Despite the new paint job and a late Draft-night deal that brought in new faces such as former Rookie of the Year Mike Miller and current ROY candidate Kevin Love to the Twin Cities, the Timberwolves will more than likely follow an old pattern of missing the postseason in a stacked and rugged Western Conference. After making the postseason eight straight seasons, the Wolves (as their uniforms now call them) have been behind the postseason's velvet rope for the past four. Then if you throw in the fact the former face of the franchise (Ah, ah, ah - KG! Gesundheit!) nabbed a title for the team Wolves' GM Kevin McHale spent his entire 13-year career, that four season drought stings even more.
And that sting may linger. While the Wolves see a brighter future, they must make their way through the murky present, which grew a little darker when on Sept. 18 the Wolves' best player, Al Jefferson, sprained his knee in a pickup game with teammates and may cause him to miss most of training camp. Assistant GM Fred Hoiberg, who saw Jefferson hit the deck, showed he still has a quick release and got off one of the best quips of the preseason: "'When you have a heart condition and your heart stops for a minute, it's not a good thing,' said Hoiberg, who had to retire from the NBA because of an aorta problem. 'It was a relief when we found out that it was just a mild sprain.'"
Missing Jefferson for any amount of time would give any Wolves fan palpitations and could slow the progress the Wolves made at the end of the 2007-08 season. After losing 34 of their first 39 games, Minnesota went 17-26 to close out the season and Jefferson led the team in scoring 26 times and rebounding 33 times in those last 43 games. He was the only player in the NBA to average at least 21 points and 11 boards per game.
As Jefferson gets his knee correct, Love will get a chance to stretch his legs in the post. The heralded rookie out of UCLA, known for his deft passing and thought of as kind of doughy, has shaped up and has been strong in the paint. Just ask his teammate, Mark Madsen, who's no slouch himself when it comes to passionate post pugilism:
"This past monday we had a bunch of the Timberwolves players in town all together to finally play some pickup ball together with a lot of the new guys. Yes, this was the first time that I got to meet Kevin Love. The man who used to terrorize my Stanford Cardinal basketball team in his one year at UCLA. Well, on the last play of the day, Kevin Love went up for a dunk. I tried to block it and the next thing I knew I was making two unexpected trips after practice.
"1) To team physician Sheldon Burns (he is also the USA Basketball head physician) to get 12 stitches in my chin,
"2) To visit Matthew Alm of Brookside Dental (Minneapolis), to get my front tooth popped back into place.
Thanks Kev. :)"
If he rearranges his teammates' faces, it's not hard for Wolves fans to smile (toothless or not) when imagining Love and Jefferson bringing the pain to opponents around the league.
-- Rob Peterson