After a crazy summer that turned our cute “puppies” into an instant playoff team, we decided to ask our TWB writers what they thought about the offseason.
1.) Is this the most anticipated season in Timberwolves history?
Mike Reynolds: I think at least in the last 8-9 years. The Cassel/Sprewell year takes the cake for most anticipated. A case could be made that last year was huge as well with Rubio and Adelman being signed and the lockout simply being over and saving Winter in Minnesota. It certainly is one of the most critical seasons in team history. I will give it a firm 2nd place, mainly because we aren’t starting the year with Rubio at full health which is a huge drag. However, It is the first time since the mid-2000′s we can, barring major injury, almost guarantee a winning season. A great feeling.
Jon Schweppe: Given the complete lack of anything resembling decent professional basketball in Minnesota for almost a decade (except the Lynx, of course), I’d have to say yes. We started to seem our team’s transformation last season, before Ricky went down with his ACL injury, but I anticipate incredibly competitive basketball this year and quite a few sell-out crowds at the Target Center. Personally, I can’t wait.
Erik Cox: 2nd only to the MV3 year. That was a more popular team in general, plus Ricky’s injury and the goofy collection of white dudes will leave enthusiasm tempered until the team produces.
John Grooms: Most will point to the Sprewell/Casell/KG run as the season fans licked their chops over but I’ll go on a whim and say this year is the most anticipated. Similar to that season, there is an established franchise player finally receiving support from recognizable stars in the league. Kirilenko and Roy may not receive the same draw Sprewell and Casell offered, but I’d argue that they are joining more fan friendly players than existed in the 2003-04 roster. With Love, Rubio and Pekovic, this team has become a league pass favorite almost overnight and a team that spectators are begging to entertain them. Fans may not feel as much confidence heading into this season as they did eight years ago but I think more than ever there is a feeling this team will be both ‘fun’ and ‘good.’
College Wolf: Taking into consideration the entire overall pulse of the fanbase, I don’t think you can say with complete certainty that this is THE most anticipated season in the short history of the franchise. I am sure that for some fans, yes, the will most definitely be their own personal ‘most anticipated’ season. But don’t get me wrong, and I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, as this is certainly in the Top 5 as far as this subjective measurement metric goes.
The MV3 Western Conference Finals season was probably the most anticipated, and possibly the follow-up season as well. Granted, 04-05 was a total dud of a year, but the anticipation was massive coming off our near-Finals appearance. I don’t think anyone can deny either of those seasons.
And then you have the initial season of the franchise back in ’89. For a hoops fan in Minnesota, how could THAT not be one of the most anticipated? I mean, we were finally getting our very own NBA franchise! Heck, even last season (Rubio… finally, yay!) was pretty darn anticipated as well, especially considering the rising star that K-Love has become.
So while this season is very anticipated to most fans, I do think Rubio’s injury does put a slight damper on things. As far as I can tell, he won’t be back before December from what I’ve been reading.
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2.) What is the team’s upside this year?
Mike Reynolds: I wish I could gloat and say “top 3 seed” but I can’t. I would say the maximum seed is 6. 6 is ideal as it would make a second round playoff series much more likely by avoiding OKC and LAL. The truth is, the West is stacked. After the Dwightmare ended, it got even more stacked. The Wolves made a massive upgrade to the roster, but that doesn’t mean anything is a shoe-in. With the injury history all over the roster, this team is one or two awkward rebounds away from another lottery appearance. Try ranking the West for a minute. You’ll see how stacked it is. Denver, LAC, Memphis, OKC, Dallas, San Antonio, LAL, Utah. GS will be better. New Orleans as well. It isn’t going to be as easy as we think to squeeze in but I think we will edge out the fellow bottom feeders. The main concern for me is, what is the ceiling beyond next season?
Jon Schweppe: Call me a homer, but I think this team could be a fringe contender if a few dominos fall the right way. With the additions of Roy, Shved, Kirilenko, and Budinger, this team just went from having no wings to having great wings in one offseason. I’d say that only the Lakers and Thunder, on paper, are strictly better than a healthy Timberwolves squad. I’d say the ceiling is a surprise conference finals run, and a first round flameout should be the absolute worst case scenario this season. That’s quite an improvement from eight straight years in the lottery.
Erik Cox: 55 wins if Rubio is back in December healthy and Roy/AK play 65-70 games.
John Grooms: This is a playoff team, but that’s far from a guarantee. I’d predict this team to secure a 6th or 7th playoff seed only if everything goes right. There are so many variables that could backfire – Rubio’s rehab, Roy’s knee, Kirilenko’s acclimation and Pekovic’s improvement. If any of these factors goes south, this team is forced to battle the Jazz, Mavericks, and even Warriors for the final playoff spot. Adelman’s coaching can help this team reach new heights but any injuries along the way could literally and figuratively hurt this team long term. In order for this team to have sustained success it will have to prove itself early on to avoid unforseen lapses during the season.
College Wolf: I don’t see how we could possibly do any better than a 7th seed in the Western Conference, which will be followed up with a first round playoff loss. But you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! Considering how insanely deep the Western Conference is, and Rubio’s injury and the time that it will take for him to get back up to NBA game speed, making the playoffs with our young squad would be an absolute blessing. And there’s nothing to complain about if this team (as currently kahnstructed) loses in the first round of the playoffs. The Western Conference is going to be very damn competitive this year.
3.) Which of our new acquisitions are you most excited about?
Mike Reynolds: That is a really tough question. I think it depends on where the excitement is derived from. If it is sheer ability, AK47 is going to make a huge impact to our wing position. From a “mystique” standpoint I have to go with Shved. He is as erratic as JJ Barea but his shot off the dribble is money. Terrell Brandon-like. I hope Adelman gives him a fair shake. Roy gets “general honorable mention.”
Jon Schweppe: Honestly, I’m really excited to see how Shved turns out. He was very exciting to watch during the Olympics, and he has a certain Ricky Rubio-like flair to his game. At best, he will be a fan favorite and a guy who can contribute offensively night in and night out. At worst, he could be incredibly frustrating and inconsistent. I have no idea what to expect from him, but I suppose that’s part of the fun. We’ll have to wait and see.
Erik Cox: Roy could give us the best SG season the Wolves have ever had by a wide margin or his knee could give out and be worth nothing. Can’t wait to find out which. AK is the safer bet but he’s be very steady for the last 4-5 years.
John Grooms: AK-47. Kirilenko is undoubtedly the most complete player to join this roster in quite some time. Is he past his prime? Sure. Does he still have gas in the tank? Absolutely. Kirilenko proved these Olympics that he is still a versatile player, capable of cutting to lane and making easy baskets as much as blocking shots from 7 foot Europeans. His ability to escape injury and remain consistent year after year with the Jazz makes him the hottest item going into this season.
College Wolf: Let me think about it, ummmmmm………. SHVED. I mean, look at this guy!?!
4.) Will Ricky Rubio struggle when he returns, and how will that affect the team?
Mike Reynolds: Absolutely. He will be phased in slowly and there will be an adjustment period. I can see Adelman easing Ricky back in for 20 MPG for the first month, and a full return to form by mid-February. His stats won’t be as strong as last year due to the front-loaded minute decrease, but we will see plenty of wonderful Ricky moments in short order.
Jon Schweppe: I’m hoping that Rubio makes a full recovery this year. One thing that I’m optimistic about is that his game isn’t really predicated on speed and quickness, meaning hopefully this injury won’t have long-lasting effects on his career arc. I think that the team will do fairly well without Rubio, but he’s such a key part to the team that I don’t think this team can make any noise whatsoever in the playoffs without Rubio healthy and ready to go.
Erik Cox: If he is on and off healthy it will be dreadful. If he is healthy enough to play he’ll be fine. Rubio is the soul of this team.
John Grooms: Rubio has a mountain in front of him. His determination might cut his rehab short but shortly afterward he will be forced to defend the likes of Westbrook, Rose, Paul, Nash, etc. I expect Rubio to lost some of his defensive edge but able to still lead this team with his transition game and overall passing abilities. I wouldn’t expect the Rubio we know to reach full force until late this season, if at all. As history as shown us, it often takes a full season for a player to return to the former self.
College Wolf: It’s highly likely that he will “struggle”, as he is coming off a pretty serious injury. He’s young though, and at some point he should eventually return to full health. It’s a bummer that he won’t be there completely healthy to start the season, but with Barea, Roy, SHVED, and our ultra super secret weapon X-factor Malcolm Lee; we should at least be adequate for a few months. The biggest problem is that without Ricky, we are just not as good of a team. So without him for a month (assuming a December return), and for the time it takes him to get back up to speed and trust his knee again… it puts us behind the 8-ball, and will make it that much tougher to compete for a playoff spot. I don’t think the team will be *too* negatively effected without him for a while, but from a standings viewpoint it will hurt. I don’t think I’d call it “struggling” when he returns to the court, as it will just be Ricky going through the natural progressions of returning from a serious injury. Obviously he won’t be able to do everything that he was capable of doing in the past at 100% right out the gate. It will take some time, and there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to rush him back. A career of a great healthy Ricky Rubio is far more valuable that the first few months of this upcoming season.
5.) Who will AK-47 use his exception on this year? Will she be from Minnesota?
Mike Reynolds: Anything less than SILENT ABABU is a waste of an exception.
Jon Schweppe: Huge prediction here. I’m going to risk my respectability here and say he’ll be 100% loyal to the wifey. No exceptions. Two for you, AK-47. You go, AK-47.
Erik Cox: Exception has been declared void and has been such a cliche to talk about it is annoying.
John Grooms: The logs are on the fireplace…The vodka is cold….I’ll leave the rest to fate.
College Wolf: I will go out on a limb and predict that it’s NOT Ryan Gomes’ wife.
6.) Is anyone a title contender besides Miami and Los Angeles? And who wins the NBA title this year?
Mike Reynolds: OKC will absolutely be in the mix. San Antonio also never fails to surprise (we have been calling them “too old” since 2007). The east is a wash and it’s not even close. I say the Lakers win it all. that team just has way too much talent. Aging talent, but talent. The “the team will never work chemistry wise” crowd has a point, but I’ll fall back on my tried and true “everything always works out for that *&%$ing franchise” argument as an unbeatable rebuttal.
Jon Schweppe: This was such a troll question… especially considering that most Timberwolves fans seem to have a real affinity for the Thunder. It seems to me that ESPN et al is making a big deal out of the Lakers because of the Howard acquisition, when it’s really not that big of an upgrade over Bynum. Nash is a great addition, but that team is getting really old in a hurry. One or two injuries could end their season, and I’m just not sure Nash will be able to keep going much longer. I think Miami is alone out in the East, and Boston will fall apart this season without Ray Allen. Out West, the Thunder simply have more firepower than anybody else, but it’s a very competitive conference. I think anything can happen out there. If I had to rank my top five title contenders, it’d probably go 1.) Miami 2.) OKC 3.) Los Angeles 4.) Chicago (if Rose gets back) 5.) Minnesota. Cause at the end of the day, I believe in this team.
Erik Cox: OKC is barely behind the Lakers (just ask CW, they have Eric Maynor back, lights out). East is already over. No need to play the games.
John Grooms: OKC is right there. The Lakers may be the most improved squad of the league but that’s not to say the Thunder won’t make great strides as well. I expect Serge Ibaka to have a huge year and it’s not as though this team lost any major assets. With Eric Maynor back and the possibility of Perry Jones III earning playing time, I expect this team to put up a hell of a fight on its path to a title.
College Wolf: Ummmmmm, the Thunder? I don’t care what anyone says, the Lakers didn’t suddenly leap frog the Thunder. I’ve talked about this ad nauseum in the TWB Forums, but the Thunder were much better than the Lakers last year in almost every facet. Despite Pant’s knock on me, dumping Fisher for Maynor is a massive upgrade. If only because Fisher plays less than zero defense, and was providing negative Win Shares. Maynor is a solid point guard who I expect to have a breakout season this year. It is clearly going to be a classic case of ‘addition by subtraction.’ On top of that, the Thunder’s young core will only continue to get better. The Lakers are adding a good point guard, but someone who is very old and injury prone. Nash can’t play much more than 30 minutes per game anymore. And Dwight Howard is still a question mark (but just for this upcoming season, obviously.) He certainly won’t be back before the start of the season, so like the TWolves, they will be behind the 8-ball a little bit as well. And how long will it take Dwight to get acclimated with all his teammates, their chemistry, and their offensive and defensive game plans? And don’t even get me started on coach Mike Clown…
The East, on the other hand, is pretty hopeless. There is the Heat, and then there is everyone else.
7.) Is anyone an MVP candidate besides LeBron James? And who wins the MVP this year?
Mike Reynolds: Absolutely! Durant will win it. Voters seem to be keen on making it a revolving door. While LeBron may have the better all-around season, I have a tough time seeing him win it again. Voters take the repetition factor into an account (see: the voters absolutely robbing Nash of his 3rd consecutive MVP a few years back). It is now Durant’s turn. Rightfully so. Durant will own the league before long, if he doesn’t already.
Jon Schweppe: Love has a real shot to get some buzz if the Timberwolves are a top 4 seed and he puts up the best stats of his career. Of course, theres always Durant. I’m starting to wonder if LeBron is going to eventually face similar problems to Michael Jordan… in that he’s the MVP every season, but voters will find reasons to give the award to the second best player in the league to help create storylines. LeBron should be the MVP every season of his prime because there simply isn’t a better basketball player on the planet. Really, it’s not even close.
Erik Cox: LeBron will have to play less than 65 games to lose it. If LeBron is hurt and the Wolves win over 50 games Love will get a lot of votes. I think even in that scenario Love will have to wait until he’s made the playoffs. I could see it going to Dwight if he goes off.
John Grooms: Winning back to back is tough; doing it twice over is even tougher. Only Kareem was able to accomplish this feat. The league makes a point of shaking things up in the MVP race and even giving preference to fan favorites. For this reason, I believe Durant is a lock in to win this award. He was quoted the other day saying “His Time Is Now” and I don’t disagree with that statement. He will need to play with a little more fierceness but he is going to get better and that’s scary. His defense showed marked improvements during the Olympics and it will likely be the area he focuses on most during the offseason. Durant will be a beast this year, securing his spot as the league’s foremost star and with this honor being named MVP.
College Wolf: The only other person with a chance is Durant. LeBron is clearly the best all-around player on the planet, and the Heat will assuredly have the best team record in the Eastern Conference this year. And they could possibly have the best record in the entire NBA. Barring any catastrophic injury, LeBron picks up his fourth MVP award this year.