Making sure Kevin Love feels the love is a must for Flip Saunders.
If the Minnesota Timberwolves can capitalize on the 2013 offseason, they can put themselves in prime position to get back to the top of the Western Conference.
You know, like the good old days.
If you're searching for something to hang your hat on, the young pups won more games this year than in any other season since Kevin Garnett left. They only won 31 games, but it was a step in the right direction.
Finally having a core to build upon and with new GM Flip Saunders taking over for the media-lambasted David Kahn, Minnesota faces nothing but positivity and a clean slate moving forward.
As for the offseason, this team does have some work to do. Nothing crazy needs to be done, but some fat needs to be trimmed to push this team to the next level.
Stabilize the Core
The first thing that needs to be done this summer is to assure the stars that everything is peachy.
Kahn was never one to shy away from making bold statements. He was a reporter's dream due to all the times he went out on a limb or stuck his foot in his mouth.
He did not leave town without taking a couple of parting shots.
During his exit interview with Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, he noted how superstar Kevin Love needs to win back the respect of his teammates.
Many of those guys really fought their way back from injury, sometimes multiple injuries. He had two broken hands. He came back once, didn’t play well, broke his hand again and then decided to have his knee done at the end of the year when the pain was such.
Love's relationship with the front office has been rocky to say the least, as we found out during his tell-all interview with Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
One of Saunders' first tasks as the new man in charge was to make sure the team and Love are on the same page. He has assured us all that Love is happy and that everything should be smooth sailing from here on out.
While Love may have been happier than the recent $190 million winner of the Mega Millions when informed of Kahn's firing, one man who was not jumping for joy was Ricky Rubio.
Ric Bucher of CSNBayArea.com reported that Rubio and his family were quite upset over the move. The situation will most likely blow over, but it is worth mentioning. Rubio was Kahn's guy. Kahn stuck his neck out and drafted Rubio knowing how difficult it would be explaining to the media that his first draft pick would be staying in Spain for two years.
Kahn even drafted 52 other point guards that year to cover his own behind (enough with the point guard jokes already, right?).
Get a Shooting Guard
It cannot be said enough: Minnesota needs shooting guards.
Whether it be opening up the checkbook for a player like O.J. Mayo—whom they are rumored to already be targeting, according to Matt Moore of CBSSports—Kevin Martin, Tyreke Evans or J.J. Redick, this group will be stuck in the mud without a capable off-ball guard.
The Timberwolves could swing a trade for Eric Gordon. They could stay put at their likely top-10 drafting position and snag Victor Oladipo or Shabazz Muhammad. They could even re-sign Chase Budinger and develop Alexey Shved.
If the boys in the front office are feeling extra adventurous, they could even try to swing a trade and move up in the draft for the super-athletic Ben McLemore.
This squad just has too many options for this to be an issue again next season. The T-Wolves haven't had a franchise shooting guard since...well, forever.
Luke Ridnour is a backup point guard, and that's it. For too many times, fans have had to watch guards blow past him for and-1s. Ridnour resorts to hand slaps to stop players after they burn him. It simply has to stop.
Flip Saunders cannot fill this hole with a temporary band-aid. Kahn's signing of Brandon Roy was like trying to stop a flash flood with sandbags. It also cannot be another low-risk, high-reward move like the Michael Beasley or Darko Milicic acquisitions.
A shooting guard might be the only thing keeping this team from contention. The power forward cannot continue to be the most reliable outside threat if the team wants to contend for an NBA title.
Minnesota shot 30 percent from three-point range this season, which was last in the league. While Love and Budinger missed most of the season, it is still no excuse. If Victor Oladipo out of Indiana falls to the Timberwolves in the first round, they must jump all over him. A reliable offensive force that can shut down wing players with ease is the last piece to round this team into form.
The recipe is simple. No major overhauls need to be done this offseason. Saunders only needs to bring in a dynamic shooting guard for this team to succeed.
Bring Back Pekovic
Most importantly, the T-Wolves must bring back the best center they ever had. Minnesota was awful when its anchor was out of the lineup this season.
Nikola Pekovic heads into this offseason as a free agent looking for a huge payday. He has also expressed his "100 percent" desire to stay put, according to Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press.
When "Pek" entered the league, he could not stay out of foul trouble to save his life. Two years later, he has improved his game to the point where he is a legitimate top-10 center in the NBA.
In a league becoming more wing oriented, having a bullish center to toss the ball into during offensive lulls has become a luxury. Few centers are capable of carving out space and racking up easy buckets like Pekovic can.
The playoffs are showing that the West is wide open. The two teams in the conference finals in the Memphis Grizzles and San Antonio Spurs still run completely through their big men. Memphis' offense starts and ends with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph down low, and the Spurs' entire team still flows through the seemingly immortal Tim Duncan.
With Pekovic back in the fold, he and Love would form one of the scariest low-post combinations in basketball. They also complement each other perfectly due to Love's outside shooting prowess.
Pek also acts as Rubio's security blanket. The "Pek and Roll" between them works to perfection, with Pekovic laying out little point guards and then finishing jaw-dropping dimes from Rubio at the rim.
Whatever Pekovic warrants on the open market, Minnesota has to pay him.
Once again, this offseason does not need to be as drastic as past ones. A little fine-tuning and refueling should get this team to the top of the West once again.