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Tales from the Crypt: A 2010-2011 Wolves Season Preview

2009-2010 Record – 15-65 (4th Place, Minnesota High School Lake Conference Boy’s Freshman B-Squad Basketball)

Key Losses: Large Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Ramon Sessions, Ryan Hollins, Damien Wilkins, Brian Cardinal, Oleksiy Pecherov, Greg Steimsma (perhaps the biggest loss), Nathan Jawai, Sasha Pavlovic, the meal I just ate after forcing myself to think about the aforementioned players actually being on our roster last year.

Key Gains: Perhaps a hint of fan interest, Michael Beasley, Wesley’s Johnson, Major Lazar Hayward, Kosta Koufos, Kosta Koufos’ dance moves and 43-foot nose, Sebastain Telfair, Frodo “Ridnour” Baggins, Martell Webster, Nikola Pekovic and Anthony Tolliver

1. What Significant moves were made in the offseason?

This offseason carried with it yet another frenzy of activity and Wolves-related roster transactions. The key difference between this summer and last is that the Wolves added a significant, and quite underrated, amount of talent and depth to their roster while  “only” losing Al Jefferson. This did not occur without a few of David Kahn’s traditional head-scratchers (trading Sessions so soon, arguably). Speaking of Kahn, as of this second I am going to start calling him The Cryptkeeper.  He just reminds me of a sinister little man and sort of has the same hair, and definitely should have the save voice/laugh but that is a stretch. Not to mention the symbolic nature of a Wolves season-preview write-up featuring a show called Tales from the Crypt seems to make some sense, if for any reason the title alone.

Back to the offseason. This all started at the draft lottery when the Wolves “lucked out” and nailed the 4th pick in the draft, of which my only reaction was this post. Come draft night we shifted around a little bit and ended up selecting Wesley’s Johnson, Luke Babbitt, who was traded (more on this shortly), Lazar Hayward in a deal with Washington, Nemanja Bjelica and sure-fire future NBA supermegastar Paulo Prestes, who may not have even known he was in the draft to begin with. Many felt this haul was…unsuccessful. So, after a few months of letting it all sink in, Wolves fans are back at it and ready to make outlandish, preposterous predictions that only approach Knick-fan/media level of absurdity (and it really does not get much more fail than that). So I’ll go ahead and get started. Despite passing on Cousins, I think Wesley is going to be solid. He no doubt fills a very key need for the Wolves on the perimeter with his athleticism, and his shooting form is potentially enough for Pfizer to stop distributing Viagra to the Minneapolis market completely. Look for him to be a major contributor, but given the influx of rotation-worthy wings now on our roster (a first?), it will be tough for Johnson to statistically contend for ROY this year. It could turn out to be another Flynn situation, where the guy drafted right after him (Cousins in WJ’s case) will outperform him statistically and thus he will be put into the dog house by local fans despite some positives.

Semi-related tangent: I will go on the record and say that absorbing Elton Brand’s salary in order to move down 2 spots for Turner would have been the downfall of this franchise and an absolutely dreadful decision. Moving on. CLICK READ MORE TO CONTINUE

Also on draft night came the Martell Webster deal for Luke Babbitt and Ryan Gomes. At the time many in Minny didn’t seem to like it because Gomes’ partially-guaranteed contract was apparently worth Kevin Durant, 63 first round picks and cash considerations (of course), so trading for a solid wing player who can shoot was a terrible idea. Well, we would have cut Gomes anyway, leaving his guaranteed $1mm  on our payroll, so we managed to save a million bucks. Furthermore, if you can trade the 16th pick for a guy who has been a rotation player on a winning team, is still 23 and on a relatively reasonable deal, I think we can spare another who would have been our 4th rookie. Not to mention, the obvious elephant in the room, the fact that he is a Caucasian shooting guard which is just never good. Good trade. IDPFS (Irrational Draft Pick Fetish Syndrome. Examples: Koufos is the next Rik Smits b/c he was once a first round pick, this Babbit discussion) can strike like Alzheimer’s in a nursing home, so I get it. Overall, me touting Webster has NOTHING to do with his first 2 pre-season games, I swear….really.

The Wolves 2010 Free Agency haul was Nikola Pekovic, Anthony Tolliver, a re-upped Darko, Michael Beasley via trade, and Luke Ridnour. Key points here: We did not sign Travis Outlaw, Drew Gooden, Amir Johnson, Joe Johnson or any of the other “might as well destroy our financial health before a potential lockout” deals we saw inked this summer. For that alone, this summer was a success. Basketball-wise, the guys we brought in are all  major, major, major upgrades over last year’s doozies. It is a shame we traded Sessions to Cleveland so soon, but I think we will live. Ridnour is another perimeter threat, but arguably a potential talent downgrade. It would be nice to see the Wolves incorporate a little more P&R in the offense to accommodate Ridnour and Flynn’s strengths. I see them both struggling in a read and react offense, and I won’t even mention defense at this point. A note on Beasley’s acquisition, whom I will touch on below: I know Kahn is a little strange, but he could have very well pulled off 2 of the biggest trade-heists in recent memory, with the Beasley deal and the 2009 draft deal with Washington that netted us Rubio. If those two blossom and are the Cryptkeeper’s legacy, then, well, in The Cryptkeeper We Trust. There is no knocking either of those trades in any capacity.

Lastly comes perhaps the most significant move/subtraction in the trade of Al Jefferson to the Jazz for 2 first round picks and Kosta Koufos. Analyzing this deal requires thinking of it in 2 ways: 1) We absolutely had to get rid of Al. He did not fit, had a huge deal, was a black hole, and he just… didn’t fit. He also had a rather underwhelming year last year, often settling for bad shots in the post and not rebounding as effectvely. So, for that reason alone it was an awesome move. The other thing we need to consider is 2) What we received. It was great to free up more cash, but one might think we could have found a better return. At least a player who’s best moments in uniform will come outside of the public inter-squad scrimmage. Time will tell how we utilize the cap space and picks, but for starters a package of Brewer, Flynn and 2 firsts while absorbing salary seems like a fairly good starting point for a decent trade return to supplement Rubio’s imminent arrival.

Overall the offense will be much more fluid with passing bigs and with Al gone.Call it clear addition by subtraction. In addition we upgraded at most positions, and now have some wings who are capable of picking up the scoring load, and a 50000% improvement in perimeter shooting. This factor will be instrumental in improving our win total, which we will get to now.

2. What are the Wolves’ strengths?

Well, it is tough to say much here other than perimeter shooting.With the exception of Pekovic and Milicic, who both can shoot from mid-range, just about all of the Wolves’ rotation players have rather decent NBA-level 3 point range, including most of our big men (Beasley, Love, Tolliver can all nail the 3). This is a very rare thing in the NBA and if this offense gels and we actually keep this team together for a few years, we could try out some nifty things that might be tough for opposing teams to counter defensively.

Athleticism. We have a nice trio of athletic wings in Brewer, Johnson and Webster who are all high flyers and can shoot it. That’s really about it.

Big-Man Passing. When the shots aren’t falling, it helps that the Wolves have some bigs who can pass the rock to facilitate offense down low and catch the wings cutting in from the perimeter. Furthermore, Love’s offensive rebounding will be huge if outside shots aren’t falling.

Business-wise, the Wolves have assembled a nice squad and still remained well below the cap. This has allowed us to maintain our roster flexibilty while massively upgrading the overall roster.

3. What are their weaknesses?

While we have some nice shooters, we are lacking in 2 key areas on Offense: low post scoring and ball handling. Love will be a top scorer and is more of a jump shooting big man when he is scoring in set situations. He will probably get absolutely murdered in the post as he will draw the better defenders all year down low, so that will be a pretty significant weakness for the Wolves immediately. Beasley will probably get most of his points on mid-range jumpshots off of screens, or by drawing fouls. Darko isn’t reliable in the post by any stretch of the imagination, which leaves Pekovic as one of our only low post scorers. As much as our shooting has improved, we will need to attempt to capitalize on interior offense if shots aren’t falling or we are going to fall behind in games very quickly. Regarding ball handling, Webster, Beasley and Flynn are probably our best players in terms of creating shots, which isn’t really a great thing. Brewer and Johnson still have a long ways to go in that area and again will most likely net most of their points on open jump shots or fast break points.

Shot-blocking and overall defense will likely not be up to par with Darko being our best interior defender and all. It remains to be seen how Johnson will defend on the perimeter, and Brewer’s likely reduced role won’t help things there. Love certainly is fantastic on the defensive glass and can body up, but it would be nice to have a non-Hollins 5th big with some length who can defend the LMA’s of the world who spread the floor and have 8-foot wingspans and length. Pekovic has T-Rex arms and Love never fares well on defense against lengthy opposing bigs. Koufos could potentially fill this role for the time being, I suppose.

It is also worth mentioning that the Wolves have too many rotation guys at this point, and it will be tough to get the top 9 or 10 guys quality minutes while still playing them at their ideal position. Furthermore, with the youth on our roster we are going to want to maximize their development, so playing time is crucial. Rambis is going to have to get creative or some of the guys might be a bit disgruntled by winter time.

In general I would have liked to see the Wolves add another vet or 2 to the roster. Ridnour currently is the primary grandpa setting the tone and he is kind of a nerd. There is a definite lack of veteran leadership on the team.

4. Goals for the Year?

It seems reasonable to expect the current roster to gel and to maintain some player-continuity over the next 2-3 years. For the past 2 years our rotation has been so drastically different (and terrible) that it’s a miracle we even won 15 last year. As The Cryptkeeper has recently said to the papers, I’d hope for a “singular move” in the next 8-10 months that would add a final piece of the roster in exchange for one or two of our young pieces (Flynn/Brewer seem like possibilities) and a draft pick or 2. If we could free up the rotation for another big name, and then add Rubio and another top 10 pick, all while keeping Love/Beasley and staying under the tax long term after extensions are negotiated, it will be tough for any national media to criticize us beyond this season. Time will tell whether The Cryptkeeper can put that cap space to good use, or if he even plans to (a strong possibility he doesn’t, I might think).

Basketball wise, I would love to see us get off to a good start. We always seem to win the home opener and follow it up with about15 straight stinkbombs, and then miraculously beat either Utah, Memphis, or Phoenix before losing another 7 of 8. A 5-7 start this year seems like a reasonable goal. In terms of the season, the Wolves should target a 100% win-total-vs YA improvement of 30 wins, and no losing streaks greater than 4-5 games. It could certainly be attainable if we stay healthy, but we are more than likely in the 22-27 win range which is still an improvement, and allows us one more shot at a top draft selection to enhance the roster some more.

Playoffs will be mandatory by 2012 or things many not be too great after all.

5. Who will be the star of this team?

While examining our roster, it is difficult to identify our first option. From a who-is-the-last-guy-announced-during-home-game-player-intros perspective, it’s Love. However, with a new attitude and more offensive fire power, Beasley could very well take the reigns from him before too long. And let’s not forget about our other guys who will be wanting the rock as well. Overall it’s a nice, fun little storyline for the year, and certainly one billion times more interesting than: watching Al put up 17 points a game, wondering if Sasha Pavlovic will develop into a rotation player, and eagerly awaiting Rambis’ decision on whether or not to play Alando Tucker the final 25 seconds of a blowout loss, simply because he was once a first round draft pick (IDPFS strikes again). Reason #587 why Al Jefferson being traded was a fantastic idea, despite our spoils.

Prediction: 26-56

I predicted this for 3 reasons. 1) Mainly me being cautious after posting a 30-win prediction for this same write-up last year. 2) Trying to maintain some semblance of rationality.  For example, I am so sick of most Knicks fans/media, and one ridiculous columnist in particular, and their outrageous comments and view of their current team and/or assets. So, I tried to look in the mirror and learn to be somewhat reasonable and rational for the sake of everyone else on the planet, and of course the tens of Wolves fans reading this. Despite this, many can and will argue that predicting this team to win 26 is just as absurd as calling Gallinari a young Dirk even though he has Turkoglu upside. To that, fair point. It is probably high. 3) Because dammit I am excited and think this team can win more games than last year.

While the win total will not be high, I will bet a 4-digit amount we will not finish the league in last place like most pundits are predicting (lofty goals, here!). Just look at the Cavs, who just might be starting Ryan Hollins and Ramon Sessions alongside Mo Williams. Um, yeah. Good. And JJ Hickson may be the most overrated prospect since Nathan Jawai.

No matter what, this should be a fun and interesting year for us.

As the real Cryptkeeper says, “so long “Boils and Ghouls.”

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