Things in Wolvesland were magical from the beginning. Ricky Rubio was even better than advertised. Kevin Love was psychotic, making a lot of fans wish they would have given him the supermax contract after all. Nikola Pekovic was emerging before our eyes. Luke Ridnour was enjoying his best season as a pro. Rick Adelman’s coaching prowess was tangible from the start of training camp and on. Best of all, the walking detriments like Anthony Randolph, Darko Milicic and Martell Webster were confined to limited reserve roles. The Wolves were rolling along at 22-20. Admittedly, not the stuff dynasties are made of but for a team that hadn’t surpassed the 17 win mark since 2008-09 it was a major step in the right direction. There was buzz all around the franchise. Games (plural) were selling out. Nationally televised games were popping up. The words “Wolves” and “playoffs” were being mentioned in the same sentence, and not with the words “will never make” in between. The long suffering of Wolves fans was seemingly coming to an end.
Then, in the closing seconds of a heartbreaking three point loss to the Lakers back in early March, the season, for all intents and purposes, came to an end. Rubio tore his ACL and that was that.
The Wolves managed to stay scrappy for a couple of weeks but then everyone else got hurt and what started as a season of promise and redemption quickly changed course and ended like all the others in recent history: shit.
In this shortened 66 game season, Rubio missed 25 games, Love missed 11, Pekovic missed 20, Ridnour missed 13, Beasley missed 19, and Barea missed 26. That’s just way too much injured time from your six best players for an already depth starved team like the Wolves to overcome.
I could go on blasting half the roster for not stepping up when other players went down, but really, what’s the point? You don’t need me to tell you that Martell Webster is the worst 3 point specialist in NBA history, or that Wesley Johnson is good at nothing, or that Anthony Randolph is like the Lion, Tinman and Scarecrow all in one. You already know this, don’t you?
Looking ahead, the Wolves are entering a critical offseason. David Kahn will begin his 4th season as GM. His personnel moves throughout his first three seasons have been hit or miss, but the true misses (Jonny Flynn, Wes, Martell, Darko) plus the ultimately ineffectual moves (Randolph, Michael Beasley) are starting to outweigh the big hits (Rubio, Rick Adelman). To his credit, Kahn was initially very successful in unloading many of the bloated contracts McHale had brought on board, but that (manipulating the cap) was supposed to be his specialty. The thing no one knew about him was if he’d be able to actually put a winner together. We still don’t know the answer to that.The roster breakdown for next year follows. These are players who are locked in and their salary due.
Kevin Love – 13.6
Derrick Williams – 4.9
Nikola Pekovic – 4.6
JJ Barea – 4.4
Wes Johnson – 4.2
Luke Ridnour – 4.1
Ricky Rubio – 3.7
Wayne Ellington – 2.0
Malcolm Lee – 0.7
If I were in charge, the following players would be dispensed.
Michael Beasley – 8.1 (RFA, don’t make the qualifying offer)
Martell Webster – 5.7 (decline team option)
Darko Milicic – 5.2 (amnesty or buy out)
Brad Miller – 5.1 (decline team option)
Anthony Randolph – 4.0 (RFA, don’t make the qualifying offer)
Anthony Tolliver – 2.0 (UFA)
Let’s just assume the salary cap stays the same. That leaves the Wolves with guaranteed contracts worth a combined 42.2 mil, which translates to being approximately 14 mil under the cap. 14 million is enough to make a splash in free agency. If the right free agents aren’t there, it’s enough to eat a big contract in a cap clearing move by another team. Of course, the big contract has to also be attached to a good player.
The way I see it, this season showed us that Wolves have five legitimate NBA basketball players. Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea. In that order. Their wing play is atrocious. Simply terrible. They have no one at either SG or SF who can create a shot or break down a defense. That’s the biggest area of need. Then they also need an athletic and defensive shot blocker type to play some center when the matchup calls for it. The rotation for next season right now looks something like this.
PG: Ricky Rubio – Luke Ridnour – JJ Barea
SG: ???????? - ??????????
SF: ???????? – Wesley Johnson
PF: Kevin Love – Derrick Williams
C: Nikola Pekovic - ?????????
Those question marks, especially at the wing spots, need to be replaced with competent players. At least one of them needs to be a high level player, no lower than an Andre Igoudala/Monta Ellis/Rudy Gay type in terms of talent and production.
Do the Wolves have the assets to pull it off? I don’t know. But I would be open to trading anyone not named Love and Rubio in order to land a true star. Derrick Williams, in particular, could have some high value to a team nearing a rebuilding phase.
Do the Wolves have the right personnel to execute such an offseason? Again, that’s up for debate. Kahn has been talking about adding a star via a “signature move” since day 1. He is yet to deliver. Some claim that RJ Adelman (Rick’s son) was brought into the front office as a way to ensure that Rick has his say in personnel decisions. Let’s hope so, because at his age I can’t see Coach Adelman wanting to be especially patient with the high number scrubs Kahn has assembled for him so far.
For Wolves fans, we got a taste of what could be, which creates some optimism for the future. There’s also plenty of reason to feel snake bitten – like this franchise is doomed to fail. Ultimately, we’re headed towards another summer of hope and an eagerness to move on from the season that was.