Where Do the Wolves Go From Here?
Four home games and two road games remain for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, a season that gave their fans a glimmer of hope for the future but came to a heartbreaking end. There were so many question marks heading into the season, most notably if Ricky Rubio’s game would translate to the NBA, but by most accounts the Timberwolves’ season can be looked upon as a success. That is, if you stop looking at the season at the time Rubio’s knee buckled.
When Rubio was lost for the season, the Timberwolves were 21-20 and were very much in the postseason hunt. Although Kevin Love has received many of the accolades this season, even bringing himself into the conversation for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award at one point, the team’s play since Rubio’s injury indicates that the young point guard may very well be the team’s MVP. While that is not to take away from Love’s incredible season, it does show that one man can only do so much and the combination of Rubio and Love are the only two players who should be considered as locks to return to the team next season.
So, where do the Timberwolves go from here after a mostly positive season and having the opportunity to evaluate how the rest of their roster fits alongside Rubio and Love? Sources within the Timberwolves organization have mentioned the team is not very interested in acquiring the draft pick they would receive should the Utah Jazz obtain a postseason berth. Their thought process going forward is to look into free agency and place veteran players in the areas where the Timberwolves have the most need for help, which are fairly obvious.
Shooting guard is the area in which the Timberwolves must make the most dramatic changes this offseason. To begin the season, the Timberwolves looked to second-year player Wes Johnson to fill the role, but that hasn’t worked out and that is being quite kind. Johnson is averaging 6.1 points per game on 40 percent shooting from the field and 29 percent from three-point land, which is obviously not going to get it done. The Timberwolves need a guard who can catch-and-shoot off passes from Rubio, but also has the ability to create off the dribble, drive to the hoop to force the action and draw fouls. Remarkably, Johnson has been to the free throw line for an underwhelming grand total of 27 times this season, only making 17 of them. This is not even close to being adequate.
After Michael Beasley’s toe injuries and apparent falling out of favor with head coach Rick Adelman, the Timberwolves best option at shooting guard was to start Luke Ridnour, have J.J. Barea play a majority of minutes off the bench and move Johnson to the small forward position. There wasn’t improvement from Johnson in that role either. While there were some positives to that combination of Ridnour and Barea instead of having Johnson hold down the fort at the two, there were also many deficiencies. Both Ridnour and Barea could play positive roles for the Timberwolves going forward, if the team is able to bring in other players who allow the duo to play the roles more suited to their games. Ridnour is a steady backup point guard to Rubio when healthy and Barea is a fine change-of-pace player off the bench, but also in limited chunks of time.
It is imperative the Timberwolves find a quality veteran starting shooting guard before next season, which is why they had so much interest in Jamal Crawford of the Portland Trail Blazers at the trade deadline. A deal was almost in place, but at the last minute Minnesota backed out, believing they were giving away too much for a player they may be able to land in the offseason if he does, in fact, opt out of his contract with Portland. Only time will tell if Crawford lands in Minnesota, but all indications are that the team wants him on the roster, or a player with the same skillset.
The center position is also a huge area of concern for the Timberwolves moving forward and something that must be addressed before next season begins. While Nikola Pekovic has developed into a fine player, becoming a great compliment to Kevin Love in the post, the team must find a way to bring in a solid backup for the big man due to the amount of physicality he plays with on the court. Darko Milicic has officially become the player the Timberwolves must amnesty, as he has become more than comfortable sitting at the end of the bench and allowing his playing time to diminish to nothing.
Love has been forced to play the center position and while it has been effective at times, especially when giving rookie Derrick Williams the opportunity to play his natural position of power forward, the Timberwolves need to find someone else to play minutes at the position and is comfortable with blocking shots, rebounding the ball and being physical in the post.
What to do with Beasley is also a huge decision for the Timberwolves. Minnesota will be able to match offers Beasley may receive from other teams, but how high would they be willing to go? $8.1 million is a lot for a player coming off the bench in their scheme, as Coach Adelman seems to believe that is the best spot for the talented, but inconsistent player. If a team—such as the Los Angeles Lakers, who nearly traded for him at the deadline—make an offer higher than the Timberwolves are willing to pay, they have to let him walk for nothing. Considering Minnesota essentially received him for nothing, this is a low-risk move.
Currently standing at 25 wins on the season, it has been a positive year as a whole for the Minnesota Timberwolves. They progressed as a team, showed a lot of promise when healthy and gave fans hope for the future. Now that they have been officially eliminated from playoff contention, it is time to continue in the same direction they have moved recently, building on the positive vibes around the franchise this season.
What do you think, Timberwolves fans? Are any players “safe” to return next year outside of Love and Rubio? Which players currently on the roster are absolutely gone in your mind? What free agents would you bring in if you were making the call? Let’s hear it.