The End of an Era?

Hello, everyone.

Earlier this summer I didn’t believe the Minnesota Timberwolves would trade Kevin Love before the 2014-2015 season, unless the ‘right deal’ came along. Many things have happened since then, but, to summarize, a “handshake deal” is in place that will send Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who in-return will send Andrew Wiggins, along with Anthony Bennett and potentially some future draft selections to Minnesota.

Although, none of this is truly written in stone.

The trade cannot be consummated until August 23rd, because Wiggins may not be traded within 30 days of signing a rookie contract with the Cavaliers. Henceforth, the 23rd is already being referred to as “Wiggins Day”– mostly just by me, though. From what has been reported one would think an agreement between the two-sides is in place, but, because Cleveland isn’t allowed to trade Wiggins; neither team may not publicly confirm the reports of an alleged, impending trade between them.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t loopholes, though, like the one Wolves Owner Glen Taylor jumped through last week via the Pioneer Press.

“I’m saying it’s most likely because Kevin has made it pretty clear that that’s what he wants to do,” Taylor told Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press. Taylor expects Love will be traded sometime between August 23rd and September 1st, essentially reinforcing the notion that Wiggins will become the newest member of the Timberwolves.

 

Going away from the Love saga, the Timberwolves recently signed Mo Williams, who spent last season with the Portland Trail Blazers and provided an offensive spark by coming off the bench as their sixth man. His deal is for a little under $2 million for one season of work.

It is entirely possible that Williams could also be dealt elsewhere, although, for now, the belief is he will remain in Minnesota. This leaves a copious amount of guards on the roster. Williams, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea, Alexey Shved, and Kevin Martin occupy six roster spots and over $10-million in salaries this season.

It is speculated that the two mostly likely to be dealt by the Wolves are Martin and Barea. Martin is owed a little more than $7 million over the next few seasons while Barea will earn just above $6 million next year (he is referred to as an “expiring contract”). I don’t see the Wolves buying out Shved’s contract, but, again, there’s certainly nothing that is certain just yet.

What Wolfson’s tweet does not mention is the Wolves reported interest in Sixers’ forward Thaddeus Young, who is coming off a career year albeit playing for one of the NBA’s worst teams last season. Young is 26 years old, and averaged 18 points and six rebounds over 79 appearances with Philadelphia last season. Flip Saunders’ going after a solidified power forward with decent skills playing around, or away from the basket is an indication the Timberwolves are intent on being competitive next season– despite Love’s unwillingness to participate.

Where does this leave the team, realistically, in terms of expectations for next season? I’m not interested in making that prediction. What I believe to be the admirable byproduct of the Wiggins deal is that a dense population amidst the fan base seems to be moving forward as if the trade between the Wolves and Cavs has already happened, and they’re excited about the future.

It’s not that they’re are expecting a run at the NBA Finals, moreover, the thought of rebuilding with the youthful core of Rubio, LaVine, Wiggins, and Gorgui Dieng bestows enough excitement to hopefully encourage people back into Target Center and cheering on the Wolves. Minnesota ranked 27th in attendance last season.

It’s a bitter ending to an era that failed to reach a realm of playoff contention; Love didn’t really have synchronized competency around him, whether it were crummy teammates or an uninspiring coaching staff. Unfortunately, plenty would rather have reminisced about the Kevin Garnett era than make the effort to go see Love fill up a statsheet at a game the Wolves would ultimately lose anyway. To top everything off, this entire offseason has taken its proverbial toll on those following the trade-chatter. At this point, it would be fair to assume most of us just want this saga to end, because when the Wolves obtain Wiggins there will be no more uncertainty– it will just be another chance to start over again.

 

Timberwolves 0-3 in Summer League After Losing to Chicago

(photo credit: NBA.com)

(photo credit: NBA.com)

The Timberwolves fought hard in attempt to gain a summer league win, but in the end their offense proved no match against Chicago, and Minnesota came up on the short end of the 107-73 final score. Kyrylo Fesenko and Zach LaVine led the Wolves in scoring with 13 and 12 points, respectively. The Bulls boasted an all-around stronger lineup with six of their guys scoring in double digits. No. 11 draft pick Doug McDermott led all scoring with 20 points and six assists.

The contest started out rather evenly, a back-and-forth battle that saw the lead change three times. In the early part of the second quarter, the Wolves delivered a solid performance. Georgetown alum Markel Starks grabbed a three-pointer immediately followed by a Fesenko slam dunk. Minnesota held the lead at 27-24. However, Lance Thomas answered with a long three of his own, and from that point on the Bulls held the upper hand.

Fesenko played well with rookie Zach Lavine, each of them putting up strong numbers this week.  At 7’1″ and 280 lbs, Fesenko could be a huge—pun intended—asset for the Wolves. The Ukrainian has been in the NBA since 2007, but he has struggled to find real success with any team. His longest stint was with Utah, from 2007-2011. He also made appearances with Indiana and Chicago.  It will be interesting to see what relationship the Wolves choose with Fesenko following summer league.

Despite watching Minnesota lose its first three games in Vegas, Timberwolves fans have reason to smile about their team’s No. 13 draft pick. LaVine impressed the crowd at the Target Center scrimmage last week, and he’s continued to draw attention on the road. LaVine averaged 12 points, five rebounds and 2.3 assists over the trio of games. According to Wolves writer Megan Schuster, “LaVine had a few tough baskets in the quarter, taking a leadership role while playing point.”

Both teams scored well from downtown, hitting over 40 percent from behind the three-point line. It was in free throws, though, that Minnesota fell miserably short. Chicago knocked down 13-16 from the charity stripe, while the Wolves made only 12 of 22 attempts. The young lineup also struggled to consistently handle the ball, and 18 turnovers certainly hurt in the end.

Shabazz Muhammad also played well, adding 10 points for Minny. One surprise performance for the Wolves was D.J. Kennedy. Kennedy, who went undrafted in 2011 and has been playing for the Israeli Basketball Super League, tallied nine points and four rebounds in just 18 minutes on the floor.

A few Wolves players never got off the bench—among them third-year guard Alexey Shved.  Shved played well in the first two games this summer, leading the team in scoring. Minnesota fans are anxious to see if his regular season performance improves over last year.

 

Up Next:

 

Minnesota will face Phoenix this afternoon for Game 4. Tipoff is set for 3 p.m. CST.

Glenn Robinson III Shows Strong Potential for Wolves

(photo credit: lockerdome.com)

(photo credit: lockerdome.com)Am

Among the seven rookies slated as part of the Timberwolves’ summer league roster is second-round draft pick Glenn Robinson III. The forward’s physicality was raved about prior to the Draft, and although only in his first week of practice, he looks to make a big impact with the Minnesota squad. Robinson III does have some areas to improve upon technicality-wise, but his athleticism and energy are exactly what head coach Flip Saunders aimed at.

“They add a lot of excitement to our team,” Saunders said of Robinson III and first-round pick Zach Lavine. “They’re going to become fan favorites. They’re our two highest-jumping guys right now — I do know that. We want to take that athleticism and turn them into basketball players … and with our team they’ll have good success.”

Robinson III started all 76 games of his two-year stint with the University of Michigan. During that time, he averaged 12 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. At the end of his sophomore year, Robinson III had totaled 912 career points. The forward is no stranger to pressure, as he  helped U-M to its first outright Big Ten regular-season title in 28 years. 

Now, at just 20 years old, Robinson III is taking in the NBA experience. He posted the following on Twitter Monday:

GRIIITweet

Timberwolves web editor Dane Mizutani gave a recap of the first offseason practice, saying it was far from “a casual offseason workout.”

“I’ve always believed that basketball is a game of reaction,” Saunders said. “We have to simulate pressure and demands of what’s going to happen in a game in a practice. We try to make it as difficult as we can to try and make it as close to a game time setting as possible.”

Practice ended with a scrimmage between the summer league starters and the summer league reserves, and Mizutani reported that the competition level was high. In the end it was the startersRobinson III, Lavine, Alexey Shved, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammedwho took the game.

“It’s a whole different level … and this is definitely the most competitive and amped-up practice [I’ve been a part of] physically and mentally,” Robinson III said. “It’ll take a little adjustment to get to but I thought we all did fine.”

The newbies will have the next two weeks or so to find their groove and become accustomed to Saunders’ coaching style. They will play with and take passes from more seasoned bench players, and now is their chance to prepare before they start practicing with starting point guard Ricky Rubio. Robinson III said he has spent a considerable amount of time viewing tape of Rubio’s technique and highlights, and he is looking forward to playing alongside him when preseason starts up in October.

There’s no guarantee that either Lavine or Robinson III will start, as the Wolves also carry veterans Chase Budinger and Corey Brewer who each have considerable experience running the floor with Rubio. However, it’s clear that Saunders has a long-term plan in mind for this year’s draft picks—and it involves regular-game minutes. 

According to the Star Tribune‘s Jerry Zgoda, Robinson III “believes both he and LaVine can help the Wolves ‘speed the tempo up a little bit’ with the Rubio running the show with the ball in his hands.”

Come October, it will be interesting to see how this new-look squad operates under Saunders’ return.

Kevin Love: Trade-or-Stay Scenario Remains Unclear

The 2014 NBA Draft has come and gone. Many people figured that a transaction involving Kevin Love would be almost certain on Draft Night, and yet the All-Star forward is still very much in Minnesota.

With the summer league games approaching and various other trade rumors floating about the league, what is the latest buzz when it comes to K-Love?

(photo credit: dimemag.com)

(photo credit: dimemag.com)

Golden State out of the Picture?

The Warriors initially looked like a probable trade partner for Minnesota, as the two teams were in discussions about a deal that would involve Kevin Martin and Love in exchange David Lee, Klay Thompson and draft picks from GS. However, the two squads reached a stand still when Golden State decided it was not willing to part with Thompson as part of the deal.

Part of the problem may be this: whatever team acquires Love will take on his contract, which includes runs only through the end of the upcoming season. Should the Warriors—or any other team—grab Love for 2014, they would want some sort of reassurance that the forward will not walk after one season anyway. ESPN said the following:

“Any team that trades for Love [...] will need assurances that the 25-year-old is prepared to stay there for the long term. Love’s intent to become an unrestricted free agent in July 2015 is the reason Minnesota has been forced to consider trading him and makes it highly unlikely any potential suitor would offer anything of value to the Wolves without assurances Love wants to sign a new contract with them.”

 

Other Big Names Affecting the Trade Scene

One thing is for sure: Love is not the only big name looking for a new deal and a possible new home. When the news surfaced that LeBron James would exercise his early-termination option, Love found himself no longer the headline on the SportsCenter sidebar. While many feel that James will ultimately end up re-signing with Miami, that doesn’t stop the slew of teams from offering deals and hoping to land the star. Some of the squads—Houston, LA, Chicago—have also been mentioned as prospective teams for Love, and it seems likely that conversation with him will be on hold until it becomes clear where James will end up. 

Carmelo Anthony is also looking to leave his current roster. The forward averaged 27 PPG for New York last season, and he is certainly a hot ticket item as well. Although Love and Anthony play different spots, it seems more probable that a team will make the run for a LeBron/Anthony deal rather than a Love/Anthony deal. In addition, the number of franchises who could afford to add more than one of these names to their roster is incredibly low.

And, just to add one more complication into the mix, it was reported today that Houston is offering a four-year, $88-million deal to Miami Center Chris Bosh.  Bosh’s decision will certainly affect James’ (or vice versa), and I have a feeling that things will start falling into place very quickly when the 2014-2015 Heat roster is established.

One interesting option here would be Love and James playing together. Although it may seem a bit far-fetched, NBA fans can’t dismiss this idea completely. According to Fox Sports, “if James chooses to leave Miami and return to Cleveland, the Cavs still feel they can obtain [...] Love in a trade if need be.”

Until James and Co. makes the call, Love will either have to settle for a city not in the hunt for LeBron, or be patient—not something he holds a strong record with.

 

 

 

 

Per Sources: Flip Saunders to Serve as Timberwolves Head Coach

Sources told the Associated Press Thursday morning that Flip Saunders will be serving as the next head coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Saunders was hired as President of Basketball Operations prior to the 2013-2014 season.

As Timberwolves fans are well-familiar with, Saunders holds extensive history in Minnesota. He coached the Wolves for 10 years: from 1995 through the end of the 2005 season. During his time with Minnesota, Saunders led the Wolves to eight playoff appearances, including the Western Conference finals in 2004. Those times during Saunders’ coaching stint proved Minny’s only postseason appearances in franchise history.

Overall, Saunders holds a career record of 638-526 in 16 years as an NBA coach—411 of those wins belonged to the Timberwolves.

(photo credit: Star Tribune)

(photo credit: Star Tribune)

A hunt for a head coach has been in place since Rick Adelman retired at the end of the season. It’s no secret that a large part of the coaching search is also affected by All-Star forward Kevin Love’s uncertain future in a Wolves jersey.

Possible candidates swirled, with names such as Tom Izzo and Fred Hoiberg dropping around the Internet, but nothing came to fruition. Minnesota held conversations with Memphis coach Dave Joerger a couple weeks ago, but Joerger eventually turned the offer down.

With Love vocalizing a desire to leave the Wolves and trade rumors persisting, it’s possible that head coach candidates see a red flag in Minnesota.

Saunders is expected to maintain final say over all personnel decisions while continuing to share that charge with general manager Milt Newton.

According to the Star Tribune, Saunders may add assistants to his coaching staff who would potentially take over down the road. Former Timberwolves player Sam Mitchell is one such option. Mitchell played for Saunders from 1995-2002.

For now, Timberwolves fans will welcome a familiar face back to the sidelines and see where the season takes us.

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves will host a press conference on Friday to introduce the team’s new head coach. The press conference will take place at the Target Center and will start at 1 p.m. It will be streamed live on Timberwolves.com. This story will be updated with press conference content at a later time.  

 

Timberwolves Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 22

Setting the stage: 

My wins-losses prediction for last week was correct.

Unfortunately for me—and Wolves fans everywhere—that means that Minny fell to Houston Thursday night, and the playoffs are really looking to be just beyond reach.

Saying good-bye to the postseason is always painful, and it seems particularly difficult this year when things started out well and it seemed—for a short while—that we had compiled the right puzzle pieces.

That being said, however, the Wolves are working for a strong end to the season.  Several positive things happened this past week:

  • Ricky Rubio had the game of his career against Dallas Wednesday evening, notching his third career triple-double with 22 pts (67%), 15 assts and 10 rebs. On top of that, he added four steals and a block.  To view highlights of the game, click here.
  • Kevin Love stepped up his defensive performance in the last few games. Specifically against Dallas, Love put some solid coverage on Dirk Nowitzki.
  • Rookie Gorgei Dieng started in Nikola Pekovic’s absence, and the rookie surprised everyone. Over two games, Dieng tallied 32 points 32 rebounds.

Can the Wolves keep up a strong finish?  Minnesota has four games this week, two of which are at home. Let’s take a look…

 

Game 69: Sunday, 3/23, 2:30pm – Phoenix Suns @ Timberwolves (TV: untelevised)

Phoenix is one place above Minnesota in the Western Conference standings, and lately the Suns have been making it easier for the Wolves to catch up. The Suns have a busy week as well, playing five games in the next week. They will face Detroit on Friday before travelling to Minnesota. Phoenix is only two games out of slot No. 8, and the Wolves can expect a tough opponent for Sunday afternoon’s game.

Opponent to watch:

Goran Dragic – Dragic is averaging 20.4 points and six assists per game, and he will be a challenging matchup for Rubio. In his previous two matchups with Minnesota, Dragic scored 26 and 16 points, respectively.

Predictions:

Phoenix and Minnesota prove pretty equal opponents, and it may just come down to the team more hungry for a win. The Wolves do have home-court advantage, though, and they’ve been playing stronger as a team. I’ll take Minny for the win.

Final Score: Wolves 105, Suns 95

(photo credit: wtop.com)

(photo credit: wtop.com)

 

Game 70: Monday, 3/24, 7:00pm – Timberwolves @ Memphis Grizzlies (TV: FS North)

The Wolves are 1-1 with Memphis so far this season, and they will play them twice more before the close. The Grizzlies are currently slotted at No. 7 in the playoff race,* but they could use a few more “W’s” to bolster their confidence.  They have had a solid month so far, losing only two of their last 10 games.

Opponent to watch:

Marc Gasol – Gasol is only averaging 13.8 points a game, but right now he will probably be the Wolves biggest challenge as starting center Nikola Pekovic continues to be sidelined.  At 7’1″, Gasol definitely has a size advantage over Dieng, who has been filling in for Pek.  Fortunately for Minny, Dieng has done more than held his own over the past two games. Monday night’s contest could be a true test for the young rookie.

Predictions:

Plain and simple, Memphis is on a roll.  In all reality, the Grizzlies have more to gain from a win than Minnesota, and I think that will make the difference. It’s the end of the year, both teams are tired, and the Grizzlies hold the momentum card at this point in the game.  I expect a close game at the Target Center, but it seems likely that the Grizz will take this one.

Final score: Timberwolves 99, Grizzlies  106

 

Game 71: Wednesday, 3/26, 7:00pm – Atlanta Hawks @ Timberwolves (TV: Fox Sports North Plus)

In my opinion, Wednesday’s game against Atlanta will prove the most exciting of the week. At 31-35, Atlanta is barely clinging to that No. 8 spot in the weaker Eastern Conference. The Hawks and the Wolves have shared a similar type of season, but their difference in location spells completely different stories. The teams are 1-1 against each other on the season.  Atlanta is ranked No. 5 in the NBA for three-point shooting, and Minnesota comes in way behind at No. 26.  Kevin Martin and JJ Barea will need to be more than present for the Wolves to keep up with the long-range game.

Opponent to watch:

Kyle Korver – Korver is the sole reason that Atlanta has the three-point game it does.  At 33 years old, the veteran averages 2.7 three-point buckets per game, landing him at No. 1 in the league overall.  On Feb. 1, Korver scored 24 points (half of those from behind the three-point line) against Minnesota.

Predictions:

Wednesday’s game should be a pretty even matchup, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets a bit chippy.  The big key to a Wolves win will be defense.  Minnesota has struggled on that end of the floor all year, but lately it has improved.  If Rubio and Barea can stick to Korver, and if Love can step it up and offer coverage beneath the basket, I think the Wolves ultimately have the stronger team here.

Final score: Timberwolves 101, Hawks 98

(photo credit: bleacherreport.com)

(photo credit: bleacherreport.com)

 

Game 72: Friday, 3/28 7pm – LA Lakers @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers are a far cry from the team they once were.  In fact, only four teams in the NBA currently hold worse records than the Lakers.  When is the last time that happened? The Wolves are 2-1 against the Lakers this season, and Friday night should add one more win in Minny’s favor.  The Lakers have no more to play for this season … except maybe a higher draft pick …

Opponent to watch:

Wesley Johnson – As much as it pains me to say this, I’m naming Wes Johnson as the player to watch in Friday’s game.  After leaving Minnesota, the 2010 No. 4 draft pick has actually done quite well on the West Coast. Johnson is currently averaging 9.2 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.  While not staggering stats, it’s common for players to feel the “something to prove” attitude when playing their old team.  I expect Johnson to have a big game in return to his former stomping grounds.

Predictions:

If Minnesota can keep things rolling the way it has, Friday’s home stand should be a win over LA.  I’m going out on a limb and calling it a big win.

Final score: Timberwolves 111, Lakers 89

 

Wrap-up:

Playoff hopes aside, Wolves fans hope to see Minnesota play its remaining games with gusto.  This past week provided a lot of momentum for the Wolves, and I expect it to continue in the four-game week.

 

 

 

Timberwolves Weekly Preview 2014 – Week 21

Setting the stage: 

Similar to last week, there is absolutely no margin for error for the Wolves.

The fact that the Wolves are ranked No. 3 in the league for average points scored speaks volumes about our defense–or lack thereof.  Minnesota continues to struggle in keeping its opponents under 100 points, and something has to change. I think it’s safe to say that the team is feeling Andrei Kirilenko’s absence this season, at least on that side of the floor. Corey Brewer consistently does well on D, and having Nikola Pekovic back in the lineup helps tremendously. If the Timberwolves want to win games, defense needs to stay a focus.

Can the Wolves even make the playoffs at this point? I mean, is there any chance?

It’s a small chance, and other teams would have to lose, but the chance is still there. According to CBSSports’ David McCoy, Minny will have to win at least 14 of its last 18 games in order to have a shot at the postseason.

Winning against Milwaukee definitely helped, and Sunday’s game against Sacramento should be a “W” as well. However, a Friday loss in Charlotte really hurt. In addition, we have tough games this week against Dallas and Houston. The opponents the Wolves absolutely need to beat are those near us in the standings: Dallas, Denver and Phoenix.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the week ahead…

 

Game 66: Sunday, 3/16, 6pm – Sacramento Kings @ Timberwolves (TV: FS North)

At 23-42* on the season, Sacramento should be an easy opponent–especially considering it’s a home contest.  However, in the two games between the Wolves and Kings this season, the teams have split wins.  Minnesota lost at home to SAC on January 15, but earlier this month the Wolves came away with the win on the west coast.

Opponent to watch:

Rudy Gay – Between the games against Sacramento earlier this season, Gay totaled 57 points. Despite only averaging 20 PPG, the Wolves tend to allow the forward to walk all over their defense. Look for Brewer to be playing extra close defense against Gay Sunday night.

Predictions:

Sacramento is currently averaging 101 points per game. The Wolves are averaging 106.3. If Minnesota can step up its defensive game and hold Gay to under 20 points, the home team has a definite advantage here. I’ll take the Wolves in triple digits.

Final Score: Wolves 109, Kings 96

rudy gay

Game 67: Wednesday, 3/19, 7:30pm – Timberwolves @ Dallas Mavericks (TV: FS North)

The Wolves face Dallas on the road Wednesday evening, and if there is one game more crucial than the others at this point, it’s this one. The Mavericks are currently in the No. 8 (and last) seat for the Playoffs — two spots ahead of Minnesota. The Mavs’ current record of 39-27* has an edge over the Wolves, and they absolutely cannot afford to lose. In my opinion, this will be the toughest game of the week.  The good news is, Minnesota has played well against Dallas this year. Out of three contests, Minny took two of the wins and lost the final in 100-98 heart-breaker. 

Opponent to watch:

Monta Ellis – Ellis is currently averaging 18.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. In the past nine games, the SG has scored 15+ points every night.  Ellis’ quick passes and agility on the floor are hard to control, especially with a defensively challenged team like Minnesota.

Predictions:

This game holds a lot of weight, and you know the Wolves are feeling it. Having a healthy lineup again (and especially with Kevin Martin back), I think Minnesota will take the upper hand in a shootout.

Final score: Timberwolves 104, Mavericks  100

 

Game 68: Thursday, 3/20, 7pm – Timberwolves @ Houston Rockets (TV: FS North)

At this point in the season, Houston has pretty much cemented itself in the playoffs. There is less resting on this game for the opponents; however, Minnesota has historically struggled against the Rockets. The Wolves are 0-2 against the Rockets this season, by a total disadvantage of 20 points. Especially since this is a consecutive road game for Minny, it’s going to be a tiring game.

Opponent to watch:

James Harden – Harden missed the last game against Minnesota with a sore foot, but he is back to his old self and tearing up defenses across the league. Harden has slated three games with over 30 points (two of them over 40!) in his past 10 games. At 6’5″ and 225 lbs, Harden is one of the largest and most physical guards in the game. I expect the Wolves to have a hard time stopping him.

Predictions:

As much as I hate to say it, I don’t think the Wolves will be able to pull out a win here.  Houston runs a physical offense that Minnesota will have a tough time defending, and the size comparison alone is huge. Don’t forget the fact that the Wolves fell to Houston less than a month ago … without Harden.

Final score: Timberwolves 99, Rockets 111

james harden

Wrap-up:

It all comes down to these last 19 games. If Minnesota can come out of this week with at least two wins under its belt, playoff hopes will be kept alive. The first two games this week will really set the tempo, so I’m hoping my predictions are accurate there.

 

*records current as of 3/14/2014