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Team Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

By Peter Schoenke, RotoWire.comView: All Team Previews

Note: After press time, the Heat sent Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, Wayne Simien and a first-round pick to Minnesota for Ricky Davis and Mark Blount. To learn more about the fantasy impact, read here.

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

Al Jefferson is the new focal point on the T-Wolves' offense.
(David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images)
After three losing seasons, the Timberwolves decided it was finally time to rebuild and do the once unthinkable - trading away Kevin Garnett. For the franchise, it's time to move forward and see if the return of younger players and expiring contracts can re-establish the franchise as a consistent playoff team. The return for Garnett included Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff and two first-round draft picks. Jefferson and Green should see significant playing time right away. Ratliff represents an expiring contract ($11 million) that will free up salary cap room after the season. Telfair and Gomes still have promise, even though they were lesser parts of the trade. The Garnett deal also leaves the T-Wolves with baggage of some high-priced deals that tried to give Garnett help the last two seasons. Marko Jaric, Mark Blount and even Ricky Davis could be gone by the end of the season as the rebuilding continues. Minnesota doesn't expect to have a winning season after the Garnett deal. The goal for the 2007-08 season will be to determine which of the younger players the franchise can build around, which veterans can be unloaded and how much salary cap room can be created. If all goes well, McHale will be able to bring in a few veterans to add to a strong base of talent and get Minnesota back to the Playoffs in 2008-09 or 2009-10.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION

In the post-Garnett era, the Minnesota roster is wide open. Al Jefferson, Ricky Davis, Mark Blount and Randy Foye figure to get steady minutes, and even they have questions. Foye should get plenty of minutes as the starting point guard, but head coach Randy Wittman has often talked about using him at shooting guard. That could give Sebastian Telfair a much needed opening at point guard. Davis should be the primary scorer for the T-Wolves, but there have already been rumors that he could be traded to Miami or elsewhere. It's not a guarantee he'll be on the roster all season. Jefferson seems to be the best bet for heavy minutes all season long, but he's been an injury risk. He's missed an average of 18 games during the last two seasons, and this will be his first year as a full-timer.

Mark Blount and Theo Ratliff will likely split time at center, with Blount getting the bulk of minutes. But the three years and $22 million left on his contract make Blount a candidate to be traded as well.

While Foye should start at point guard and Ricky Davis will get playing time at shooting guard or small forward, there will be intense competition for minutes at the other guard or forward spot opposite Davis. First-round pick Corey Brewer figures to get the bulk of minutes here as the T-Wolves will want give him experience, and his defense will often be an asset with other scoring options on the court. Gerald Green averaged almost 16 points and 1.8 treys per game in 26 starts with the Celtics last season, so his offense could make him a factor at shooting guard or small forward. Rashad McCants could also win significant minutes in his first full season back from microfracture surgery. He showed a deft scoring touch before the injury. Craig Smith may also carve out a role even with Al Jefferson on the floor after showing promise in his rookie season as a hard-nosed rebounder. Ryan Gomes may be on the outside looking in among this group, but he can’t be ruled out after averaging 12 points and five rebounds per game last season with Boston.

Minnesota may also feel obligated to give playing time to veterans Greg Buckner (acquired in a trade from Dallas), Marko Jaric (a bust as point guard, but showed some life as a defensive-minded small forward late last year) and Juwan Howard (though the T-Wolves have said they'll try to honor his trade request).

Playing time should be unstable for almost any player until Minnesota sorts out the keepers and unloads some veterans.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS* = Projected Starter

CENTER

* Mark Blount – MIN [C]: He'll get the bulk of minutes for the T-Wolves at center. He's got a nice mid-range jumper but doesn't produce on the glass with just 6.7 rebounds per game despite a career-high 31 minutes last season. He's a better value in fantasy than real life since he's a good bet to shoot 50 percent from the floor and 70 percent from the free throw line.

Theo Ratliff – MIN [PF,C]: With the T-Wolves rebuilding after the KG trade, Ratliff's greatest value to Minnesota is his $11 million expiring contract. As a result, he may be an afterthought for playing time as a defensive specialist who will share the center position with Mark Blount. He'll get his usual high number of blocked shots per minute, but may not see the floor much as the T-Wolves give younger players a look.

John Edwards – MIN [C]: Edwards played in the NBA Development League last season and will add depth in the frontcourt with Mark Madsen scheduled to miss time after shoulder surgery. He's a long shot to win significant minutes.

POWER/SMALL FORWARD

Juwan Howard – MIN [PF]: Howard's role with Minnesota is unclear as he heads into the 2007-08 season. He was traded to Minnesota this offseason from Houston for Mike James and Justin Reed. Howard signed off on the deal due to the promise of playing with Kevin Garnett, but with KG gone, Howard now faces the prospect of little playing time as the rebuilding T-Wolves look to give younger players a shot. Expect Minnesota to work hard to trade the $14 million left on his six-year, $36.9 million contract.

Marko Jaric - MIN [SF]: Although it's a long list, Jaric may be near the top of the poor moves Minnesota general manager Kevin McHale has made the past three seasons. McHale traded Sam Cassell for Jaric before the 2005 season and then signed him to a six-year, $40 million contract. He was a bust at point guard and was moved to small forward last season, where he showed some life as a defensive specialist. With Minnesota in a rebuilding mode, he faces the prospect of few minutes this season and has asked to be traded. He'll be one of the top contracts McHale tries to unload this season.

* Al Jefferson – MIN [PF,C]: Jefferson came alive in the second half of last season by averaging 19.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.1 steals, while knocking down 55 percent of his field goal attempts in 25 games after the All-Star Break for the injury-depleted Celtics. The trade to Minnesota guarantees that Jefferson will continue to be an offensive focal point. He has one of the most polished offensive post games in the NBA, but health is a concern, as Jefferson has missed an average of 18 games during the last two seasons and has never been a full-time starter. On the other hand, his upside as a 22-year-old franchise player on a young squad will have him off the board early in fantasy drafts.

Mark Madsen – MIN [PF,C]: Madsen didn't get many minutes as a defensive specialist/hustle player when Minnesota was in the playoff hunt. Now that the T-Wolves are in a rebuilding mode, his playing time will be even less, and he's likely to be traded or even released. He'll miss the first month or so after offseason shoulder surgery.

Chris Richard – MIN [PF,C]: Minnesota's 2007 second-round pick out of Florida is a is a tenacious rebounder, but he is more of a long-term project at this point.

Craig Smith – MIN [SF,PF]: Smith surprised a lot of people last season as an undersized rookie power forward taken in the second round of the NBA draft. Instead of struggling to make the team, he burst onto the court, scoring and rebounding well enough to earn a spot on the NBA All-Rookie second team. This season, with Kevin Garnett playing in Boston, Smith has the chance to improve on his numbers from a year ago. He’ll likely come off the bench early on, but he has shown a knack for scoring around the rim that should get him minutes on a consistent basis. His size prevents him from ever becoming a strong shot-blocker, but he could potentially contribute as a scorer/rebounder that shoots good percentages from the floor and the line. He dominated in the Las Vegas Summer League this year, and he makes a nice late-round sleeper.

Ryan Gomes – MIN [SF,PF]: Gomes may be the one player lost in the shuffle in the KG deal. He averaged more than 12 points and five rebounds per game last season with Boston, but it's not clear what role he'll have with Minnesota. He's behind Al Jefferson at power forward, faces competition from Craig Smith as a tough rebounder off the bench and there's a glut of talent at small forward.

POINT/SHOOTING GUARD

Corey Brewer – MIN [SF,PF]: While Brewer has an NBA body, good speed and defensive ability, his offensive game is very raw, with an inconsistent jumper and not much of a handle. He'll likely get playing time right away, but it may be best to think of Brewer as more of a long-term investment.

* Ricky Davis – MIN [PG,SG]: Davis looks like a high risk/high reward pick this season. In theory, he should be an excellent prospect under the "someone has to score points for the T-Wolves" theory; he's easily the most proven scorer on Minnesota's current roster, and could have a 25/5/5 season as its primary scoring option. But "on Minnesota's current roster" is an important caveat. With the KG trade, the Timberwolves are clearly in rebuilding mode. Keep a close eye on training camp news. If it appears that Davis will start or be traded to a team in need of a scoring wing, bump him up a couple of spots. If it seems he'll serve as the primary scorer with Minnesota's second unit, he's still worth selecting, but maybe with a lower pick.

Why? Be mindful of Davis' downside as he could be traded early in the season to a playoff team where he may have a smaller role. It's also possible his playing time may be significantly reduced in the second half of the season at the expense of younger players since his contract is set to expire, and the T-Wolves won't have much incentive to give him big minutes past the trade deadline.

* Randy Foye – MIN [PG,SG]: The shakeup in Minneapolis leaves Foye in charge of the offense. Gone are Mike James (Houston) and Troy Hudson (buyout), meaning Foye becomes the full-time point guard. He's ready for the role, but didn't play a whole lot of it last season and has a new bunch of players to get used to. He was a good offensive player in a rookie season (10.2 ppg, 43.4 percent FG, 36.8 percent 3pt), where he mostly played off the ball. Initiating the offense with several new teammates is another matter entirely. Expect a steep learning curve for Foye, but as the preferred long-term solution at point guard, he’ll get plenty of playing time. Telfair and Jaric are the primary candidates should Foye fail.

* Gerald Green – MIN [SG,SF]: Green has the opportunity to break out in Minnesota this season. He is currently one of several young swingmen on the Wolves competing for playing time alongside Ricky Davis. Green averaged almost 16 points and 1.8 treys per game in 26 starts with the Celtics last season, and with his athletic ability, one would expect him to eventually improve on the 3.6 boards per game he grabbed as a starter. He's definitely worthy of mid-to-late round sleeper status.

Greg Buckner - MIN [SG]: Buckner is another one of those players whose on-court contributions far outweigh his fantasy statistics. A defensive stopper, Buckner only scored four points per game last year and grabbed 2.1 rebounds per contest. He’s too far down the team's offensive priority chart to be considered any sort of fantasy addition.

Rashad McCants – MIN [PG,SG]: Minnesota's 2005 first-round draft pick played just 37 games last season after returning from microfracture surgery on his right knee. A dynamic scorer in college, he was just coming into his own at the end of his rookie season (averaging 16.1 ppg in April and 13.4 ppg in 14 games as a starter) before the knee injury. He could win significant minutes at shooting guard now that his knee is said to be back at full strength.

Why? McCants is a deep sleeper since he'll be undrafted in most leagues. He's a former highly touted first-round pick who may finally find the opportunity to become a productive NBA player.

Sebastian Telfair – MIN [PG]: The New York City legend and 2004 first-round pick saw his status fall so far that he was but a throw-in in the KG deal and looks buried on the T-Wolves depth chart. However, all may not be lost as head coach Randy Wittman has said he'd like to give Randy Foye playing time at shooting guard and give Telfair a look at point guard. It seems like a long shot, but Telfair has the opportunity to turn his career around in a wide-open competition for playing time with the rebuilding T-Wolves.

Bracey Wright – MIN [SG,SF]: Wright again spent much of the season in the D-League, but he did score 13 points in the one NBA game in which he was given more than 20 minutes late last season. With a rebuilding effort underway, he's likely buried on the depth chart once again.

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