Unfortunately for Wolves fans, this time of year has been the most exciting over the past three seasons. It’s a time to speculate on what steps your team can make to get back to the playoffs and start making some noise. In negative news, the Wolves and their "braintrust" got the 3rd pick in an advertised two-man draft. In positive news, we have positive debate in the forums on what to do with the pick and it’s good to hear we don’t have to listen to a country-music station to listen to the Wolves next year.
With all of the debate raging over what to do with the draft pick, it’s important to remember that the Wolves have to make some decisions on its existing roster. Here at the Twolves Blog, we want to continue the discussions about this teams direction with in our series, the "Blogprint for the Future," which will include contributions from various TWolvesBlog contributors and guests, as this team transforms during the off-season.
Contributors to this edition:
Previous Editions of the Blogprint:
In today’s edition, myself along with four esteemed colleagues, discuss just exactly how long it could realistically take for our squad to compete for a NBA Championship… as well as our picks for this year’s NBA Champion!
Please click "Read More" for the analysis of this edition’s topic.
Blogprint For The Future #2:
"What kind of time frame do you think is realistic in which the Timberwolves can hope to compete with the likes of the best teams in the NBA for a championship?
Also, what is your NBA Finals prediction and why?"
DeROK: It’s possible the time frame could be only one season. I mean, the Celtics did it, so why can’t we? It will only take McHale being able to fool San Antonio into trading us Tim Duncan for Big Al, McCants, Mark Madsen, and Antoine Walker’s expiring contract, then being able to pull off a trade with Atlanta for Joe Johnson in return for a over-paid, re-signed Gomes and the #3 pick, and then having Randy Foye completely recover from injury and turn into a bonafide All-Star. That right there – Duncan, Johnson, and Super-Foye would easily be able to replicate the success of Boston’s Big 3. And to top it off, we’ve already got Randy Wittman to play the role of Doc Rivers as the completely overmatched coach! How could this not work out?
However, if you want to scrap my genious plan and rebuild using the typical method, I’d say you’re looking at a minimum of three seasons before the Wolves can start talking title, and that’s IF they draft OJ Mayo and he turns out to be the second coming of Kobe. If Mayo, or Beasley, or whoever they draft can at least be an All-Star, then you can stretch things back to four or five years. With a core of Big Al and our pick, the Wolves would still need one more player to put them over the top. Hopefully Antoine Walker’s contract, some of our youngsters, and the two first-rounders owed to us by Boston and Miami can be leveraged to acquire another All-Star. My hopes with this plan are that we’d end up with three very solid players who could eventually make a run at a title with some complimentary role players. Given the time it will take for Big Al and our pick to mature, I think 4-5 years is a solid estimation if all the cards fall the right way, but I’m certainly not holding my breath.
As far as my finals prediction goes, my head says Lakers in 6. My heart on the other hand… we’ll I’ve got an article on that coming up shortly!
COLLEGE WOLF: I consider myself a “realist”, and in doing so I sometimes come off as being overly pessimistic. Because of what we’ve gone through over the past few years, I’ve been forced to lower my expectations to a level that doesn’t leave me completely crushed at the end of each NBA season. As fans of the Wolves (and for our collective sanity,) I don’t see how we could honestly hope to compete with the likes of the Lakers, Hornets, Spurs, Blazers, Celtics, Pistons, etc for another two, three, or maybe even four+ years. The problem is that we’ve only got one proven, bonafide star on our team (Al Jefferson), and the “contenders” we are competing against have far greater collections of stars and proven talent. Not only that, those other teams are often better coached and have established rotations and pecking orders (among other things.) If last year showed us anything, it’s that Wittman has little coaching acumen, and that our pecking order and rotations leave a lot to be desired.
The biggest thing holding the Wolves back from serious contention is a lack of honest to goodness star(s) to pair alongside Big Al; rather than a collection of moderation to good role players, that may or may not ever establish themselves as legitimate players in this league. Our best chance to add such talent is through the draft, and that chance may well just be this June 26th. Whether it is Michael Beasley slipping to us, or our Front Office finding a gem with the #3 pick (unlikely), we simply cannot afford to “miss” with this year’s lottery pick. Our Front Office should not be content to simply draft a serviceable “safe” player, nor should they go after someone to simply fill a hole (Brook Lopez step on down!) In my opinion, O.J. Mayo has the goods to potentially become a certified star in this league. If Miami drafts Mayo, well then Beasley is our pick.
Will Mayo alone lead us into the playoffs next season? Most likely not, and that is why I suggested that us fans’ should not set our expectations too high. Our rebuilding plan is definitely going to take some time, but that’s why the Front Office needs to do this the “right way”, and not cut corners. While the Front Office could expediate the process by bringing in a “star” with The Toine’s expiring contract next season, they need to make sure that said player is not going to be a problem/disgruntled and can truly help the club for the future. If we do indeed trade our expiring contract and/or assets such future draft picks, it is essential that they be in a trade that makes sense for the long-term future. There is no sense in trying to patch holes for the short-term.
Other problems include a lack of a “Floor-General” type PG and a legitimate true Center to pair with Big Al. Time will tell if Foye can be the type of PG that we need to compete, or if we are forced to consider other options. The big man fix *could* be rectified by drafting Brook Lopez, but I don’t think that is the best long-term solution. Sadly, I do not have all the answers. The Timberwolves are a team that needs a huge infusion of star power; whether it be through the draft or trades. Until that happens, we will remain in perpetual mediocrity (at best), forever spinning our wheels.
The NBA Finals:
My initial pre-season choice for NBA Champion this season was the Boston Celtics. I certainly cannot go against my pick at this stage in the game, so I’m sticking with my heart on this one and going with the Celtics to win it all in 7 games.
I’m not going to wax poetic about some “great” re-match of these two titans from the 80’s, because quite frankly the 80’s sucked and I don’t recall those match-ups, (being that I was too young to truly appreciate them at the time.) However, this is shaping up to be a spectacular series because it involves the best teams from each respective conference; as well as arguably the best coach and player in the NBA. Not to be outdone, the C’s have the Defensive Player of the Year and another Top 20 player in Paul Pierce. Luckily for Boston, they also have the home-court advantage, as the Celtics have struggled mightily on the road this postseason. The Lakers rolled over everyone, only needing 15 total games to reach the Finals. The Celtics struggled with Atlanta and Cleveland, taking 20 total games to reach the showdown with LA. However, I think the Celtics needed those games to really find each in the playoffs, as they have been together as a unit for a far shorter time than the Lakers have. I think the Celtics are only now starting to play up to their utmost abilities, facing the increased pressure of do-or-die basketball.
The Lakers have looked like the better team so far this post-season, and they appear to be the overwhelming favorite… but I can’t pick against KG and the Celtics. At the very least, they won’t roll over and die like Cleveland did last year. The Lakers will have to earn this title, as KG and Company are no pushovers. Boston in 7 is the pick.
TheOldLogo: Objectively? I think it will be at least 6-8 years before the Wolves would have a chance to compete for a championship. That’s not to say they can’t start competing for a spot in the Western Conference playoffs, but you have to keep in mind that a team just won 48 games and didn’t make it. Al Jefferson is a beast, but I can name at least 8 players under 30 at this point that I would trade him for straight up (if $$$ amounts didn’t matter) in the Western Conference alone. I think it will depend heavily on how our draft pick plays this season. If we were to retain Foye, Brewer, and Jefferson in our future plans, I think for us to compete Foye would have to be the fourth scoring option and Brewer would need to improve dramatically. Factor in that our front office has been about as competent as an armless surgeon, I’m in the Jim Mora camp at this point: "Playoffs!? Playoffs!? What are you talking about playoffs?! Playoffs?! I just want to win a damn game!"
Also, what is your NBA Finals prediction and why?
Lakers in 6. They have the best player, their bench is deeper, they’re younger, and their coach is 1,000 times better. That said, this Celtics team is good enough to take two games, but Phil will adjust both times.
Stop-n-Pop: Q: When will the Wolves compete for a title?
A: When they are bought by an owner who believes in accountability. Without being so glib, the current batch of Wolves are about as far away from being a championship squad as any team in the league. Their best player is a defensive liability who is surrounded by two 6 nothing combo guards who are 1/2 good 1/2 of the time, a 185 lbs swingman who can neither shoot or dribble, an overpaid Euro who cost the team a future 1st round pick and who once entered a game with his jersey on backwards, and a player in Gomes who has a tendency to disappear on a regular basis. Their last 3 drafts have been nothing short of a cumulative disaster and they have a long history of being completely incapable of selecting free agents that positively affect the team over a period of multiple seasons. That being said, this is the NBA and they could always get lucky and land a star player who could pair with Big Al and get them to the 50-win plateau and the possibility of post-season success. It should be noted that this would be completely by accident.
As for the Finals, I’d much rather clearly state who I am rooting against rather than float a prediction. It will be an absolute travesty if the Lakers win the championship. Before the year began, Kobe Bryant was publicly calling for a trade. During the season, the Lakers lost their starting center to a season ending knee injury, leaving them with a frontline of Lamar Odom, Vladimir Radmonovic, and Kwame Brown. Luckily for them, they were allowed to trade Mr. Brown, some garbage, and another team’s assistant coach to a team recently run by former Laker Jerry West for an All Star center. Remember Kobe’s thumb injury? Do you think he would have had surgery had Pau never landed at his doorstep? Instead of running down the last few months of the season in the most competitive conference in the history of the league with a Bryant/Odom/Gasol triumvirate, the Lakers should have been banging with Brown and Radmonovic against the likes of Duncan/Thomas and West/Chandler. Without the illegal transaction, they don’t get the high seed, they don’t get All Star, they don’t get this far in the playoffs.
To top off the overall insult of having this joke of a team make the Finals, their star player–an egotistic mess of a human–is now being whispered in the same best-player-ever conversations as Michael frickin’ Jordan. No, no, no and more no. Without the make-believe trade, he’s making pre-Olympic blubberings from the beach about how Luke Walton, Derrick Fisher, and Jordan Farmar just aren’t going to cut it as role players and how Lamar Odom doesn’t have the stuff to be a #2 with a player as talented as his Bryant-ness. The only bigger joke than the make-believe trade is the way in which Bryan’ts sudden team-based epiphany has been swallowed by the sporting media.
JON MARTHALER: Predicting the future of the Timberwolves is like predicting the weather: there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be more or less right about tomorrow, but beyond that, it’s pure speculation. For the Wolves, it seems reasonable to expect that they’ll be better next year. Al Jefferson will be a year better and a year older. The rotation will be helped by the addition of a high draft pick, whoever that might be.
But any team with as many questions as the Wolves – who, if anybody, will play point guard? Will Rashad McCants continue to sulk? How can Marko Jaric continue to pick up his gigantic check with a straight face? – is almost certainly not going to make the playoffs, especially in the Western Conference.
Beyond next year, too, it’s hard to see any evidence that the Wolves will become a realistic title contender. For one, the team management would have to improve enormously, something that shows no signs of happening. This is, after all, a franchise that has cap hits for both Juwan Howard and Troy Hudson next year, which should serve as the definition of front-office mismanagement ("If your team is paying a guy who hasn’t played for your team in two years AND a guy who NEVER played for your team, this is a bad sign.")
For another, you have to wonder: will the team ever be able to acquire impact players? As good as Brook Lopez might have looked while posting up 93-year-old Jim Peterson, I don’t think anyone believes that he’ll be a true star in the NBA. The same goes for Kevin Love, who looks like the other Wolves option at #3, or even for OJ Mayo, the Isaiah Rider for a new decade. And barring a lottery win – which we all know the odds of – Minnesota won’t be able to get immediate-star quality players straight from the college ranks. They might be able to add pieces to the puzzle, but traditionally, a great team needs a great star to lead it, and right now Minnesota’s only hope is Al Jefferson.
I can’t imagine the free-agent market will be too fruitful, either. How does that sales pitch go? "Come to Minnesota! The weather’s terrible all winter, the front office can’t get out of its own way, and the team regularly gets out-drawn by college hockey. What’s not to love?"
I know this is a dismal picture, but we need to be realistic here. Next year is the 20th season of Timberwolves basketball, and the franchise has been past the first round of the playoffs exactly once. The team caught a big-time break when Kevin Garnett fell into their laps, but they’ve never developed – and kept – another big-time star, nor have they been able to land consistent standout players on the free-agent market. And looking down the road, other than Big Al and maybe Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes, they have virtually none of the pieces in place of a future title contender.
Ultimately, I’m saying it’s going to be at least 3-4 years before Wolves fans can even think about contending for much of anything. And as far as rebuilding to the point that an NBA title becomes a distinct possibility, I think the team’s looking at a 6-10 year plan – if not another 20 years.
Which brings us to this year’s NBA Finals. I’m thinking Lakers in six, unless the Big Three in Boston play out of their minds consistently in a way they haven’t yet this postseason. (In that case: Boston in seven.)
Anthony: I’d get comfortable, folks — while there’s little question the Wolves will make considerable strides next year, this team is still a long way from being a contender. Beyond the 2008-09 campaign, the future of this organization is virtually impossible to decipher, and I currently see little to suggest that they can become contenders within the next four or five seasons.
Entering the fifth year of his NBA career, Al Jefferson will continue to establish himself as one of the NBA’s premier bigs, and having a (hopefully) full season of Randy Foye will make a tremendous difference for this team. Towards the end of last season, I definitely got the vibe that Al is ready to be "the man" at the NBA level, and I’m also a believer that incessant fears about Foye’s ability to be a court general/any perceived injury-proneness will fade as long as he plays 70+ games next season. His performance improved tremendously in March and April last season, and if he can remain healthy, I see no reason why he shouldn’t quickly establish himself as a 16 PPG, 7 APG guy. Besides, by no means do you need a "traditional" point guard to contend in today’s NBA. Those two guys aren’t the main issues, in my eyes — it’s the pieces around them that need to fall into place for the Wolves to become contenders within the next handful of seasons.
I’m a firm believer that Big Al can develop into the first scoring option on a title contender, but plenty of gaps still exist on this roster. Who’s going to be the second scoring option? Ideally, this person would come from the upcoming draft, but given this organization’s draft history, I’m not getting my hopes up. Will Corey Brewer pan out? After an underwhelming rookie season, he’ll have a lot to prove in his sophomore effort — for this team to eventually become a contender, they’ll need Corey to establish himself as the elite defender that scouts touted him as, and he’ll also need to improve his anemic offensive skillset. What about McCants? Can this team become a legitimate contender for top free agents? Most importantly, will Adrianna Lima ever come to the Target Center to attend a game?
The questions are virtually endless. I’m not saying it’s impossible for the Wolves to contend within the next five years, but a lot needs to fall into place for that to happen. And, finally, Lakers in seven.
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