ESPN’s panel of experts has been speaking for nearly two weeks now. So far, they think the Heat will win lots of basketball games, that Amare Stoudemire will be a disappointment and that Lebron James will be good. Nothing all that controversial there. Today, though, the panel pronounced that our Timberwolves would be the most tumultuous team in the NBA this year. The Pups narrowly beat out the Cavs and Hornets but still, I thought, our honor needed some defending. So over at the ESPN NBA page, I did just that. Here’s the nuts and bolts of the thing. As you can see, they caught me on an optimistic day:
I realize it seems questionable to brazenly flout the “best player available” maxim by drafting Wesley Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins, and then immediately duplicating Johnson’s skill set by trading the 16th pick for Martell Webster.
It’s strange to trade Al Jefferson, the team’s best player over the past three seasons, for two draft picks, and then bring in Michael Beasley to replace him as your go-to scorer. And even stranger to sign two Serbian centers for a grand total of $34 million over the next four seasons, especially when one of them is named Darko Milicic.
And maybe you’re also amused and/or exhausted by the knowledge that in the first year of Kahn’s tenure, the Wolves have acquired no fewer than seven point guards, some of them more than once (although, to his credit, not all at the same time).
And that teenage prodigy Ricky Rubio — the fifth pick in the ’09 draft and maybe the best player of all of those PGs — currently runs game in Barcelona with no guarantee of ever setting foot in Minnesota…
It’s fashionable at the moment to ridicule Kahn as an abrasive, unqualified hack. It’s clear the man has had some awfully low moments this summer and that he and Rambis haven’t yet found that transcendent player who will give meaning to their long-suffering franchise. And it’s equally clear that the Wolves are going to lose a lot of games this season.
But if you scan this lineup — Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Wes Johnson, Martell Webster, Corey Brewer, even Darko Milicic and Michael Beasley — you’ll find a lot of young, smart, athletic, hungry players. These are players who want to learn, who want to run, who want to move the ball and play defense. Aren’t these just the type of players who would seem to fit well into Rambis’ up-tempo-and-triangle offense? And when you consider the Wolves have roughly $10 million in cap space, doesn’t the picture look a lot less ridiculous than this chaotic offseason might have suggested?
Am I just being naïve? Is it wrong for Wolves fans to hold on to even these tiny shreds of optimism? Let me tell you a story.
For the three years beginning with their six-game Western Conference finals loss to the Lakers in 2004 and ending with the Kevin Garnett trade of 2007, the Wolves slowly melted down. With very few exceptions (KG among them), the team became a nightmare of ball-hogging, extravagant contract demands, intentionally careless defense and mediocre effort. As the front office hemorrhaged draft picks, this collection of aging jump-shooters and corrosive personalities contributed to the firing of both Flip Saunders and Dwane Casey and helped hasten the KG era’s sad, pathetic end. What I’m saying is: We’ve seen turmoil and this isn’t it.