Kevin Love is ready to carry Minnesota to the playoffs
The Minnesota Timberwolves have not made the playoffs since 2004, but there's already a feeling that streak will end. The 2012-13 Minnesota squad has its sights on the playoffs for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era.
The Timberwolves have had seven years of bad luck. Now, the mirror has been mended, and the 'Wolves are ready to bring the playoffs back to the Twin Cities.
With a solid foundation of youth consisting of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota has a core to rely on this season. It also has a coach in Rick Adelman that will finally be able to install his entire offense. He was limited due to last season's lockout, and the team missed valuable offseason work.
But the Timberwolves are still "The Timberwolves," and have been the punchline for many jokes along with teams like Cleveland and the Clippers. But how can a team that went 26-40 last season possibly make the playoffs?
There are three answers to this question, and they will finally result in a postseason appearance for Minnesota.
Timberwolves guard Luke Ridnour provides quality depth at both guard positions
They key point is the new-and-improved depth of the 'Wolves. The team featured a forward-heavy roster last season, but they now possess a more balanced roster.
Both teams failed, the Lakers just recently, and watched more balanced teams like Oklahoma City and Miami battle in the finals.
Minnesota may have finally found its balance. It is talented at every position, and has a great mix of youth and experience.
At point guard, the 'Wolves feature Jose Barea, Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour.
Barea is the team's spark plug, and brings a jolt of energy off the bench. Rubio is currently recovering from a knee injury suffered last season. When he returns, he will use his rare floor vision to make opposing defenses look foolish.
The main guy, until Rubio returns, will be Ridnour. Ridnour averaged almost 12 points and five assists per game. But more importantly, his 1.8 turnovers per game stat shows he knows how to handle the ball. When Rubio returns, Ridnour is versatile to switch to shooting guard.
Shooting guard is the position that is most improved from last season. The additions of Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved may give the Timberwolves the most depth they've ever had at the position. Chase Budinger will also add a three-point specialist to the position.
At forward, Kevin Love leads a deep group that includes Andrei Kirilenko, Chase Budinger and Derrick Williams. And everyone except Budinger can rotate at either the small or power forward positions.
Lastly, Nikola Pekovic and Greg Stiemsma will own the center position. Nikola averaged 14 points per game, and collected about seven rebounds per game. If Pekovic can recreate his 2011-12 production, Minnesota will have one high-powered starting five.
Can Kirilenko return to the AK-47 of old?
The T'wolves offseason can easily be described as high risk, high reward. The signings of Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko may have people scratching their heads, but they will make all the difference.
Roy and Kirilenko bring balance to the lineup, but they bring potential star power as well.
Brandon Roy is a huge risk with his knee. His knee was so bad he retired last season, but now he's back.
He signed a two-year deal this offseason, and he may be the best signing of any team. His knee will always be a concern, but what he could provide the 'Wolves is more than worth the risk.
From 2008-10, Roy averaged over 22 points per game, almost five assists and shot about .480 from the field. His 6'6" frame also will give Minnesota a big body to defend the outside shooters.
He's also a shooting guard, which has been an area of need for a long time. Last season, Ridnour had to play the position because there simply was no better option. Roy will be a considerable upgrade on both sides of the ball, and he'll be welcomed as long as his knee holds.
Kirilenko is the other risky signing. He'll be making $10 million per season, and the 'Wolves traded former first-round pick Wesley Johnson to make room for Kirilenko.
At 31, Kirilenko's "youth" will not be his best attribute. Instead, his shot-blocking ability and unlimited range will be where his value is at.
The veteran forward averaged over one block per game, and he scored almost 12 points a game. He even shot 37 percent from downtown.
Both of these players bring considerable risk, and they are not cheap. But both provide depth at needed positions, and the potential high return could be exactly what Minnesota needs to reach the postseason.
Love wants to win, and he wants to win now
When it's all said and done, the reason the Timberwolves make the playoffs will be Kevin Love.
He has done a great job getting into shape, and now it's his turn to establish himself as a force in the NBA. Over the last two seasons, Love has averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds, and he averaged 26 points per game last season.
Rebounding, outside shooting, inside shooting, Love does it all. He also has the conditioning to last all 48 minutes, and then some.
Furthermore, he he's hungry and he likes the team Minnesota has now. According to the Associated Press via ESPN.com, Love "has faith in this team" and "we've (Timberwolves) have definitely added value to this team."
As arguably the best power forward in the NBA, Love just needed the supporting cast. Now that he has it, Love and the 'Wolves have everything they need to finally be part of the postseason.