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Sometimes Love Hurts – Minnesota Timberwolves 2008-09 Season Preview

2007-08 Season Record:
Personnel Losses: Marko Jaric (Trade), Antoine Walker (Trade), O.J. Mayo (Draft-rights trade… sorry, I had to bring it up)
Personnel Additions: Kevin Love (Draft-rights trade), Mike Miller (Trade), Rodney Carney (Trade), Jason Collins (Trade), Brian Cardinal (Trade), Calvin Booth (Trade)

Kevin Garnett is a WarriorBeing a Minnesota Timberwolves fan isn’t fun. I know. The NBA season just happens to coincide with the most dismal, dreary months of the Minnesota calendar. The climate becomes so inhospitable that it can literally burn your skin with frostbite from mere minutes of exposure. The sun goes down before you get home from work. For five months you live like some kind of troglodyte, avoiding the out of doors at all costs.

And so you turn up the heat, you don your flannel pajamas at 7:00 PM, you sit down on the couch and you watch television.

Since 1989, that means you watch a lot of Timberwolves games. You watch through the lean years of a bungling expansion franchise, waiting for your turn. You watch as they set an NBA record by losing at least 60 games for four consecutive seasons, but you stick with it.

When a player finally shines like a ray of hope, you latch onto him. You lionize him. You internalize his struggle and map it onto your own. His pitfalls and his triumphs somehow mean more than basketball. You fall in love with Kevin Garnett. And Kevin Garnett falls in love with Minnesota and the people who worship him. The people agree to pay him $126 million to stay for six years and then extend him for more than $20 million a year after that.

It’s not about the money though, it’s about finally having a hero, a winner. A guy you can be proud of. You stick with him through thick and thin, even after another troubling NBA record is set: seven consecutive defeats in the first round of the playoffs. Then in 2004 a couple of wily veterans come into town, things click, and you have the best record in the Western Conference. Kevin Garnett is named the NBA MVP. Things are looking up… until a gut-wrenching loss to the former Minneapolis Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

Then things start to come unraveled again. The Wolves miss the playoffs the next three seasons after participating in every postseason since 1996. It becomes increasingly clear that the relationship with Kevin Garnett isn’t the match made in heaven you thought it was. He’s outgrown you, he needs something you can’t give and you’re holding him down. Finances start to get in the way more than they ever did before. He says he’s still committed and he works hard at it because he feels obligated, but it’s clear he deserves another shot with a city that can give him what he needs.

You need to move on.

So you send Kevin packing and you start over with a new young kid named Al, who shows all kinds of promise. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it needs to be done. You both deserve it. Kevin lands on his feet and a year later he’s wearing a ring with another team – and you’re genuinely happy for him. Really. I am.

But what does Minnesota do now? You draft Kevin Love and you try to keep moving on.

Answering the tough questions for Minnesota after the jump…

The Largely Unknown Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves Photo Credit: Icon SMI

“And nobody’s gonna give you nothing. If you wanna eat, you got to work for it.”
Al Jefferson

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

When you watch a Wolves game this season the first change you notice will be the new threads. They’re no less awful than the old jerseys, but at least there aren’t so many mini pine trees on them. The colors are all washed out, and perhaps that’s a good thing too considering the horrible color palette involved.

The second thing you’ll notice is this team has two new starters: Mike Miller and Kevin Love.

The sharp-shooting Miller is a former Rookie of the Year who fell off the map for a few seasons in Orlando. He’s re-emerged as an elite offensive player over the last two campaigns and should be a major asset in Minnesota. The Wolves lacked a consistent outside scorer last season, which allowed teams to simply double-team Jefferson on nearly every play. As a guy who shot over 50% from the field and 43% from behind the arc last year, Miller should take a lot of that pressure off. Hopefully the 28-year-old still in his prime when the rest of the roster is mature enough to compete.

Kevin Love may not be in the starting lineup on opening night, but he’s the power forward of the future. And that’s a problem: Al Jefferson is a pure power forward, and a very good one, but he just isn’t an NBA center. That’s not to say Kevin Love couldn’t very well be a good NBA player. The 6-9, 255 lbs. power has forward displayed a mix of finesse and physicality on offense that should play well in the NBA. He’s got great touch for a big man, and Love’s wide body will make him a strong rebounder. And Kevin Love seems even less like a center.

Al Jefferson is the franchise cornerstone and he didn’t need too much help scoring or cleaning the glass up front. He needed help protecting the basket and manning up with the elite offensive post players of the West. Love doesn’t have the athleticism or defensive skills to provide that help. He’s a tad undersized and will have just as much trouble matching up in the middle as Jefferson. On paper, these two are redundant.

Love does have one thing going for him though: he’s nigh unbeatable at HORSE. Courtesy of The Ripmaster:

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

Youth and the low expectations that come with it. The key cogs on this squad are Jefferson, Love, Randy Foye, Rashad McCants, Corey Brewer, Sebastian Telfair, Craig Smith and Ryan Gomes. They were born, respectively, in 1985, 1988, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1985, 1983 and 1982. Makes you feel old, don’t it? All of those guys are talented enough to be in a quality NBA rotation, and only Smith, Foye and Gomes are expected to enter the prime of their careers this season.

It’s easy to look at the W-L columns and the lack of brand names and say Minnesota is the worst franchise in the NBA. They’re far from it. The Wolves are a team in flux to be sure, one that won’t be competing for an NBA title for several years, but they have an impressive core of young players and are poised to break out as a legit playoff team in the next three seasons – nobody expects much this season though.

Hey, in the West it’s probably better to be a rebuilding team if you can’t vie for a title right now. Competing with the Lakers and Spurs is a fools errand for a young team, but as their veteran leaders age all of them figure to fall off after about two years, which is when a squad like Minnesota can expect to get into the mix again. Strategically, truly rebuilding is a better position to be in than the middle of the pack. I’d rather be Minnesota than Dallas.

“You got to build and you got to start from nothing. But I feel in a couple of years, we’re going to be there. We’re going to be one of the top teams in the West, too. We coming — most definitely.” – Al Jefferson

The other major strength is one Al Jefferson. At the age of 23 Big Al was perhaps the best offensive power forward in the NBA last season. His 21.1 points, 50% field-goal shooting and 3.8 offensive rebounds a game were truly elite. He displays a polished set of footwork and post moves that are only rivaled by perhaps Duncan and Garnett. There is no finer power forward in the NBA in terms of low-post footwork and splitting a double team.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

Weaknesses aren’t hard to find, but two stand out: defense and leadership.

Last season Minnesota allowed 102.37 points per game, the 21st highest total in the NBA. Their opponents shot a staggering 47.2% from the field, the 4th highest opponents’ field-goal percentage in the league. That dog won’t hunt, monsignor. It starts down low, where the lane is as easy to get into as Red Lobster on a Friday night. As mentioned, on offense Big Al is an absolute bull who may not pass well, but he thrives around the hoop, loves contact, lives in the painted area and demands the ball on every possession. On defense Jefferson looks slow, lacks instincts, struggles to adjust, plays nervous and often looks lost. He needs to improve. Unfortunately, the undersized (for a center) Kevin Love doesn’t figure to help much in that department.

The perimeter defense isn’t much better, but there are some young athletes who can improve. Corey Brewer is one, and he’s playing his way into a starting job this preseason. He was the best perimeter defender in the 2007 draft, so perhaps he can put his finger in the dike.

The second weakness is veteran leadership: they don’t have any. Moving on.

4. What are the goals for this team?

The goal entering this season has to be locking up a low-level playoff spot, no matter how unlikely that may seem right now. If Jefferson continues his All-Star trajectory, Randy Foye finally lives up to the draft-night swap for Brandon Roy, Mike Miller thrives as a primary weapon outside, Corey Brewer emerges as an athletic defender who can run the floor, Kevin Love becomes the inside presence and passer the Wolves offense needs to outscore teams, Sebastian Telfair continues his maturation as a true backup point, Rashad McCants embraces his role of microwave off the bench, Craig Smith keeps cracking skulls in the paint, and Ryan Gomes continues to be professional and efficient beyond his years, well, then they just might have a chance.

Ok, so they don’t have a chance. Still, they need to see all of the aforementioned players do those things. The young talent needs time to develop, so that jackass Randy Wittman needs to make sure he gives them the minutes to do so – and not, oh, say, another Antoine Walker-type or a Greg Buckner-type. It’s also imperative to get a good handle on which players are truly a part of the core and which are not, so we need to see these kids in as many combinations and as many situations as possible.

5. Will this team ever be a winner with the idiocrat kabal of Glen Taylor, Kevin McHale and Randy Whittman running the show?

In a word: no.

Wittman is another myopic McHale lackey with a complete lack of vision and an inability to utilize his talent or get his team to play defense. I don’t blame him though, I blame McHale for hiring him and keeping him on.

Rebuilding teams and small market teams only succeed when they make good use of their inevitable surplus of high draft picks. Kevin McHale has made only one great selection in his 14 seasons in Minnesota, and it was drafting Kevin Garnett. Since then his track record on draft night is the worst in the NBA. It started back in 1996 when McHale swapped Ray Allen for Stephon Marbury and continued without fail into recent years with draft-night decisions like trading the rights to Brandon Roy for Randy Foye and selecting Rashad McCants over Danny Granger. Let’s not even get into the Joe Smith fiasco that cost them five first-round draft picks (even if two of the picks were ultimately returned). In between those more publicized gaffes McFail has compiled a first-round resume that includes first-round busts Ndudi Ebi, William Avery, Radoslav Nesterovic and Paul Grant.

And through all of that tomfoolery from McHale, Glen Taylor is the team owner who has kept McHale gainfully employed as Minnesota’s general manager. Glen Taylor is the person who has asked for a complete lack of accountability from his front office, who has never cared enough to question McHale or his ludicrous moves and who has never gone out and brought a real GM to town.

In that sense, perhaps another losing season is a good thing. If it finally forced Glen Taylor’s hand in firing McHale, then 2008-09 would be an unmitigated success.

Predicted Record: 32-50, 12th in the Western Conference

Read additional NBA predictions to get you ready for a new season of beating the NBA odds.


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