbuster of the summer, as the Wolves traded Love to Cleveland and spare parts to Philadelphia in exchange for the last two #1 overall picks from the Cavs--Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett--and a young veteran forward from the Sixers, Thaddeus Young.
The other significant off-season move was on the bench, where the retirement of Rick Adelman led to a coaching search that failed to generate a hire. The Wolves flirted with David Joerger, who wound up staying in Memphis, but didn't appear to entertain any other candidates seriously. President Flip Saunders finally settled on hiring Coach Flip Saunders to take over as head coach. There remain questions about how President Saunders and Coach Saunders will mesh philosophically...
What are the team's biggest strengths? The dreaded youth and athleticism. The Wolves currently have seven players with guaranteed contracts who have one or less years of NBA experience: Wiggins, Bennett, LaVine, Robinson III, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, and Robbie Hummel. Wiggins and LaVine, especially, are renowned for their physical prowess, particularly their ability to run and jump. Along with Ricky Rubio, a fantastic transition point guard, the Wolves will look to play uptempo basketball to take advantage.
The Wolves also have depth at the center position, where Nikola Pekovic, a bruising offensive force, and Gorgui Dieng, a help defender whose game began to emerge late in his rookie season, look to share the bulk of the minutes. Veteran Ronny Turiaf is also available.
For fun, PEK:
What are the team's biggest weaknesses? Youth? Lack of superstar talent? There are several. The team is very young, and it's hard to win that way. Even if some of the young guys go on to good or even great careers, it probably won't happen this year. As much praise as Saunders has gotten for what he got back in the Love trade, it still hurts to trade an All-NBA caliber player. The difference between having Love on the floor and off last season is best described as a gulf, and now they won't have him at all.
More specifically, this team is likely to struggle to rebound, especially when Pekovic is off the floor. Pek has a strong positive effect on team rebounding, but without Love, and with the team intending to limit Pek's minutes, rebounding could be a major problem. As could shooting: The Wolves have been a poor three point shooting team in recent years, and the absence of Love won't help matters any. They could really struggle to score in the half-court as teams dare them to take the perimeter shot.
What are the goals for this team? Depends on who you ask. There are perhaps two sets of goals for this team, and which takes priority will be an interesting thing to watch. Both winning games and developing players are important to the Wolves this year. There might come a point, however, where those goals diverge, and Saunders will have to decide what's more important. It's unlikely that this is a playoff team, certainly, though I do think there are 30-35 wins in there if they want them. But we've already harped on the young talent, and many of those guys will need playing time at some point in order to get better. There is little question that Andrew Wiggins will play, likely as the starter at small forward, but beyond that, it's going to depend on their individual progress and how much Saunders decides to give them minutes even at the cost of wins.
What will Andrew Wiggins look like as a rookie? This is probably the most important issue for the Wolves in the medium term. Rookies who become great players rarely help you win in their first years, but usually they show flashes of what they can become. The future of Andrew Wiggins is absolutely vital for the Wolves; while they have many young players, Wiggins becoming a star over the course of his rookie contract is the most important thing for this team going forward. They need a fulcrum, a player to build around, and they made the Love trade in the hope that Wiggins can become that player. It isn't going to be this year, but we need to see signs that there is a star in the making. That's the biggest thing I'll be looking at this season.
Just a month until real games start. I can't wait. The NBA is back.