Looking Ahead with Dean Cooper

Jonah Ballow
Wolves Editor/Writer

Jonah Ballow with Dean Cooper

Jonah: Welcome to Timberwolves.com, I'm here with Dean Cooper, assistant coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and let's look at next year and what Wolves fans can appreciate and be excited for going in to 2009-2010. This is going to be a team that's pretty loaded with young talent and also a chance to see a new up-tempo style of basketball.

Dean: Yeah, you know I think if you look at our team, any young team goes through growth spurts and you look at how we played in January and we were playing well. Then of course Al gets hurt just before the All-Star break and we played well but maybe didn't make it over the hump a couple times against a couple of the better teams. Kevin Love is the leading offensive rebounder in the league right now percentage wise, Al was playing good, we've made progress with Sebastian, Brewer's been out and we'll have him back. Unfortunately our fans haven't been able to see our team as we would want it to exist, and then obviously always getting a year older you hope that when you keep guys together continuity, you can take a step forward similar to what Portland's done the last couple years.

Jonah: Talk about that process of rebuilding a team. Obviously KG was the focal point of the Wolves franchise for several years, and they made a run to the playoffs, the Western Conference Finals. Now you're in a rebuilding process, but it might not be as long as Wolves fans might think with Al Jefferson on the roster.

Dean: Yeah, centerpieces like Al, adding a guy like Kevin Love, having a guy like Randy Foye who can score, having good pieces, having Brewer who's getting better, having Mike Miller. It's an unfortunate thing in sports--I went through it in Houston when Hakeem left--is whenever a franchise player leaves, it's very rarely do you have immediate success. There's always a rebuilding process, especially in our league where you basically have to trade money for money, so you can't trade a guy who made a lot of money like Kevin did for guys who don't, so it's really hard to make it work. There are almost always growing pains after you trade not only a franchise player but also a hall of fame player.

Jonah: Now, we got a glimpse at how good this team can be in January, a great month, and it was really exciting basketball here at the Target Center. We got to see this team play an up-tempo style of basketball, and I think that's the been the most exciting thing watching this team grow, along with head coach Kevin McHale moving in and changing the focus of this team. How do you see that moving forward, taking the glimpse of January into all of next season?

Dean: Well, I know this: it's a delicate thing having been in Houston with Yao for instance, when you have a guy like Al, like Yao, Dwight Howard who you need to throw the ball into to utilize him is, you have to find that balance between playing with pace or more up-tempo, but not running them out of the game or having them not involved. I think that in January we found that sort of balance, and that's always the tricky thing when you have a guy you want to touch the ball on the block, because if you just run, your most dangerous weapon--Al, Yao, Dwight--they're not involved in the play. You sort of have to find that balance, and I felt like in January we had made some progress in that area.

Jonah: I don't think you can talk about specifics about players in college and drafting them and coming in, but you guys are stocked with picks coming into next season. If you can break it down to a type of player or players that you'd like to surround this team with, what do you guys look for next season?

Dean: Well, I think having been on both sides, the coaching side and the personnel side, I think what those guys will try to do, and I don't want to speak for our personnel, but I think every organization generally is going to try to just get the best player available. If it's a duplicate position, I think that's the only time it's hard. Sometimes that comes up, and it's more difficult when it's at the top of the draft, early in the draft, and then it's a duplicate position. We're in a good situation; our personnel guys will do a good job. We have three picks, possibly four and we have assets. Picks are always worth something, so even if you don't pick a guy, you flip him into a veteran player to add to these good young guys. I think you always just get the best player available and if it is a duplicate player, unless it's extremely problematic, you just try to work your way out of it later. There have been teams that haven't taken the best player and they've tried to make it more position-specific and oftentimes that really doesn't work out.

Jonah: I've heard you're famous for the numbers game; you're the numbers guy on the team. I guess the best way to look at it for next season is, what kind of numbers are you looking at this year that will translate into wins next season.

Dean: There are a couple things. We have six win factors that we look at every game, every 10 games, and then cumulative. When we went through January, we were really good, and mostly that has to do with shot distribution, knowing where the best shots on the floor are to get and where the worst to give up conversely. There's a couple areas that we sort of hone in on this year coming in. When I got hired in August, analyzing it and two of the six factors we've been superb. Two of the six we've probably stayed about even, and two of the six we haven't had much improvement. I'm not going to get into what exactly those are, but I think two of the areas we've really have made good improvements, and two areas we haven't got much better, and we keep trying to figure out ways to do it. That's our job. Some of that has to do with not having Al and not having Brew, really not having Brew in one of the areas in particular makes it difficult. It's like trying to play any game, any card game: you've got to play probabilities. We have certain things we want to give up. People have this perception that you can take away everything, you can't. NBA players are too good, so you have to take away something and try to only give up other things, and if they beat you on those nights, then you just tip your hat and say hey, they did what they had to do to win. We'll try to clean those areas up.

Jonah: Finally, for Wolves fans looking to head out to the Target Center next year, what could be a very good up and coming team here in the Western Conference, what should they look for here at the Target Center here next season?

Dean: Well, like I said, mostly I think we're going to try to do what we did in January: play with more pace, get up-and-down a little bit but keep Al integrated obviously. Every good player makes a huge jump from the rookie year to sophomore year and Kevin Love is certainly a good player. Having Brew back will help, having Al back, everybody's a year older, everybody's been in it together. There were a lot of new parts and it's not just that they were young, Brian Cardinal, Jason Collins, Mike Miller were new, so you go right down that line and it takes a while. I think they can look forward to pace, I think they can look forward to understanding how to play off Al more, which is something else I thought we figured out in January. He figured out how to make guys play off of him, and we figured out how to play off him better, and then hopefully you've got to win some games to believe that you can win some games. There are growing pains just like any other business. No stockbroker is as good as they are in year one than they are in year fifteen. No banker is as good as they are in year fifteen as they are in year twenty-five. It's growing pains, that's the way it is, but fortunately for our fans we have good kids who want to be good, and for ourselves as a staff.

Jonah: It can be a quick turnaround and exciting times, so Wolves fans need to jump on the wagon now, get ready for next season, which could be a huge spurt for this young team.

Dean: Yeah, I think so. We're always optimistic, but I think that if you look at what was going on when we finally got healthy, and then Al got hurt. You should get on early. I know ticket prices are dropping, I know that's a big deal; we're trying to get people in the building, and be a part of it. There's going to be something good happening here, and it's probably not that far away, so why not enjoy it from the beginning instead of jumping in two-thirds of the road.

Jonah: Great stuff. Assistant coach Dean Cooper, right here at the Target Center. Thank you so much for your time.

Dean: Yeah, thanks.

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