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Tag:Al Jefferson
Posted on: July 19, 2010 7:43 pm
Edited on: July 19, 2010 8:08 pm
 

Al Jefferson Era (7/31/07 - 7/13/10)

Al Jefferson has been traded to the Utah Jazz for two future 1st round picks, one of which originates with Memphis and the other with Utah. As is protocol with the vocal majority of disillusioned Wolves fans, the initial reaction was one of shock, terror, self-pity and rage. Now that we’ve had a few minutes to digest the deal, let me offer six reasons why dealing Jefferson in the fashion they did is not in fact the catalyst for Armageddon as it may have originally been portrayed.

 

1. If David Kahn could have got more for Jefferson, he would have. Dealing Jefferson within the division signals that Kahn was merely looking for the best return. Utah presented that. Those who complained about not trading Jefferson for someone like Andre Igoudala or Danny Granger or Josh Smith or Kevin Martin are forgetting one vital component: trading requires two willing parties. The market on a given player is only what someone is willing to pay, and clearly, the market for Jefferson wasn’t exactly booming.

2. In Al Jefferson’s three seasons as the focal point of the offense the Wolves won 22, 24 and 15 games, respectively. It’s hard to justify dedicating 25% of your cap to a guy who can’t, even by sheer force of will, get the team to 30 wins. Put any true star (in other words, someone worthy of eating a fourth of your payroll) on the worst team in the league and they still get 30 wins.

3. Al Jefferson is only 25 years old but has already run up a notable injury history. Nagging injuries in Boston were one thing, but tearing his ACL two seasons ago put him on a whole different level. I’m not saying players haven’t come back from ACL tears, but guys his size, who were already heavy footed to begin with, typically don’t get healthier with age.

4. With Kevin Love , Michael Beasley and even Nikola Pekovic on board the Wolves have several talented pieces that can replicate, if not exceed, Al Jefferson’s contribution to the team. They are younger, cheaper, possess more upside at this point and bring a more versatile game to table, or rather court.  

5. Kurt Rambis claims to utilize a system that breaks down to roughly 70% uptempo attacking style offense and 30% Triangle. The former requires big men to be agile and able to run the court. The latter requires a focus on accurate and timely ball movement and a keen sense of the overall scheme. No matter how you slice it, Al Jefferson is not a good match for this system.

6. Al Jefferson, though still young and already having demonstrated impressive skill for such a young age, has failed to improve notably on areas of weakness within his game. The same knocks he had three years ago he still has today. Poor defensive awareness, apparent unwillingness to share the basketball and/or inability to pass out of double teams, and so on. Even the most adamant defenders have to admit that he seems to have plateaued. In fairness, some of this is due to an unimpressive surrounding cast. Some of it is surely due to ineffective coaching. Without question, some of it can be attributed to the ACL tear. All of that aside, when it comes down to it a player eventually has to answer the naysayers and Jefferson has not done this. In failing to do, the crowd of naysayers has grown even more. Now go back to #1 and the part about his market value.


    Let me close by saying that I don’t mean this to be a slash and burn job on Jefferson now that he isn’t a member of the Wolves anymore. Far from it. I’m a big Al Jefferson fan and I am glad he will finally get a chance to win. What he does, he does extremely well. I challenge anyone to name five better offensive low post players in the entire league. On top of everything, he seems like a genuinely good guy and so he’s easy to cheer for.

    I’ll liken this trade to the rare instance of breaking up with a girlfriend on legitimately good terms. You know, she’s really cool and in another time and place maybe she could have been the one. But personally, emotionally and spiritually you’re headed in one direction and she’s headed in another. Neither in bad directions, just different. You’ve outgrown each other. Truthfully, you probably should have ended this awhile ago but things were cool so you rode it out, hoping the ship might right itself. In the end, you saw this coming but at least you gave it a fair shake. Many say it, few mean it. We still want to be friends.





Posted on: April 6, 2010 8:37 pm
 

Ten Moves to Remake the Minnesota Timberwolves

Ten Moves to Remake the Minnesota Timberwolves (to get them on the right track) and Inspire Fans to Want to Buy Tickets (and support the team again).

It’s not that I have too much free time on my hands or that my life is simply lacking in quality. Rather, I’m sort of an insomniac and can think of nothing better to do at really early hours than stay up and scheme out the Wolves hypothetical future because frankly, at this
point the hypothetical is so much more fun than the actual. So behold, ten moves I would make this offseason if I were running the Timberwolves.

I read a lot of these best case offseason scenarios and they typically lose me when the equivalent of Kevin Durant ends up getting traded for the equivalent of Corey Brewer and a bag of Funyons. Where I am clearly so much better than those other people is that if anything, I handicap the Wolves side a bit in order to emphasize the plausibility of the deal. I wanted to explain that incase you were thinking that the Wolves could have squeezed and extra 2nd round pick out of Philly, or something to that effect.

There’s also one other assumption you have to operate under: the Wolves win the lottery and secure the #1 pick. They have the second best odds of doing so with about a 20% chance. Of course, this requires you adhere to basic probability and not their epic lottery curse history, which is much easier said than done. Anywho, you’ll figure the rest out as you read.


1. Draft John Wall with the #1 pick. Pretty self-explanatory. Wall is the top talent in the draft. Some say Turner is better. I agree that he is better right now but also believe that Wall has barely begun to scratch the surface of his talent, whereas Turner probably has less room for growth.

2. Trade Al Jefferson and Ricky Rubio for #2 pick and salary filler. Suspend your disbelief for a second and consider this possibility. At the time of the draft Rubio will only be one year away from the NBA. That’s a lot easier to stomach than at this time last year. Sure, Turner could be very good but what you get in Jefferson is a known quantity and what you get in Rubio is a ceiling far higher than Turner’s. Jefferson is a well above average rebounder and an absolutely elite low post scorer. His contract isn’t too bad either
considering his talent level and youth. Rubio has the potential to be a transcendent star, who the Wolves can now part with due to the drafting of Wall. Given their respective roster make up, I believe other likely top pick candidates New Jersey, Golden State, Sacramento, Washington and Detroit would jump all over this.

3.  Draft Evan Turner #2. Can a Wolves fan dare to dream? Pairing Wall with Turner would fortify the team’s backcourt for the next decade and instantaneously make this team relevant again. Just dream on it for a second. If you happen to disagree with the trade scenario in #2 at least acknowledge that if the resources were shuffled around the right way the deal would still be possible. I believe fully that if the Wolves made any combo of Love, Jefferson, Flynn, Rubio, picks, etc… available they could get it done.

4. Draft Ekpe Udoh #16. I loved watching this dude play for Baylor (Youtube him if you don’t know).  He’s probably not a center in the
NBA but his athleticism and shot blocking ability will definitely transfer. He’d be exactly the kind of player to spell Love. He may not last this long in the draft (2 of 4 major mock draft sites have him going before this). If he were to go before this pick Paul George or
Hassan Whiteside would be solid secondary options.

5. Draft Manny Harris in 2nd Round. He’ll definitely fall into the deep 2nd round meaning the Wolves could take him with one of their
three 2nd round picks. He’s limited in potential but would add another scoring option for the end of the bench. That, or he’d be a great addition to the Sioux Falls Skyforce. I like Kyle Singler out of Duke as a secondary option.

6. Resign Darko Milicic. With this fictional crew being assembled in mind, Darko would have the luxury of sitting back, making savvy passes, playing intelligent defense and scoring when the situation is ideal, all while meeting his “request” for heavy minutes in the
rotation. Fortunately, this is the sort of role I think would suit him best at this point.

7. Trade Jonny Flynn, Corey Brewer, Ryan Gomes, Ryan Hollins and the #25 pick to Philadelphia for Andre Igoudala. The 76ers were almost willing to salary dump Igoudala at the trade deadline this year so I’m inclined to believe that they would do this trade. Some wouldn’t even like Brewer for Iggy straight up, given their vast salary differences, Brewer’s much improved play this year, conversely Iggy’s plateaud play and now proven inability to be a #1 team option. Iggy gives the Wolves a much needed athletic defensive presence on the wing. I also tend to believe that his shooting percentages would go back up a bit if he wasn’t the focal point of the offense any more. The 76ers get rebuilding assets in Flynn, Brewer and #25 as well as the expiring contracts of Gomes and Hollins.

8. Sign Matt Bonner in free agency. Bonner is an unrestricted free agent and would help patch the one whole on this team: long range
shooting. He also seems like he could add a nice veteran presence on what would be a really young team. Plus, I’m trying to build a real team here. Not all the moves can be sexy.

9. Sign Kyle Korver in free agency. A few of my friends will probably disown me for condoning the signing of Kyle Korver but like I said
with Bonner, shooting is a need. They could throw this guy out there as a zone buster or simply to space the floor. I can live with all his other bullshiz for 10-15 minutes a game.

10. Bring Nicola Pekovic over from Europe. By all accounts, he’s already confirmed he’s coming. Incase you’re in the 98% of NBA fans
who have never heard of him, he’s the #1 rated Euro center. Scouting reports label him as a hard nosed defensive standout with a mean streak and a lethal scorer anywhere around the basket. The Wolves drafted him in the 2nd round a couple of years ago and it looks like he’s finally ready to play with the big boys. Perhaps backing up another Eastern Euro in Darko would help ease the transition.


So there you have it. Ten moves. Dramatic moves, but arguably realistic I believe. The 12 man rotation would look something like this.

PG – John Wall, Ramon Sessions
SG – Evan Turner, Wayne Ellington, Manny Harris
SF – Andre Igoudala, Kyle Korver
PFKevin Love, Ekpe Udoh, Matt Bonner
C – Darko Milicic, Nicola Pekovic

A good balance of youth and experience. Scoring and defense. Fundamentals and electricity.

Most importantly, what do you think?

Posted on: March 31, 2010 5:01 pm
 

Minnesota Timberwolves 2009-10 Season Review

In a few days the Timberwovles will play the final game of their 2009-10 campaign. It will officially mark the third consecutive season of virtually unwatchable Wolves basketball to anyone other than the hardest of core fans. This season holds the distinction as perhaps the worst full season performance by any Timberwolves squad in team history. Yes, this assemblage of “talent” could very well be worse than the early 90s teams that showcased Felton Spencer, Gerald Glass and Doug West. Of course, one could argue that this particular outcome was intentional. That in order to truly rebuild the team had to abandon the ‘one foot in, one foot out’ approach that McHale had attempted and instead fully hit rock bottom before they could rebuild the right way. To that I say mission accomplished, Mr. Kahn. Mission most definitely accomplished.

There is, fortunately, reason for hope. Optimism can be found in the team’s considerable assets. Three 1st round picks. Ample cap room. Youth. Blah. Blah. Blah. That may all be so, but when reviewing this god forsaken season there can be no sense of hope. No silver linings. No glimmering instances of good to hang your foam finger on. There’s no way around it, this was ugly in it's purest form. Turnovers upon turnovers. Ill advised pass after ill advised pass. Missed dunks and missed free throws. NBDL bench players masquerading as NBA athletes. More 15-0 runs than I ever care to remember. Yes it was so very, very ugly. On that note, I present my 2009-10 team grades.

(I should warn you, this is going to be a bit negative. I’ll probably even say some things I don’t really mean out of anger. Such, I feel, is my right, my allowance if you will, for enduring yet another year of basketball by the loosest of definitions and yet surely pulling myself off the mat to do it all again next year.)


The Roster: F
The worst team in the Western Conference deserves no better a grade. Honestly, there is no one on this team that played well enough to make me declare them vital to the team’s long term plans. The closest thing they have to that is Kevin Love but even he showed his flaws. Most notably, his tendency to become obviously shaken by a lack of minutes or cold shooting streak or some other slight that anyone with an appropriate level mental toughness would have overcome. Also, he was used in a reserve role most of the season and is yet to show that he can still put up the ridiculous rebounding numbers against frontline starters.

Al Jefferson, the most dominant player they have, actually had his most unselfish season but never seemed to fully recover from the torn ACL that ended his previous season early. As with pre-injury Jefferson, post-injury Jefferson continues to look a little lost when the offense isn’t running through him.

Jonny Flynn showed glimpses of both good and bad extremes. Regrettably, more bad than good. I can say that he might be the victim of being the most miscast player I’ve ever seen as far as style of play and type of offensive system go. In an up tempo offense I could see him thriving through a persistent fast break attack. In the triangle hybrid offense the Wolves run he was reduced to an undersized guard who cant shoot. His well advertised on ball lock down defense was either an outright lie or the result of criminally inept scouting.

Ramon Sessions had his moments but it was hard to appreciate his game when every minute he was on the court was a minute that Jonny Flynn wasn’t. And Jonny Flynn, as I have already highlighted, needed the minutes.

Corey Brewer was the most improved Timberwolf, probably one of the top five most improved players in the league, but he still can’t shoot well enough to warrant the lion’s share of the minutes at the two guard.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Ryan Gomes needs to be the 8th man on a contending team. Read into that however you like.

At any given time on any given day at any given YMCA in any given pick up game there are no fewer than three guys running full court that are more athletic than Damien Wilkins.

I actually felt disrespected as a fan every time Ryan Hollins, Sasha Pavlovic or Nathan Jawai were on the court.

Oleksiy Pecherov had two good games all season.

Wayne Ellington: a young guy with room to develop, who plays a position of need and unlike the rest of the guards on roster – can shoot. So naturally, he hardly ever plays. I’ll get back to this in the coaching section.

Darko Milicic. I like his game and think he could eventually be solid contributor to a winning team if given the chance. There has been a lot of talk about convincing him that he should stay in the NBA and specifically, with the Timberwolves. How about we flip that and ask ourselves the question, has he done enough to convince the Timberwolves to keep him? I'm not sure that he has.

And finally, the Wolves traded Brian Cardinal to the Knicks. The Knicks cut him. Then the Wolves resigned him. Kind of like when the Cavs traded Zydrunas Ilgauskus and then resigned him a month after he was cut by Washington, except for in the Cardinal instance the player is worthless and the team is irrelevant.

Your 2009-10 Minnesota Timberwolves, ladies and gentlemen!


The Coach: C
The hiring of Kurt Rambis was unusual because at the time he was the highest profile candidate out there. Whereas the Wolves previous few head coach hires had been straight from the bargain bin, Rambis was top shelf, and they paid for it. So far, they’re yet to get their money’s worth.

On the plus side, Rambis kept the team together. Over in an equally pathetic situation, New Jersey, there was all kinds of player drama. Guys were demanding trades or to be outright released. Signaling the onset of female puberty, some Nets players even Tweeted their disgruntled feelings. The Wolves didn’t have any of that and it showed Rambis has their ear. That’s a good thing and a positive sign to move forward with.

On the downside, Rambis failed to achieve what this season was about: player development. I didn’t sense or see that Jonny Flynn was ever getting consistently better. Wayne Ellington regularly and inexplicably took a back seat to the likes of Sasha Pavlovic. Kevin Love and Al Jefferson were given very little opportunity to play together before it was declared a failure. Similarly, Flynn and Ramon Sessions rarely took the court together. I realize these situations created mismatches for the Wolves but in the end, who cares? Instead of going with a non-traditional lineup and trying to create a mismatch for their opponents as well as themselves, Rambis quickly resorted to a safe and formulaic rotation which went on to produce an embarrassingly few amount of wins and a bountiful number of blowout losses. Could it have really been all that much worse had a lineup of Flynn-Sessions-Ellington-Love-Jeffe
rson took the court together? Would they have ended up with the worst record in the league instead of the second worst? Oh no, that would have sucked.

In fairness, Rambis needs more talent. Phil Jackson would have maybe squeezed twenty wins out this group. Beyond that, he needs to develop an identity as a coach. He’s attempting to run some sort of triangle-fast break cross breed offense. Typically, players that thrive within one of those aren’t really suited for the other. The thing is, and I really think Rambis needs to consider this, the only two successful triangle offenses in NBA history have included guys named Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, neither of which have anything to do with the current Timberwolves makeup.


The Front Office: C
David Kahn inherited a tricky situation. His predecessor, Kevin McHale, had acquired just enough talent to not be amongst the league's worst and to give the semblance of a team on the rise, but at its core, was limited in growth potential. So Kahn’s inevitable dilemma was that he was going to have to blow the whole thing up and start over. To a fanbase that had already felt like they were blowing things up when they traded Garnett, the notion of doing it all over again wasn’t in the slightest bit appealing.

The 2009-10 season is ultimately what it needed to be and at heart, what we all knew it would be: a disaster. This season was a series of painful losses followed up by a series of slightly less painful losses, sprinkled with the occasional win. This is what rock bottom is. Rock bottom is somewhat acceptable when you know that your stay on the bottom is merely a pit stop on your eventual way back up to the top. It is in this way that David Kahn will eventually be judged. A little lottery luck and a Ricky Rubio sighting in Target Center within the next year or so will dramatically help that cause.

Other than that, what Kahn does this offseason will be extremely vital. All those afore mentioned assets need to materialize into
positive growth. One thing Kahn said before this season that stuck with me was, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the Wolves wouldn’t
realistically win a lot of games this year but they would always play hard and with tireless effort. They would never lose for a lack of trying. They would be the gritty, gut it out sort of team that other veteran teams don’t like to play for the high level of effort they would need to exert in order to beat one of the league’s supposed bottom feeders. If the players didn’t do that, Kahn promised, he’d find ones who will. Unfortunately, this team rolled over far too many times this season. It led to the disgust I felt, which I’ve never had for this organization before. I hoped it would never come to this, but Kahn will need to live up to his promise on this one.



Up Next: my 2010 mock offseason, in which I speculate on things that will almost certainly not happen!


Posted on: November 13, 2009 2:08 pm
 

Fix the Wolves

The Timberwolves are sucking hard right now but no one with honest expectations should be all that surprised by it. Rookie head coach, rookie point guard, two key players coming off devastating injuries, second best player currently injured, a completely overhauled roster with very little chemistry, and of course, a low level of overall talent.

So to pass the time until this team can improve I thought about three REALISTIC trades that could be done in order to reshape the Wolves outlook.

You can play, too! Here's how. Pick any NBA team, even the Wolves, and come up with three or fewer trades that could improve the team substantially.  YOU MUST BE ABLE TO JUSTIFY THE TRADES, although your explanations don't need to be nearly as detailed as mine. For a challenge, make the trades work under the cap. You can do that under the Trade Checker at www.realgm.com.


MY PLAN FOR THE TIMBERWOLVES: It seems there are two types of successful teams in the NBA. Those that win on star power (Boston, LA, Cleveland, Miami) and those that win on the system (Houston, Phoenix, Atlanta, Chicago). That's not to say that star powered teams don't have a good system or that good system teams don't have stars, only that there are teams like the Lakers that could play under any system and still win and teams like Phoenix that can seemingly slot any player into their run-and-gun system and still be successful.
The Wolves need to become a system team. I think that's what they are going for anyways. Sitting around and waiting for a Dwight Howard or LeBron James to fall into their laps isn't going to work, especially for this cursed franchise. So the plan becomes to get as many skilled/talented players that fit what they are going for, a primarily up-tempo team that can transition in and out of the triangle offense when needed. Behold...

Trade #1
Al Jefferson TO ATLANTA FOR Josh Smith. Before this trade could happen Al Jefferson would need to return to full strength and prove that he is who he used to be. I believe Atlanta would do the trade because when at full strength, Jefferson is one of the top three low post scorers in the league. Josh Smith, though more diverse, is a non-traditional big in that he doesn't play particularly well with his back to the basket. It was well publicized last year that they were irritated with how many threes he was taking and wanted him to get in the paint more. Also, the fact that they almost let him walk away in free agency two off-seasons ago leads me to believe that they hold other players in higher esteem. After a year in which he declined in every statistical category (in my opinion, due to a more balanced attack) I doubt his value got any higher with the team. Conversely, the "flaws" Josh Smith has in Atlanta would be pros for the Wolves and their desired up-tempo style. He's only 6'9" but plays like the 7' shot blocker that would so perfectly compliment Kevin Love. He's also a much better transition player than Jefferson and wouldn't require the ball in his hands so much in order to be effective. Contractually the players are almost identical and are both under the age of 25. Sweeteners (non-lottery picks and/or expiring contracts) could be thrown in on either end in order to make this happen.

Trade #2
Ricky Rubio AND Ryan Gomes TO NEW YORK FOR Wilson Chandler AND Jordan Hill. Before, during and immediately after the draft I would have never done this trade. But since that time Rubio has made himself unavailable to the Wolves for at least two seasons, and possibly three. I'm not a fan of waiting that long. The Knicks were more than willing to do this exact trade during the draft. Given that Jordan Hill does not play at all and that the Knicks probably regretted the pick within two minutes of making it, I think there is about a 99% chance they still would do the trade, especially considering that Donnie Walsh to this day spouts off about acquiring Rubio. My hunch is that the Knicks would believe once they acquired the rights to Rubio they could start swinging their big New York dicks around and get him over here early. I'm sure there is some kind of loop hole that would allow them to bend Barcelona over In Big Apple fashion. Losing Chandler is offset by adding Gomes, who doesn't pack the upside but is enough compensation in the meantime. The Wolves actual force Gomes into this deal in order to offset the addition of two non-expiring contracts. For the Wolves, they add a young and dynamic wing, something they desperately need. Chandler’s relatively low stat production this season is mostly due to him having to default on offense to David Lee, Al Harrington, Larry Hughes and Danilo Gallinari. In other words, he’s better than his stats show and the fact that he’s being underutilized could mean he’s undervalued.  Picking up Hill adds depth and some upside.

Trade #3
Brian Cardinal AND Sasha Pavlovic TO PORTLAND FOR Martell Webster, Jerryd Bayless AND Juwan Howard. Pound for pound this isn't a good trade for Portland. However, when you consider the cash money implications I think it becomes highly probable that Portland would accept. Cardinal and Pavlovic have expiring contracts. Cardinal would help with their only obvious weakness, big man depth. Sasha would add a short-term filler at the wing. Portland has a lot of ex-1st round picks on their team that within the next year or two those players are going to be demanding a lot of money. Then factor in that Webster/Bayless are playing in and around Brandon Roy, Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez, Steve Blake, Andre Miller, Nicolas Batum and even Patrick Mills, and you realize not even Paul Allen can't afford to spend that much on backups. I think Webster is a really talented wing player. A good shooter with great 6'7" size. He just doesn't play in Portland. He would start in Minnesota. Bayless and Howard are in this deal purely to make the money work, although Bayless might one day prove some worth.

 
New Wolves Roster:
PG - Jonny Flynn, Ramon Sessions
SG - Martell Webster, Wayne Ellington
SF - Wilson Chandler, Corey Brewer, Damien Wilkins
PF - Josh Smith, Jordan Hill, Oleksiy Pecherov
C - Kevin Love, Ryan Hollins, Nathan Jawai (Nicola Pekovic)

I know it's non-traditional with Love and Smith at the two big spots but I do think their playing styles compliment each other really well. Plus, Love, though not as tall as you'd like, has demonstrated the ability and bulk to guard bigger players.

This roster also isn't exactly a powerhouse as is. But there aren't any realistic scenarios in which the Wolves could add the talent necessary to do that. It is, however, a plausible start and puts several young and talented pieces in place that could truly shine in a run-and-gun/triangle hybrid offense.

Finally, this scenario leaves the Wolves with plenty of assets to improve further. They'll still have their high 2010 lottery pick, Utah's 2010 1st Round Pick and either Charlotte's 2010 or 2011 1st Round Pick. They have several expiring contracts, which they could throw into another trade or let expire and use in free agency. Another wildcard is Euro center extraordinaire, Nicola Pekovic, universally regarded as top 3 European prospect. He should be over next season.

Posted on: October 28, 2009 4:41 pm
 

The Season Opens

In a few short hours the Timberwolves will open the 2009-10 campaign against their mirror image in the Eastern Conference, the New Jersey Nets. In recent years both teams have completely deconstructed their core veteran team and have begun the lengthy process of rebuilding around a young and dynamic player. The Wolves with Al Jefferson, the Nets with Devin Harris. Both teams feature a promising 2nd year big man, who surpassed all expectations during their rookie seasons. The Wolves with Kevin Love, the Nets with Brook Lopez. Both teams are stock piled with young potential, which may someday amount to something special or something all together worthless. The Wolves with Jonny Flynn, Corey Brewer and Ramon Sessions, the Nets with Yi Jianlin, Courtney Lee and Terrance Williams. 

As for the Wolves, success this season will come in the form of effort, development and chemistry. Wins are ideal, but if that's the only barometer for measuring success then us Wolves fans might as well start planning for the 2010 draft now. They're simply too young, too inexperienced, too injured and and too unfamiliar with each other to realistically make a legitimate push this year. What I do realistically envision is a move like Oklahoma City made last year and Portland made several years ago just before becomming a playoff caliber team. That being a transformation to a scrappy, yet inconsistent team that will be on the losing end of their fair share of blow outs but from time to time will also flash their enormous potential and beat a few of the league's best, earning the reputation as a team better than their record and most definitely on the rise. Combine that with another high lottery pick, two additional 2010 1st round picks, Ricky Rubio's perceived value, enough cap space next offseason to offer a max contract and several expiring contracts that could aide in a deadline deal, and the Wolves could be back in the playoffs sooner rather than later. Or at least sooner than the Nets.

If pressed to put a number prediction on wins I'd say somewhere between 28 and 35, which is presumably where they would have ended up last year if not for losing Jefferson for nearly half their games. I think the additions of Jonny Flynn, Ramon Sessions, Wayne Ellington, Sasha Pavlovic, Ryan Hollins and Kurt Rambis easily offset, if not improve, the losses of Randy Foye, Mike Miller, Sebastian Telfair, Craig Smith, Mark Madsen and Kevin McHale. For the Wolves to end up on the higher end of that prediction or even exceed it, the following things will need to happen.


Al Jefferson - will need to be healthy. If his knee isn't right the Wolves are in big trouble. His well documented 30 lb. weight loss seems to suggest he'll be fleeter of foot on both defense and fast breaks but first he'll need to ease everyone's fears that his knee is going to give out every time he jumps for a rebound.

Jonny Flynn - will need to be wise beyond his years. Truthfully, he's probably the best true PG the Wolves have had since Terrell Brandon. If he can come in and be more Chris Paul than AC Law, then the Wolves will be better than anyone would have thought.

Kevin Love - will need to get healthy. A broken bone in his non-shooting hand should keep him out well short of the projected 6 weeks. When he's back he'll need to prove that his ridiculous rookie rebounding rate wasn't a fluke and that his conditioning has improved. After all, you can't average 12 rebs per game if you can only play 30 minutes a game.

Corey Brewer - will need to build on the preseason. This is the first time I have given Brewer a compliment without surrounding it with a ton of "buts" and "ifs" and "maybes". He was genuiniely good in the preseason, which can be inflated but can also be a sign of things to come. Shit, I said "but".

Ramon Sessions - will need to make Milwaukee regret letting him go. Right now, he could be Mike James (circa Raptors to Wolves, 2006) having just parlayed a bunch of empty stats on a losing team into a longterm contract. Or he could be Chauncey Billups (circa Wolves to Detroit, 2002) having just begun to show what he's capable of and on the verge of establishing himself as a force in the league. Most likely, he's somewhere in between.

Ryan Hollins - will need to block a lot of shots. They don't need him to do much. Just block shots. He should be watching every minute of Chris "Birdman" Anderson film he can get his hands on. Or rather video. The kids watch video these days.

Wayne Ellington, Sasha Pavolvic and/or Oleksiy Pecherov - will need to become reliable outside shooters. Right now the deep ball is this team's major weakness and if they can't hit shots Love and Jefferson will eat non-stop double teams.

Ryan Gomes, Damien Wilkins, Brian Cardinal - will need to be steady veterans. Outside of these three guys everyone else on the team is 25 or younger. No one is expecting much out of them production-wise, but they will need to be the on court teachers to do the little things that build a winning team.

Mark Blount - will need to sit on his couch, collect a paycheck and wait to be traded or cut. Nice career.

Kurt Rambis - will need to be as good and as patient as advertised. Hopefully, all those years sitting next to Phil Jackson pay off.



Enjoy the season.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com