Like we are currently seeing in the NFL, the 2011 NBA off-season is up in the air with a lockout looming. Free agency could be delayed and completely restructured depending on the new agreement reached by the owners and players. Still, The Sports Bank will break down all thirty NBA teams over the next six weeks to see what areas they need to address in the off-season. Up first, the worst team in the league; the Minnesota Timberwolves.
By: David Kay
Minnesota Timberwolves (Last Year: 17-65)
2010-2011 Season Summary:
The good: Minnesota actually did improve this past season, finishing with two more wins than they did in 2009-2010.
The bad: Minnesota was still the worst team in the league and only won a pathetic four games against teams with a winning record.
Despite being the door mat of the NBA, Timberwolves general manager David Kahn had this optimistic quote at his end of the year press conference, “I don’t see the team needing a complete overhaul. Those days are behind us.” While the Timberwolves may not need a complete overhaul, they proved they are still light years away from being a relevant NBA franchise.
Their roster only boasted one player over the age of 26 years old this past season and Kahn acknowledged the growing pains that come with having such a young, inexperienced team. But whether or not he was accurate in saying, “I think that our talent level from when I first arrived is significantly higher” has yet to be seen. Talent is nice to have, but finding a group of players who can compliment each other is the key that the Timberwolves clearly struggled to find this past season.
In 82 games primarily filled with misery, there were actually several bright spots. Kevin Love rattled off a ridiculous 53 straight double-double stretch highlighted by a 31 point, 31 rebound performance against the Knicks. He posted eleven 20/20 games, led the league in rebounding, and earned the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.
As fun as it is to crap on Kahn, he actually found two great values via trade. Michael Beasley was acquired from the Heat for a second round pick and finished second on the T-Wolves in scoring in rebounding. Kahn also capitalized on the Knicks’ desire to land Carmelo Anthony and acquired Anthony Randolph. The talented yet erratic Randolph tapped into his potential near the end of the season, averaging 11.7 points per game in Minnesota and almost 20 points in the final five games when Love was out with injury.
2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Darko Milicic/Anthony Tolliver/Nikola Pekovic
PF: Kevin Love/Anthony Randolph
SF: Michael Beasley/Martell Webster/Lazar Hayward
SG: Wesley Johnson/Wayne Ellington
PG: Luke Ridnour/Jonny Flynn
PG-Sebastian Telfair (UFA)
’11-’12 Team Salary: approximately $42.4 million
1. Figure Out the Ricky Rubio/Point Guard Situation
We are entering the third summer of “will he” or “won’t he?” Rubio’s contract buyout with his Spanish team decreases this off-season making the possibility of heading to the NBA more reasonable from a financial standpoint which has been a sticking point the past two years. The question still remains of whether Rubio actually wants to play for the Timberwolves. I maintain my stance from day one that he will never suit up for Minnesota and if it does become more evident this summer that my belief is indeed the case, the T-Wolves need to address their need to improve their point guard play and look to trade Rubio’s rights.
Luke Ridnour is better suited coming off the bench and should not be a starter in the league. Jonny Flynn does not seem to be the point guard of the future either as he suffered through a horrible sophomore slump this past season. Plus, Minnesota had more turnovers than any other team in the league and finished 25th in assists. Those numbers cannot solely be blamed on the point guards but finding an up-grade at the position would certainly help those numbers.
If the fact that the Timberwolves allowed more points than other team in the league isn’t good enough reason for Minnesota to get more defensive this off-season, I don’t what is. While Kahn has added some talent, most of those players are offensive-minded.
Love and Beasley are both defensive liabilities as the starting forwards and the team does not have an intimidating shot blocker. (Yes, I know Darko averaged two blocks per game but I certainly would not consider him an intimidating inside presence.) Corey Brewer was probably the team’s top perimeter defender but he was dealt for Randolph leaving a hole for someone to lock down the opposing team’s best wing scorer. Of course cutting down on the turnovers offensively (see off-season need #1) would assist the T-Wolves in giving up less transition buckets and help them become a better defensive team.
3. A Slasher
None of the current wing players (Beasley, Johnson, Webster, Ellington, and Hayward) are able to put the ball on the deck and get to the basket with any effectiveness on a consistent basis. They are more in the catch and shoot variety or have other players set them up for a look at the basket.
Minnesota needs somebody who can create their own shot on the perimeter, attack off the bounce in one-on-one situations, and finish at the rim. Johnson could maybe develop into that player but will have to show more assertiveness in his second season.
In two years, Kahn has almost completely overhauled Minnesota’s roster by playing a hot potato game of bringing in new talent and getting rid of Kevin McHale’s guys. In fact, Love is the only holdover from the pre-Kahn Timberwolves’ 2008-2009 team.
If Kahn truly believes that this nucleus is going to grow and develop into a winning team (which is a mistake in my opinion), then he needs to stick with this roster in hopes of bringing some regularity to the line-up so the guys can build chemistry with one another and find roles on the floor. If you add in Rubio and a top pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, it should only help that process.
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David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities.
You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.