Without question, the 2010–11 Minnesota Timberwolves are a better team than what fans have come to expect. Throughout the first half of the season, the team has been competitive in most games, losing many by close margins. There is more excitement inside the Target Center on a regular basis, there are small glimpses of hope for the future and the team continues to ask for patience as they rebuild.
The question becomes how long until the patience runs out?
Recently, team owner Glen Taylor stated that he is ready to see results. The fans are as well and, more importantly, the fans deserve to see results. Remember only a few years ago when Target Center was the place to be, where being a follower of the Timberwolves did not bring ulcers?
This season slows the acid build-up, as Timberwolves president David Kahn stated this year would be the next step in the team’s plan. They were going to get longer and more athletic at each position, they were going to get players who play the “right way” and then they were going to make the tough decisions that need to be made.
The tough decisions that need to be made will involve the team realizing that their fan base does in fact know the game of basketball. There are players on the current Timberwolves team who are big pieces to the puzzle both this year and into the future, but they are few and far between. To state otherwise is an error in judgment by the Timberwolves franchise.
Let’s review: There is Kevin Love, the double-double machine, and the player who is making a young generation of basketball players do their research on guys like Moses Malone. Only in his third season, Love is not only putting up good numbers, he is putting up historic numbers. After quietly waiting for the Timberwolves to come to the correct realization that Al Jefferson is a solid player, but not one you build a franchise around, Love immediately claimed the starting power forward spot on Minnesota’s roster for, what should be, the remainder of his career. Just as the team did with Kevin Garnett, they now must make no excuses and find a way to keep Love in the Twin Cities. Considering that Love wants to win, just like Garnett, they better get moving.
There is question as to whether Love could be the best player on a championship contending team. Although it is unlikely, Love’s amazing skill set will put him in position where he will be one of the two or three most important pieces on any team he plays for during the remainder of his career. That is why when the Timberwolves had the opportunity to add a player such as Michael Beasley this summer, they made the right call.
Also only in his third season, Beasley is a flat-out scorer. Without question, he has already displayed that throughout the course of the year and he has also shown growth in his shot selection and ability to get his teammates involved. He still has work to do, as does Love on some aspects of his game, but with the skills that Beasley brings to the table for his team, the Timberwolves would make a huge mistake in not finding a way to lock him up for the long-term as well.
Although the team shows major improvement over years past, what do they really have outside of these two fine young players? They have Darko Milicic, who is in the midst of a career renaissance, yet it is difficult to imagine him as the starting center for a contender unless he finds a way to become more consistent.
However, one of the great moves the team made is in the contract for Milicic this past off-season. As most national media members jumped at the chance to make Minnesota the butt of their jokes, the Timberwolves knew what they were doing. With the limited number of legitimate centers in the NBA, signing Milicic for the amount of money ($5 million/year) for the length of time they did (four years, final year team option) was fantastic. Milicic is a great complement to Love in the post currently and his paycheck is such that if the team were to find a better option on the market, moving Milicic to a role player off the bench would still be an option.
They still hold the rights to Ricky Rubio, which is a good, valuable chip to hold at the poker table. While there are differing reports nearly every week regarding Rubio’s desire to play in Minnesota, his trade value around the league remains high. Some believe Rubio could come to the NBA and immediately become the best point guard in the league while others believe he is all hype and no substance.
That is why unless the Timberwolves are 100 percent sure that Rubio is legit, they must find a way to trade him. While Rubio has said nice things about Minnesota in the past, the fact that he has never come out to stop the rumors and say, “Yes, I want to play in Minnesota,” says quite a lot. Other teams want him and would give up quite a lot for him. Find a good trade before your opponent calls your bluff in this hand of poker.
Weaknesses to address
The problem there is that Jonny Flynn is clearly not the player the Timberwolves expected him to become when they drafted him.
Flynn is a great person and personality, but a great NBA point guard is more than a stretch. There is no doubt that the hip surgery is something that takes a great deal of time to return from, but this season gave the opportunity to see how cerebral of a player Flynn is and the early results are not good.
Due to the surgery, Flynn does not have his athleticism and therefore needs to make the simple plays, make the smart plays, yet he continues to either run his head into a brick wall or, even worse, makes no impact on the game for huge stretches of time. The NBA is in the midst of a point guard revolution with, seemingly, a great point guard on every roster. Minnesota’s problem is that their best point guard is Luke Ridnour, who is a fine backup point guard. The Timberwolves must find that difference maker at the lead guard role because it is not and won’t be Jonny Flynn.
Rookie Wes Johnson has shown in the first half of the year that he has a beautiful jump shot, but now needs to take that next step. With Michael Beasley on one side, Johnson must now put the ball on the floor, drive to the hoop and make things happen. So far in his career he shows very little desire in doing just that, but to be considered a true member of the limited group of players that will make up the future core, he must understand what his team needs. Nearly every NBA expert says that a player makes the most growth the summer between his rookie season and his sophomore year, so it becomes imperative that the Timberwolves make it perfectly clear what areas of his game are lacking.
The Timberwolves can take the next step if they understand what they have. Kevin Love and Michael Beasley are a great starting point for a team to build around, but what comes next? While the Timberwolves certainly are not the only inhabitants of the Target Center, it still begs the question: if the product on the floor doesn’t give results very soon, why should tax payers pay for the renovations to the building? The Timberwolves cleared a lot of money off their books, they have valuable assets and they claim to have high hopes. The time is now to prove it.
Stephen Litel covers the NBA and the Minnesota Timberwolves for HOOPSWORLD.com, as well as The Journal’s blog “The Exchange.” Litel also covers the Minnesota Lynx for the Journal, as well as being one of SLAM Magazine’s WNBA columnists. Follow him on Twitter @stephenlitel.