Wolves head into offseason filled with maybes
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves head into another long summer and will be getting ready for another appearance in the draft lottery, just like they have every year since 2004.
Yet there remains a feeling around the organization that this time is different. Maybe.
They have a head coach beloved by his players and considered one of the best X’s and O’s guys in the game.
They have a bruising center who has become one of the best offensive rebounders and one of the most reliable scorers in the paint.
They have a star power forward who has bought in to the direction the franchise is headed.
The Timberwolves wrapped up a long and painful season with a victory in San Antonio on Wednesday night and now head into an offseason full of uncertainty as they look to build on what appears to be a promising young core.
Owner Glen Taylor has yet to say if he will pick up the option on team president David Kahn’s contract for next season. Rick Adelman will not decide on coming back as coach next year until doctors assure him that his wife’s seizures are under control. And the Timberwolves will likely have to pay a pretty price to bring back center Nikola Pekovic, who will be a restricted free agent.
The biggest domino that has to fall is Adelman, who will accompany his wife Mary Kay at a doctor’s appointment soon to try to gauge how she is responding to medication designed to quell her seizures. Adelman considered stepping down during the season, but said earlier this week that he is operating as if he is coming back next season unless doctors tell him otherwise.
“Everybody says you have to have patience with it,” Adelman said. “I certainly don’t want to hang out for months or something like that. That’s just not fair. I just don’t think it’s realistic, though, to just talk about that this is what’s going to happen. I think that it will take care of itself in the next couple weeks.”
Taylor was mum on Kahn’s future as the season came to a close. He planned to take some time after the season to do some evaluating before making a decision. Kahn has been on the job for four seasons and was instrumental in bringing Adelman and point guard Ricky Rubio to Minnesota. But he also struggled mightily in the draft and clashed both with the first coach he hired (Kurt Rambis) and the team’s best player, Kevin Love.
Love felt disrespected by Kahn’s unwillingness to give him a five-year contract extension in January of 2012 and it carried over into this season. Then Love played in just 18 games because of a twice-broken right hand and arthroscopic knee surgery on his left knee last week. His struggles to stay healthy and critical comments about the organization early in the season led some to question Love’s commitment to the franchise.
Love worked hard to prove himself in the final few months, appearing at community events and meeting with Taylor to clear the air. Now he heads into the offseason determined to show everyone he does want to be here.
“I’ll have a clean bill of health, and I’ll be ready to go,” Love said. “So I’m definitely looking forward to that and I know this team is hungry. I’m hungry myself. The only thing we can do now is just look towards the future.”
Injuries were the common theme throughout the season for the Timberwolves. Rubio, Love, Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko played a grand total of 12 minutes together because of various injuries while Chase Budinger also missed a huge chunk of the season with a knee injury and Brandon Roy played in just five games.
The Timberwolves finished 31-51, the first time they’ve won at least 30 games in a season without Kevin Garnett on the roster.
“Yeah but we lost 50, too,” Rubio said. “That’s a lot. Fifty in one season. It’s not that exciting. It’s more than I thought. Of course we’re happy because we’re improving, but it’s not enough.”
If there was a bright spot in such a dreary season, it was Rubio’s comeback from a torn ACL last March. He returned on Dec. 15 and after a rough first two months, Rubio blossomed back into the playmaker he was before going down. Rubio averaged 10.7 points, 7.3 assists and 2.4 steals.
More importantly, he started to establish a culture in the locker room that will not accept mediocrity. For too long, too many Timberwolves have come through these doors and gotten used to losing. That’s not Rubio. There are no excuses.
“I don’t want to think of what could happen,” Rubio said. “It happened and that’s it. I want to move forward and learn from that. Of course you’re going to deal with injuries all year long because it’s a long season. What happened is you have to get 12-15 guys ready to play every night.”
Derrick Williams also showed signs of promise while filling in for Love at power forward, averaging 15.2 points and 6.6 rebounds over the final 33 games. But his future in Minnesota is in doubt, especially if Adelman returns. The head coach never seemed to warm to the former No. 2 overall pick, and he is a candidate to be traded.
The Wolves also need to add better shooters from the perimeter after managing to hit just 30.5 percent from 3-point range.
If the Timberwolves can add a big shooting guard, bring back Pekovic and Adelman and get Love refocused and back to his old form, they could be in good position to end the longest playoff drought in the NBA. Maybe.