NBA Off-Season Preview: Minnesota Timberwovles
Record (29-53) The Timberwolves dealt with the huge loss of long-time beloved coach Flip Saunders during the 2016 season, and Sam Mitchell did his best in the interim with a team in rebuilding mode leading them to a 13th placed finish in the Western Conference. Minnesota saw the continued improvement of core trio of Andrew Wiggins, Zach LeVine, and Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns. Ricky Rubio continued to dazzle and amaze with his acrobatic assists, Kevin Garnett upheld his position as heralded unofficial player-coach, and the Wolves had a better season. Add to that the departures of Kevin Martin and Andre Miller, and the offseason hiring of Tom Thibodeau, and that still doesn’t begin to fully describe the excitement that surrounds this highly touted team of the future. The easy part for the Wolves is who the core is. Wiggins, LeVine, and Towns are the core, along with Rubio at the point and a mix of Gorgui Dieng and Nikola Pekovic at the 4/5 position, trading spots with Towns depending on the rotation each night. From there, it becomes a bit murky as the Wolves have an overabundance of forwards. In terms of leadership, Kevin Garnett is the unquestioned stalwart on and off the court, and while his numbers no longer reflect his once expected double-doubles, he is basically a staple of the organization until he retires. Shabazz Muhammad has efficiently produced when called upon, as have Tayshaun Prince and Adrien Payne with the limited minutes they have been given. Tyus Jones has also added some depth at guard after his brief deployment to the NBA D-League, and Nemanja Bjelica has also provided brief flashes of offense when given minutes. However, Bjelica and rarely used fellow forward Damjan Rudez are where changes need to happen. Bjelica and Rudez should be sent to the D-League and given more playing time so that the T-Wolves can figure out what to do with them. At 14 players deep, these two are the first that need to be developed further, or potentially traded or waived. Speaking of waives, Greg Smith should be waived, as he was a late season addition that appeared to be picked up with Pekovic being injured. This along with the D-League assignments would provide more roster spots for the upcoming draft picks and free agents the T-Wolves acquire, and there are a few pieces that could truly turn this team into a playoff contender, if not a playoff disruptor. Reports have indicated Joakim Noah is interested in reuniting with his former coach, and for Thibodeau the feeling is mutual. Noah would know how Thibodeau coaches; however, it would be adding another bench player to a team that already has too many big men. A better fit might be picking up Marvin Williams from the Hornets, who is a free agent hitting the prime of his career. Another option could be a sign-and-trade with Charlotte, where the T-Wolves trade injury-prone Pekovic for Al Jefferson, who is also testing out free agency. Both players would demand opposing defenses to not cheat on defense. Minnesota has the 5th overall pick, and popular opinion says Henry Ellenson from Marquette is the top choice; however, he might not jive well with Garnett, who will demand the most out of his teammates. Jamal Murray out of Kentucky, Buddy Hield out of Oklahoma, and Denzel Valentine out of Michigan State all seem like better choices not only because of their all-around game, but because they would better meet Garnett’s expectations, and Thibodeau’s ideology of constantly running his players.
NBA Off-Season Previews
Atlantic Division: Boston Celtics – Brooklyn Nets – New York Knicks – Philadelphia 76ers – Toronto Raptors Central Division: Chicago Bulls – Cleveland Cavaliers – Detroit Pistons – Indiana Pacers – Milwaukee Bucks Southeast Division: Atlanta Hawks – Charlotte Hornets – Miami Heat – Orlando Magic – Washington Wizards Southwest Division: Dallas Mavericks – Houston Rockets – Memphis Grizzlies – New Orleans Pelicans – San Antonio Spurs Northwest Division: Denver Nuggets – Minnesota Timberwolves – Oklahoma City Thunder – Portland Trail Blazers – Utah Jazz Pacific Division: Golden State Warriors – Los Angeles Clippers – Los Angeles Lakers – Phoenix Suns – Sacramento Kings