Growing Pains

The Wolves are off to their worst start in franchise history.

NBA Quarterly Report

Show me that smile again.
Don’t waste another minute on your cryin’.
We’re nowhere near the end.
The best is ready to begin.

As much as I’d like to echo the sentiments of that 80′s sitcom theme song above, the 3-18 start by the Minnesota Timberwolves indicates that “the best” is anything but “ready to begin”. Through this first quarter of a season, the T-Wolves have managed to meet even the most pessimistic of expectations.  I knew that pegging the Wolves for the 8th seed as I did in my NBA Season Preview was very “homer-ish” on my part, but I never imagined 3-18.  Normally, I like to reserve my DeROK.Net Timberwolves spots for my more  inspirational articles, but so far, there’s been very little to wax poetic about this year.  So I’ve decided to make this NBA Quarterly Report a more straight-forward and analytical piece.  I’m going to glean whatever positives I can from the first twenty one games and take a look at what they mean for our future. Hopefully by the end I’ll have been able to talk myself, and you as well, into the idea that we’ll be “sharin’ the laughter and love” in the not-too-distant future.

Al Jefferson: Where better to begin than with our biggest positive, “Big” Al?  Through the first quarter of the season, he’s averaging a solid 20 points and 11 boards, and is looking like he’ll be making several All-Star appearances in his career.  Still, 20 and 11 on the Wolves isn’t quite the same as 20 and 11 on the Spurs.  Maybe those numbers are inflated by being on a not-so-great team, but on the other hand, many Wolves fans have been clamoring for Jefferson to get more touches.  I have to agree, as the Wolves aren’t looking to Al as frequently as they probably should be.  If he was getting his hands on the ball more, he could be scoring an addition 6-8 points per game.

Sebastian Telfair: Though many considered him to be a “throw-in” during the KG to increase the amount of expiring salary, Sebastian has proven to be a big part of what little success the team has had so far.  I think he will blossom into a solid back-up point guard, at worst, and perhaps even a playoff-caliber starter.  I’d be really disappointed if the Wolves didn’t bring him back next season. Good point guards are hard to come by, and he’s the only “true” one on our roster.

Marko Jaric: Somebody hooked “The Gigolo” up to the ‘juvenation machine, because the biggest dead-weight contract on our roster has actually become one of our team leaders.  I’m not sure if Jaric’s actually a player who’s going to make this team better more than he is a finger that’s plugging our dam and keeping it from bursting.  The good news is that no matter what, the untradeable Marko, just got himself some market value. I personally think we should pull the trigger on any trade that will put us in a better financial situation, as Marko is really the only “bad” contract on our roster that won’t be cleared after next season.

Craig Smith: “The Rhino” finally seems to have recovered from the string of injuries that had been setting him back.  His career-high 36 points vs. the Wizards helped to prove that this 2nd Round pick will have some long-term value to this team.  I don’t know if he’s necessarily a starter, but having a reliable bruiser like him off the bench could prove invaluable in the coming years.

Corey Brewer: After a slow start, it finally looks like Brewer is adjusting to the NBA game.  While his offensive ability leaves much to be desired, he showing flashes of the brilliant defender and hustler that we all dreamed he would become. If the Wolves do manage to get back into contention relatively soon, I see Corey playing the role that Trenton Hassell did for the ’03-04 Wolves, only better.  As good as KG, Sam, and Spree were that year, it was Hassell who really allowed the team to shine as he was often able to take the opposing team’s best player and contain him. If Corey can bring that X-factor to the table, it will really help this team down the road.

Rashad McCants: Many people are either very high or very low on Rashad, with many flip-flopping between the two extremes on a game to game basis.  For me, the main point is that McCants didn’t turn out to be a total bust.  He does have some value, which at least makes him tradable.  Personally, I think he’s only going to get better as this is really the first season he’s gotten to see the floor with any regularity.  Right now, he can score a ton of points, but like Stephon Marbury, I’m not sure that those are points that actually help the team win the game.  Rashad is going to have to learn the finer aspects of the game as well before he can be a real contributor.  If nothing else, McCants could be a solid 6th man down the road, or as I mentioned above, a nice bargaining chip in a trade as many GM’s are likely to see value in a player who has the ability to drop 30 on any given night.

Randy Foye: You might find it strange that I’m listing a player who hasn’t played a game this year due to injury as a positive.  However, the fact that this team has yet to experience the inevitable boost that we’ll get from Foye’s return is a silver lining to our cloud.  If we were 3-18 with Foye, that would be a BIG problem. However, our struggles are a big more understandable in light of the fact that the Wolves have been without their second best player.  Hopefully Randy can stay injury-free once he gets back. He could be a big part of this team getting back to the post-season in the coming years.

Some Final Positives: We’ve got Jefferson, who’s going to be a franchise-type player.  The way things stand, we won’t be picking any worst than fourth in the draft, which means we’ll have the opportunity to add another franchise-type player if we use that pick wisely.  That’s a nice place to begin rebuilding from. By all accounts Foye should be a good player in this league as well.  I think a young nucleus built around Jefferson, Foye, and Top 4 Pick could develop into a solid team.

Telfair, Smith, and Brewer all look to be helpful supporting players as well.  Hanging onto them all should be a priority for the Wolves front office.  The jury is still out on Marko and Rashad, but at least they should have some trade value.  We’ve also got some nice expiring deals coming due with Theo Ratliff this year and Antoine Walker the next.  If the Wolves can package them for the right player, the rebuilding process may occur quicker than we think.

For example, (and I’m not saying this is what we should do or that this is even a realistic deal – I’m just pulling this out of the air), let’s say Washington wants to get rid of Gilbert Arenas at the deadline.  We send over Ratliff, McCants, and the #1 we got from Boston or even Miami. They get a pick, a young player, and an expiring deal – all valuable things.  Then let’s say we take Michael Beasely in the draft.  The 2008-09 Wolves could be boasting a starting lineup that consists of Gilbert Arenas, Randy Foye, Michael Beasely, and Al Jefferson. Tell me that’s not a team you’d be excited about!  And that’s not three or four years down the road.  That’s next season!

Again, that exact scenario probably won’t play out, but one very similar to it just might.  The key is getting a good draft pick and making use of Theo’s contract.  If those two things happen, the Timberwolves may be right back in the thick of things come next year.  Having those two things play out is all in Kevin McHale’s hands, but if they do, the few of us loyal T-Wolves fans remaining, may just end up becoming “the luckiest dreamers who never quit dreaming!”


Predictions:

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic Division:

1. Boston

2. Toronto

3. New Jersey

4. Philadelphia

5. New York

 

Central Division:

1. Detroit

2. Cleveland

3. Chicago

4. Indiana

5. Milwaukee

 

Southeast Division

1. Orlando

2. Washington

3. Atlanta

4. Miami

5. Charlotte

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Northwest Division

1. Utah

2. Denver

3. Portland

4. Seattle

5. Minnesota

 

Pacific Division

1. Phoenix

2. Los Angeles Lakers

3. Golden State

4. Los Angeles Clippers

5. Sacramento

 

Southwest Division

1. San Antonio

2. Dallas

3. Houston

4. New Orleans

5. Memphis

 

PLAYOFFS:

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

1. Boston

2. Detroit

3. Orlando

4. Cleveland

5. Toronto

6. Washington

7.  Chicago

8. Atlanta

 

First Round:

Boston over Atlanta

Detroit over Chicago

Orlando over Washington

Cleveland over Toronto

 

Conference Semifinals:

Boston over Cleveland

Detroit over Orlando

 

Conference Finals:

Boston over Detroit

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

1. San Antonio

2. Phoenix

3. Utah

4. Dallas

5. Denver

6. Houston

7. New Orleans

8. L.A. Lakers

 

First Round:

San Antonio over L.A. Lakers

Phoenix over New Orleans

Utah over Houston

Dallas over Denver

 

Conference Semifinals:

San Antonio over Dallas

Phoenix over Utah

 

Conference Finals:

San Antonio over Phoenix

 

NBA FINALS:

San Antonio over Boston


Derek Hanson

About Derek Hanson

Doctor by day, blogger by night, Derek Hanson is the founder of the Bloguin Network and has been a Patriots fan for more than 20 years.

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