Believe it or not, the NBA's regular season is four weeks away. To get you ready, Crossover Chronicles will be profiling a team each day for the next few weeks. This week is the Northwest Division. Today is the Minnesota Timberwolves.
2011-12 Record: 26-40
Key Losses: Michael Beasley (traded to Phoenix), Anthony Randolph (signed with Denver), Martell Webster (signed with Washington)
Key Acquisitions: Alexey Shved (signed from overseas), Andrei Kirilenko (signed from overseas), Brandon Roy (signed from Portland)
|Luke Ridnour||Alexey Shved||Andrei Kirilenko||Kevin Love||Nikola Pekovic|
|Ricky Rubio||Brandon Roy||Derrick Williams||Chase Budinger||Greg Stiemsma|
|Jose Barea||Malcolm Lee||Dante Cunningham|
Hope can be a really powerful thing.
For the last five years in Minnesota there was not much to cheer for. One inept move seemed to follow another as the Timberwolves searched feebly for something to hold onto after trading away Kevin Garnett. Al Jefferson was a great player but never had the supporting cast to do much more than win 20-25 games. It was not ever really his fault things could not get off the ground.
It seemed Kevin Love was destined to have to go elsewhere to find success.
Things have changed in Minnesota and the team is giving fans more than a reason to believe a Playoff berth is in the future. It is expected now.
The Timberwolves have put together a nice core with Kevin Love manning the post and devouring rebounds and Ricky Rubio running the point (he will be out until at least December as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered last season). More than anything, the Timberwolves are a fun team to watch and a date to circle on the calendar or a team to look for on League Pass.
For the last five years, Minnesota was far from that. They were pitiful. The front office was a joke and seemed to make one bumbling move after another.
The Timberwolves are finally in line to compete for a postseason berth. The talent is there. Bringing in free agents like Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy has the potential to add some punch to the offense — and give Rubio some toys to play with when he gets back — and Alexey Shved is a very underrated pick up after he played solid in the Olympics for Russia. The best part is, none of those three should mind the extreme cold.
And then there is Kevin Love. Love remains one of the best young players in the league. His rebounding stats are eye popping and he has improved his offense by extending his range while remaining active around the basket. With Nikola Pekovic next to him, the Wolvers are a formidable team inside.
The Timberwolves know that time is running out however. Kevin Love is set to become a free agent in 2015 and he has already hinted that the Wolves need to get better or else he could leave. Good on Love for publicly exerting his leverage and forcing Minnesota's hand. On paper, it looks like the gambit worked as Minnesota seems vastly improved.
Love felt out of place among the U.S. Olympic team as the only player never to have played in the postseason. Love wants that changed sooner rather than later.
The bad of it is that if Minnesota's sole goal is to make the postseason, the franchise's goal is not to win a championship.
Signing a player like Brandon Roy and relying on him to provide meaningful contributions is a bit of a risky proposition. Roy missed all of last season after retiring from the chronic knee and leg problems that have plagued his career. Roy might be back, but he won't be back to full strength like he was in Portland. How much he can play is another question and it does not seem like Derrick Williams is ready to step in and be a major contributor.
Signing Roy is a short-term risk worth taking. But it is not good for long-term building.
Andrei Kirilenko too should be a solid pickup. He spent the last season in Russia after a long and successful run with Utah. Kirilenko is hardly the All Star he once was for the Jazz and, at 31 years old, he will begin losing the athleticism that made him a fantasy basketball all star for several seasons. Who knows what adjusting back to the NBA might mean.
Again, this seems like a short-term move geared toward making the Playoffs now rather than longer term success.
Injuries could hit this team hard and leave it without the depth necessary to make that Playoff push. That is what happened last year when Minnesota lost momentum following Ricky Rubio's injury.
Rubio, the projected starting point guard, is out until at least December recovering from a torn ACL and he will likely be getting his feet wet throughout the season. A 100 percent Rubio is not likely this year.
There are further injury concerns too.
Brandon Roy's injury issues are well documented. He played 47 games in 2011 before microfracture surgery sidelined him for the entirety of the 2012 season and forced an early retirement. There is no telling whether Roy could bounce back and regain his All-Star form.
Further, Andrei Kirilenko has dealt with his own nagging injuries throughout his career. He has not played 70 games in an NBA regular season since 2008. And Kirilenko's athletic, above-the-rim style of play may not be great for his body.
Even Kevin Love is not immune. He missed 11 games last year and has hit the 70-game mark just twice in his four-year career. To be sure, Love needs to be healthy the entire season to make this team work.
But injuries to any of Minnesota's key players could send the team falling to the bottom of the Western Conference just as easily as having all of its best players could push Minnesota into Playoff contention. There is an uneasy balance and a lot of pitfalls the Timberwolves have to avoid to accomplish their goals this year.
Have thoughts or predictions on the Timberwolves? Leave them in the comments below or drop us a line @CrossoverNBA on Twitter or join the discussion by using the hashtag #TWolvesDay. We will be back with a closer look at the Timberwolves throughout the day.