If a 15 win season and an empty house every night wasn't enough to motivate the Wolves, tack on a summer of ridicule by the national sports media directed at the Timberwolves organization, David Kahn in particular. But wait, there’s more…
Most recently, the Wolves were projected by ESPN's "experts" to finish dead last... Not just in the Northwest division... Not just in the Western Conference... Dead last in the entire NBA! Far behind the likes of Cleveland, New Jersey, Toronto, Detroit, Golden State, Indiana, Philly, and Sacramento.
Based on this determination, it's not quite clear as to whether ESPN's "experts" have even glanced at an updated Timberwolves' roster, which is now loaded with young, athletic, high potential talent and depth at every position, or if they ranked the team that low based on Kahn’s unpopularity in the media.
If I had to rationalize why ESPN rated the Wolves so low, I would say that they are unwilling to give Kahn the credit he deserves for the overall job he has done.
The media has been so quick to scrutinize each individual move the Wolves have made rather than waiting for the dust to settle and see the finished product.
The media had a field day when the Wolves signed Ridnour as their 3rd point guard.
What are they going to do with 3 point guards?
Shortly thereafter, Ramon Sessions was traded away.
They jumped all over Kahn when he re-signed Darko, despite the Wolves’ desperate need for a big shot-blocking presence in the middle.
They mocked the Jefferson trade even though it was clear that Love and Big Al couldn’t coexist, not to mention the Wolves were able to clear 13 million off their books while picking up a couple first round draft picks in the process.
And of course nobody commended Kahn when he snatched Michael Beasley for pennies on the dollar and acquired a cast of athletic, sharp shooting wings that perfectly fit the needs of Kurt Rambis’s triangle offense.
After all the criticism ESPN has given Kahn for these moves, it makes perfect sense that they would rate the Wolves dead last.
It’s human nature to look for evidence to support your beliefs, and if you work for ESPN, you can create the evidence out of thin air.
I admit, I was temporarily puzzled by a couple of the moves Kahn made, but now that it has all shaken out, Kahn looks like a borderline genius with the enormous improvement he’s made to this roster in just one year.
Even the biggest Kahn critics have to admit to themselves (maybe not publicly) that this Wolves team has a lot of promise going forward.
Between all the young talent including Ricky Rubio coming over next year, a stock pile of first round draft picks, and ample salary cap room, the Wolves look to be building a long term powerhouse.
To go along with the disrespect shown for this organization as a whole, many individual players on the team have received negative attention and/or dealt with personal adversity this off-season.
Darko Milicic, whose career has been plagued from the get-go by excessively high expectations, was regarded by many sportswriters as the worst free agent signing of 2010 with his four-year, $20 million deal.
In an off-season that included 29-year-old, Joe Johnson receiving a six-year, $119 million contract and Amar’e Staudemire signing for $100 million over five years, calling Darko's signing the worst-of-the-worst is laughable.
Regardless of whether you believe Darko possesses the potential to be a good NBA player, 16 million guaranteed is chump change for a team that has a hard time filling up their cap room and had no better answer for their long time void at the center position.
If Darko has any talent in him, Kahn and Rambis’s confidence in him should bring it out this year.
Michael Beasley, the 2nd overall pick from the 2008 draft, was shipped from Miami to Minnesota for a couple 2nd round picks, which, in NBA terms, is equivalent to a sack of marbles.
While the Wolves’ front office and fans were thrilled to acquire him, the discount price they paid showed that Beasley is widely regarded by most NBA front offices as a big time BUST, not even worth taking a chance on (largely due to his attitude issues).
Upon arrival, Beasley became the subject of an ill-advised Kahn gossiping session on the radio, which brought Beasley’s past off-the-court issues to the forefront of discussion.
Despite all this, the 21-year-old seems legitimately excited to leave the Heat and get a fresh start with a team that covets his abilities.
Beasley does not seem satisfied with his first two years in the league and I fully expect him to work hard to silence his critics while gladly taking on a much larger offensive role than he had with Dwyane Wade in Miami.
IMO, Beasley is the big x-factor for the Wolves.
If he really has matured and gotten his head on straight, we could be watching the real Michael Beasley, the one we saw at K-State, who has the potential to be an unstoppable combination of size, skill and athleticism.
Kevin Love, the 21 year-old double-double machine and freakish rebounder, is currently working his way onto Team USA's World Championships roster. All the while, many Minnesota fans and sportswriters have been calling for the Wolves to acquire a more athletic and versatile player at the PF position.
Others believe that Love should be coming off the bench and will never be more than a good role player in the NBA.
Soon after the Wolves acquired Beasley, Love expressed his intentions to be in the starting lineup this season, also adding that he wishes to play alongside Beasley. While some were critical of his assertiveness, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to have to worry about starting for the Wolves while simultaneously competing for a starting job on Team USA.
Just take a moment to process this…
Kevin Love has nothing to prove to me, but there are still many doubters (surprisingly in Minnesota) that see Love as a career role player and hustle guy.
Jonny Flynn is coming off a rookie season in which he averaged 13.5 points and 4.4 assists while having to relearn the point guard position to fit the triangle offense.
Despite these impressive numbers, which are statistically better than Derron Williams’ rookie year, all while changing his style of play, Jonny has been mentioned in a handful trade rumors and has been written off by many as a poor draft choice because he was picked ahead of Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings.
While both Curry and Jennings were playing in point guard-friendly offenses, Flynn was restricted to a system that was built for shooting PGs like Steve Kerr and Derrick Fisher. Flynn must also have Ricky Rubio’s anticipated signing next off-season in the back of his mind.
Despite Kahn initially claiming these two could play alongside each other, this seems out of the question with all the newly acquired talent at the wing positions. For all these reasons, Jonny Flynn has a lot to prove this year once he returns from his hip injury.
Corey Brewer exceeded all expectations last year, coming off an ACL tear to average 13 points per game in his 2nd full season in the NBA. Even with his significant improvement, the Wolves have added four more wings that will challenge Brew for playing time. A full two years removed from his ACL injury; expect Corey Brewer’s athleticism to be in full flight this upcoming season.
Also, as one of the hardest working and most competitive players the Wolves’ franchise has ever seen, you can bet Brew has been working his butt off this summer to improve his game.
Martell Webster, a draft night trade acquisition for the Wolves, is finally going to get his opportunity to play in an offense that doesn’t feature Brandon Roy.
When he was brought over to the Wolves, he seemed excited for the chance to prove himself to be more than just a great backup wing.
The NBA has seen many players breakout after a few years in the league, and it appears that Kahn and Rambis believe Webster could be one of those guys.
Given the right opportunity, Martell could prove to be a huge acquisition for the Wolves and a key building block for years to come.
Between our dismal 2009-10 season, Kahn being Kahn, and our peculiar draft day moves the past two years, the Wolves have been an easy target for sportswriters and fans to pick on.
The most common phrase has been, “What exactly is David Kahn doing with this goofy roster?”
Let’s take a look at this utterly unbalanced roster from top to bottom:
Center: Darko, Pekovic, Koufas
Power Forward: Love, Tolliver, (Beasley)
Small Forward: Beasley, Johnson, Hayward
Shooting Guard: Brewer, Webster, Ellington
Point Guard: Flynn, Ridnour, Telfair
That’s strange… At first glance, it appears this roster is perfectly balanced and deep at every position!
That can’t be right!
Yes, you heard it here; the Wolves have a deep, well-balanced roster of young, high potential talent.
I truly expect all this adversity to bring the team together and help the young guys mature faster.
This time next year, look for an article on ESPN explaining how no one could have foreseen the vast improvements the Wolves made in one year; in other words, “Kahn got Lucky!”
Lastly, I’ll leave you with a prediction so you know that I’m realistically optimistic about the upcoming season.
I’m not calling for a playoff push this year though it’s not completely out of the question if Beasley and the rest of their wings really step up.
I will be disappointed if the Wolves don’t exceed 30 wins and I expect right around 35.
If nothing else, Brewer, Webster and Johnson should all provide some nasty dunks!
Thanks for reading.