The New Jersey Nets finished with the worst record in the NBA last year, but the Minnesota Timberwolves were definitely the worse team. Sure, they finished with three more wins than the Nets, but they had way more games where they simply weren't competitive. Unlike the Nets, who improved as the year went on, the Timberwolves regressed, playing out the end of the season like they were counting down the days until it was over. That may sound harsh, but it's the unfortunate reality Timberwolves fans faced.
Clearly, major changes needed to be made, and general manager David Kahn made them. Whether they were the right moves remains to be seen. Kahn was sharply criticized for picking 23-year old Syracuse wing player Wesley Johnson over Kentucky big man monster DeMarcus Cousins with the fourth pick in the draft, but Kahn and the team is hoping Johnson is a better fit for their up-tempo style. Kahn then swiped talented forward Michael Beasley from the Heat for two second-round picks, a gamble that could pay off big time. He signed Bucks point guard Luke Ridnour, dealt Ramon Sessions to Cleveland, famously re-signed Darko Milicic and brought over European big man Nikola Pekovic. Finally, in a move that illustrated the failure of the 2007 Kevin Garnett trade, Kahn shipped Al Jefferson, the prize of the Garnett package, to Utah for a mere trade exception. In classic Kahn fashion, it was a lot of activity that may not have been productive.
The problem with all that activity is that it leads to an unstable roster that is difficult to project, as SB Nation's Timberwolves blog Canis Hoopus writes.
I like what I've seen so far this preseason, but the current mixture of this club is volatile and could go south in a hurry. Martell Webster and Wes Johnson are not known as good shot creators off of the dribble, Michael Beasley hasn't proven he can be a solid gunner, Jonny Flynn is suffering through the 2nd-year Wolves curse, this coaching staff has shown exactly nothing so far, and [insert your own possible blunder here]. When this team is winning games (or losing in a competitive manner) Kahn's "plan" will seem like it is headed down the right track, as we should see lots of hustle, athleticism, length, passing (especially from the bigs) and good shooting. When this squad is losing games, it will certainly be pitched by the team as a work in progress (and, to be fair, it is), but it will also still be the result of a long-running tradition of horrific front office decisions (both pre and during the Era of Kahn). At the end of the day, this is still a 15 win franchise with an under-performing coaching staff and front office that passed on the BPA with a top 5 pick and was unable to turn additional (and multiple) 1st round draft picks into anything other than Martell Webster.
In theory, the Timberwolves should be long and athletic. The combination of Johnson, Webster and Corey Brewer on the wings, as well as Kevin Love and Beasley up front, should make them a good fast-breaking team. All that's missing is an elite point guard, and the Timberwolves own the rights to a potential one named Ricky Rubio.
At the same time, the Wolves' roster lacks top-level talent. This is why Canis Hoopus is up in arms about passing on Cousins in the draft.
We promise not to dwell on this horrible pick going forward, but we do want to make something very, very clear: This was a draft blunder on par with Randy Foye/Brandon Roy. Wes Johnson will be a nice pro. DMC will be a beast. I think we have made our thoughts on this subject known for quite some time and this is the last we will speak of it. If they were scared away by the guy's personality, it doesn't say much about their ability to groom young players (especially in light of what the Kings are doing). If they had Johnson ranked ahead of him, it doesn't say much about their ability to judge college talent. Either way you cut it, it was the wrong pick--always was, always will be. 15 win teams don't get to draft for fit...especially for the fit of a certain teenage point guard 1/2 way around the globe.
You'd also think that Timberwolves fans would be up in arms about trading Jefferson for essentially nothing. However, as TWolves Blog notes, Kahn may not have had much of a choice in the matter.
1) We absolutely had to get rid of Al. He did not fit, had a huge deal, was a black hole, and he just... didn't fit. He also had a rather underwhelming year last year, often settling for bad shots in the post and not rebounding as effectvely. So, for that reason alone it was an awesome move. The other thing we need to consider is 2) What we received. It was great to free up more cash, but one might think we could have found a better return. At least a player who's best moments in uniform will come outside of the public inter-squad scrimmage. Time will tell how we utilize the cap space and picks, but for starters a package of Corey Brewer, Jonny Flynn and 2 firsts while absorbing salary seems like a fairly good starting point for a decent trade return to supplement Rubio's imminent arrival.
Rubio's imminent arrival is really the only good thing going for Minnesota right now, and many believe that arrival is far from imminent.
Reading through these two NBA Blog Previews previews only underscores the mess the Timberwolves are in right now. Kahn could certainly emerge as the man with the last laugh when all this reshaping is done, but for now, it's tough to see what exactly he's doing. As crazy as it sounds, there's a chance the Timberwolves could have a worse season in 2010-11 than they did in 2009-10. I don't think that will happen, because they do have some young talent and some cap flexibility, but it's at least a possibility.
Canis Hoopus offers no record prediction, saying they just want to see good basketball. TWolves Blog predicts 26-56, which would be an 11-game improvement. I'm not nearly that optimistic. I predict the Timberwolves go 17-65, which will be the worst record in the league.