The Minnesota Timberwolves have no where to go but up. Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams headline a team that has more hype than the Justin Bieber Christmas album (okay, well, maybe not that much).
However, Minnesota has not turned in to a championship contender, yet. As Dr. Leo Marvin said in What about Bob? it's all about "baby steps."
No analysts are pegging Minnesota to make it to the playoffs. It's a great goal, but the team has many other things it can work on first.
Here's a checklist of things that defines a successful season in Minnesota.
Wolves fans know that championship teams win many, many more games.
We know that we're not one of those teams.
In a shortened season winning 1/3 of our games is a good benchmark. Especially after winning approximately 20 percent of our games the last two seasons.
The Wolves heard all the jokes and jabs at Kahn and company over the last three years about drafting approximately 1,428 point guards.
Then the world saw Ricky struggle in the Spanish league. Back here in Minnesota, we chewed our nails and paced the room every time we saw Ricky's stat line.
Fortunately, the bar is set low for the Spaniard phenom. He doesn't need to win Rookie of the Year or even become an elite point guard this year in order to be judged a success.
All he really needs to do to silence the critic is provide some sick highlights, keep his turnover percentage low and not let the NBA world swallow him alive.
This one is pretty self explanatory. Kevin Love's 2011 performance was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dismal Minnesota sports landscape.
If we could get some more affirmation that K-Love is the real deal, the winter will feel slightly warmer.
This is the No. 1 area where every team member can improve.The Wolves ranked 30th in points allowed last year. Coach Adelman has preached the need to improve in defending the ball.
If we can bring down the average points per game by quite a bit, it will be another baby step back towards relevancy.
This year's thin rookie class caused many analysts to peg Derrick Williams as the Rookie of the Year favorite.
He's the most buzzed-about rookie in Minny since we drafted that kid from straight out of high school.
Of course, winning the award depends a lot on the next slide.
This has been a burning issue the entire offseason. How does this team maximize its front-line potential?
Our starting lineup could include the best rebounder in the NBA (Love), a guy who can potentially drop 40 points in a night (Beasley), a play-making rookie (Williams), some defensive potential (Darko) or a wild card (Randolph).
We're likely to see a lot of different starting lineups. If Adelman can find some of them to build a foundation on, it will be a step forward.
Quick, name the leader on this team....
Many people would probably say K-Love, but the Grantland staff put it, he's the "second or third best player on a championship team." Last year was his breakout statistical season; this year needs to be his breakout leadership season.
Of course, the front office can help by offering him the right incentives to stay here.
It is also a make or break year for Michael Beasley. Hopefully, a focused Love and a hard-nosed coach can improve Beasley's leadership as well.
The Wolves have only one known star quantity: K-Love.
After that it is a lot of question marks and "potential" guys.
Seeing a "breakout" season from someone not named Kevin Love would be fun for fans, and it would give the team another block to build upon.
The only quality team the Wolves beat last year was the Knicks, and that was pre-Melo.
If the Wolves can pull a few upsets early on (the first few games against OKC, Miami, Dallas, San Antonio and Memphis are a ripe opportunity) come April, playoff bubble teams won't use a game against us as an excuse to rest their starters.
Perhaps even bigger than winning is if people actually want to come to Target Center.
Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan believes the Wolves have a golden opportunity to make their critics eat crow. Fans and analysts are buzzing about this team for the first time in a long while.
(Although, it does help that the Vikings are 2-12).
Here's to a new season.