Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wolves: 2010 Season Preview

With the Vikings (fans) taking a much needed week off, and the Twins preparing for Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees, the Wolves quietly grabbed some headlines last night with a win over the world champion LA Lakers. OK, so it was a pre-season game played in London and Kobe only played 6 minutes, but it was still a win. Since I didn't actually see the game, I'm not going to try to break it down here. Instead, I'm taking the opportunity to post my annual (and first ever) Wolves season preview.

Given the beating that David Kahn has taken lately (both locally and nationally), I decided it was time to take a real objective look at his tenure as I evaluate our prospects for the season ahead. In order to evaluate where we're at and where we're heading, it helps to take a long (and painful) look back at where we were. Enjoy!

2008-2009 Season:
At the end of this season, the Wolves’ roster was a mess. Al Jefferson, who spent the latter part of the year recovering from a torn ACL, was the franchise player at power forward. Kevin Love had a promising rookie year, which led to a legitimate controversy about the future of the PF position. At center, the Wolves sported a spectacular collection of has-been and never-were types, which led to the hope that Jefferson would be able to play center after making a full recovery. Corey Brewer, coming off a terrible rookie year, was given the opportunity to prove that be belonged in the NBA. After a promising start, he was also lost for the year, leaving another position with serious questions. Brewer’s injury forced Mike Miller out of position to the SF position, and created an even larger hole at the off-guard. Ryan Gomes and Craig Smith were serviceable backups and fan favorites on a terrible team with virtually zero star power, and even less balance in the lineup. In the backcourt, Randy Foye and “Bassy” Telfair shared duties at the point, and occasionally played together, both due to Foye’s inability to effectively run the offense, and the lack of any true option at the two. Rashad McCants had long worn out his welcome in Minnesota, while Rodney Carney showed glimpses of potential as he attempted to convince some team that he deserved another NBA contract. Filling out the bench were veteran team guys Brian Cardinal and Kevin Ollie. McCants was traded to the Kings late in the season for Sheldon Williams and Bobby Brown in a swap of unwanted expiring contracts.

Results: 24 wins

Al Jefferson
Jason Collins
Mike Miller
Kevin Love
Calvin Booth
Ryan Gomes
Craig Smith
Mark Madsen
Corey Brewer
Brian Cardinal
Sheldon Williams
Randy Foye
Rashad McCants
Sebastian Telfair
Rodney Carney
Kevin Ollie
Bobby Brown

2009-2010 Season:
David Kahn did not waste time in making roster moves after taking over for Kevin McHale prior to the 2009 season. The power forward position, clearly the strength of the team in terms of overall talent, remained pretty much the same. In an effort to clear space (salary and roster), Kahn traded Smith, Telfair and Madsen to the Clippers for Q. Richardson, who was then shipped to Miami for Mark Blount and his expiring contract. The center position, rich on free agents and poor on talent, turned over completely. Kahn then traded former cornerstones Foye and Miller to Washington for the #5 draft pick and filler. After a bit more dealing, the Wolves ended up with Pecherov and Wilkins as the extra pieces in the Wizards deal. In order to replenish the depth at the center position, Kahn picked up big man projects Ryan Hollins and Nathan “Outback Shaq” Jawai from Dallas, in two separate transactions. After Ricky Rubio decided he’d prefer to stay in Europe, Kahn made his first major free agent signing in Ramon Sessions,. After the Sessions signing, Sasha Pavlovic and Jason Hart decided to join the rebuilding effort on one year contracts. Rich in draft picks, Kahn decided to stock the backcourt by selecting Flynn and Rubio, and added Wayne Ellington late in the first round. Ty Lawson was also selected, though he was shipped to Denver for a future first rounder in a pre-arranged trade. Prior to the trade deadline, Kahn acquired Milicic and Tucker for extended try-outs in exchange for Brian Cardinal and Jason Hart.

Results: 15 wins

Al Jefferson
Darko Milicic
Ryan Gomes
Kevin Love
Ryan Hollins
Damien Wilkins
Brian Cardinal
Oleksiv Pecherov
Sasha Pavlovic
Nathan Jawai
Jonny Flynn
Corey Brewer
Ramon Sessions
Wayne Ellington
Jason Hart
Alando Tucker

2010-2011 Season:
While still a work in progress, the roster continues to evolve. If you squint your eyes slightly, you can start to see the pieces of the puzzle come together. Whether that leads to results on the floor is yet to be determined. The power forward picture, once promising but unclear, is starting to take shape as Kevin Love is expected to get an opportunity to prove his talents over a full season. It should be an interesting year at center, with Serbian imports Milicic and Pekovic providing size and (unproven) talent in the middle. Another foreign (sounding) big man, Kosta Koufos provides further depth at the position. The biggest news of the off-season was the Al Jefferson trade, which opened the door for K-Love, cleared massive amounts of salary off the books, and netted the team two future first round draft picks in addition to Koufos. It also opened another front court spot for Michael Beasley, the multi-talented former #2 overall pick who was obtained from Miami for next to nothing. Kahn’s second draft added talent and versatility on the wing with Wesley Johnson, Martell Webster, and Lazar Hayward. Luke Ridnour replaces Ramon Sessions, who was shipped off to Cleveland along with Ryan Hollins in exchange for Telfair and Delonte West. West’s partially guaranteed contract and gun toting tendencies were quickly shed, while Telfair was retained as insurance after Jonny Flynn had off-season hip surgery. The signing of Anthony Tolliver gives the team another young versatile frontcourt player. The current version of the young Wolves boasts multiple line-up options consisting entirely of top 7 draft picks (Milicic (2), Beasley (2), Johnson (4), Love (5), Flynn (6), Webster (6), Brewer (7)).

Results: ??

Kevin Love
Darko Milicic
Michael Beasley
Anthony Tolliver
Nikola Pekovic
Wesley Johnson
Kosta Koufos
Lazar Hayward
Luke Ridnour
Martell Webster
Jonny Flynn
Corey Brewer
Sebastian Telfair
Wayne Ellington

The Timberwolves of 2010 are not likely to make the playoffs in a stacked western conference. It is also likely that they will take some time to establish an identity within the “triangle-like” offense preferred by Kurt Rambis. The team still has no true star power, and will likely need to experiment with a number of starting lineups throughout the year.

Now the good news…

This team is loaded with young, athletic, versatile players who, if they can learn to play together, should show significant improvement over the course of the season. You can make an argument (if you really want to) that the team has improved at every position, and has certainly gotten stronger when viewed as a whole.

PF: Quite simply, Kevin Love deserves a chance to show what he can do in the starting lineup. His rebounding, passing, and high basketball IQ make him an important component, even if he will never be the “go to guy.” It is more likely that Beasley will slide into this spot when Love is on the bench, but Tolliver and perhaps even Hayward should get some time here as well.

C: The commitment to Darko was demonstrated both by signing him to a long term deal and by trading away Jefferson and the temptation to play him out of position at center. These moves could prove to be either brilliant or idiotic depending on how Love and Milicic perform. $5 million per year is a steal for a highly skilled, athletic seven footer who can play at both ends of the floor. Giving the same contract to the #2 overall pick in the 2003 draft who has yet to earn a starting job in the NBA is quite the risk. Providing insurance at the position is Nikola Pekovic, another massive Serbian with the size and skill to play center in the NBA. Koufos gives the Wolves another young 7 footer to fill out the bench, and a valuable trade asset down the road.

SF/SG: If one thing was clear after last season’s train wreck, it was that the team needed more athletes and better outside shooters on the wing. Many of the players in this category can play multiple positions on the floor. Both Corey Brewer and Martell Webster have NBA experience at both the two and three. I suspect that rookie Wes Johnson will see time at both spots as well, while Beasley and Hayward are capable of playing both forward spots. Wayne Ellington, probably the only true shooting guard in the group, showed marked improvement late last season and had a strong showing in the 2010 Las Vegas summer league.

PG: Despite a number of moves intended to secure this important position, there are still many questions here. Jonny Flynn, thought to be the “current point guard of the future” for the Wolves, recently had hip surgery and will miss the start of the season. Luke Ridnour, who was expected to be Flynn’s backup, will begin the season as the starter after Sessions’ departure via trade. Telfair provides a decent backup option at the point until Flynn returns, at which point he could be traded or released. The bigger story is if and when Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio decides to make the jump to the NBA and the waiting Timberwolves. In any case, that is a story for next summer when he has a buy out clause in his current contract with Barcelona.

Since David Kahn took the reigns just over a year ago, the Wolves have undergone a massive transformation. They have gotten younger (average age is less than 24 years), longer (average height of 6’7’’), more athletic, and much, much cheaper (2010 payroll of approx. $45 million). In addition to this, they continue to stockpile draftpicks and NBA draft rights (Rubio, Bjelica, Prestes…) for the future. In a perfect world, the young talent would start to show, the players would become comfortable with the system, and we’d see obvious improvement. The talented and improving team would use expendable assets and cap space to trade for a legitimate star player, convince Rubio to travel across the pond, and set its sights on the playoffs in 2012. Clearly, a lot of pieces have to fall into place for this to happen, but I’m much more optimistic about the future of the franchise than I have been for quite some time.


  1. Obviously you wrote this before you realized the Vikings traded for RANDY EFFING MOSS!!!!!!

    Good luck with the blogging. I got bored pretty quickly with mine.

  2. Ok, now that I've read the post I have some thoughts.

    You must really love the Wolves. You spent way too much time on this preview. And before I blow up, I'm confused as to whom you're referring when you said "$5 million per year is a steal for a highly skilled, athletic seven footer who can play at both ends of the floor." I don't know current salaries, but Love is NOT a seven footer despite his 6'10" listed height; Darko is NOT highly skilled or athletic, nor can he play at both ends of the court; and Jefferson wasn't a legit seven-footer and was a liability on defense.

    With that said (Curb Your Enthusiasm anyone?) I am actually showing a little bit of interest in the Wolves this year. From the brief bits of info I've heard, you hit the nail on the head with us being a very athletic team (despite Darko.) It's sounds like we'll have the potential to shoot the lights out this year, but who knows what our D will be like. I can see us being a poor man's Phoenix Suns; keep the other team on the run and play little defense. I'll set the over/under at 30 wins this year. A marked improvement over last year, but still not good enough to bring in fans over more dedicated followings of the Vikings and Wild.

    I'll also make my prediction for the ALDS. Twins in 5.



As a new blogger, I'm interested to hear what others think. Please leave your comments here.