Reminiscing With Ratke

Happy Holidays, friends. Welcome to the first annual “Holiday Email Exchange.” We can come up with a better name than that, can’t we? We’ll brainstorm and do better next year.

This holiday season, I asked Zach Bennett (@ZacharyBD), a very knowledgeable and funny writer for Timberpups.com. Bennett and I have interacted throughout the season and I figured, hey, let’s get this guy to write something free for the site. And BOOM, the sucker fell for it!

Without further ado, I bring to you the email exchange. Enjoy. And enjoy the break off if you have one. Don’t eat the figgy pudding.

Kyle: Well, Zach. I don’t know why, but you’re doing this. Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to join me for this. Now, let’s get down to business.

So far this season, the Wolves have kind of been what we thought they would be. Right around .500 with a schedule that was tougher than trying to smile after your aunt gives you a hideous sweatshirt that’s four times too big and could be mistake for a Snuggy.

Heading into 2014, what are some of your biggest takeaways from the first two months of the team's season?

Zach: Kyle, it truly is a treat (oh wait, wrong holiday). It feels as if I've won a game of White Elephant, thank you for having me -- I'm already looking forward to next December for the SECOND annual exchange.

Anyway, you're right, the Wolves schedule has been about as difficult as helping a sibling with algebra; only I'm the one who's bad at math. I know Rick Adelman's voiced his displeasure about the schedule few times, but, all his guys can do is play their best.

In addition to the surprising amount of back-to-back games, they'll travel more miles by the end of the year than any other team this season -- not the first time they've done that, either. It feels like victories are sometimes rewarded with red eye flights only to meet another, quality, opponent the following day. Fortunately, things on the schedule get easier going into the next calendar year.

The head is above water, but, with the Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets all emerging as playoff contenders early in the season -- it's important the Wolves take advantage of a more forgiving schedule going forward. Getting Chase Budinger and Ronnie Turiaf back on the floor will be a huge help.

Kyle: Yep. You nailed it. The schedule early on for Minnesota has stunk. I felt like I was at the arena every night in November and the amount of back-to-backs was ridiculous. When the Wolves were 11-11 before the San Antonio game, they had the third most difficult schedule in the NBA having the Clippers (2), Thunder (2), Dallas (2), Denver (2), Golden State, Houston, Indiana and Miami on that list. I mean, are you kidding me? I don’t know if there are more than 10 teams in the league that would be .500 or better after that.

The goal really should be to stick right around .500 for now and then in early January (from Jan 5 to the 21), the team has Philadelphia, Phoenix, Charlotte, San Antonio, Sacramento and two games against Utah... that smells a lot like 6-1 to me, right?

Plus, during that stretch, the team should be getting Ronny Turiaf and Chase Budinger back.

How much do you envision those guys helping the second unit?

Zach: Kyle, can't call you looney there, 6-1 over that stretch is a feasible expectation to have -- I agree.

I wouldn't be surprised if Nikola Pekovic is tending to Turiaf's elbow on a daily basis. Pek is playing a career high 34 minutes per game and, although he's consistently gobbling up rebounds and imposing his presence under the basket, it's got to be taking a toll on the 295 pound Montenegrin Mammoth.

As of December 16th the Wolves are allowing opponents to shoot over 65 percent around the rim, a league worst. That number will decrease with Turiaf's return.

Budinger's return will be like seeing the 'highly anticipated sequel' of a favorite movie series; something we've been waiting on for a long time. The second unit has been highly dependent on J.J. Barea (Some refer to this as "Barea Ball") so Budinger should serve as another scoring option, he'll also help the versatility of the rotation.

The acquisition of Luc Mbah a Moute added a defender that's capable of guarding an opponent's best scorer, giving Corey Brewer some relief. Adelman will be able to utilize Budinger and Mbah a Moute for offensive-defensive substitutions at the end of quarters, halfs and games -- part of the "playing the in-game chess match" as an NBA coach.

Kyle: Yeah, the minutes the starting unit has played is very alarming right now, but they will get their rest soon enough.

Back to the schedule quick (sorry about being a whiner, but some things just don't make sense): The Wolves played 17 games from Oct. 30 to Nov. 30. SEVENTEEN. With five back-to-backs.

In December they play 14 with three back-to-backs. Couldn't have this been evened out or something? I know there's a lot that goes into this schedule-making thing and let's be honest, I have trouble balancing my checkbook, but still...

With Turiaf and Budinger back, the Wolves get two more rotational players and with Budinger, you're talking about a borderline starter. That will no doubt help the second unit, especially if he returns with his Fu Manchu mustache. A unit that goes from Barea, Hummel, Cunningham and Luc to Barea, Budinger, Luc, Hummel, Turiaf and Cunningham? Well, hot diggity damn, Zach! The Wolves have pretty nice talent from 1-to-11. When's the last time we could say that?

Obviously health will be a concern as will the buffer period, trying to get all of these guys on the same page, but I think once this team is at full strength while adding in a schedule that can only get easier... I think a run is coming.

Zach: I'm, and I think the kids are still using this term -- about it, 'bout it? No diggity?

Alrighty then.

You've made an excellent point Kyle, I can't say the Wolves have ever been so stacked from the top to bottom of their roster. I want to ask you about the Wolves potential use of the shared D-League affiliate; the Iowa Energy.

Dave Benz sent out a tweet on Monday morning that said Adelman plans to use the minor league club to assign certain players once Budinger and Turiaf return from their respective injuries. Any insight on who that might be, and why?

Othyus Jeffers, one of the last players cut from the final roster in October, is averaging nearly 25 points per game playing for the Energy. Do you believe sending someone who's been playing minutes on the big stage, down to play inferior competition, will be beneficial to player development -- whoever it may be?

Kyle: I'll admit it, I'm not a pro on the D-League and I have no clue on how the Wolves plan on using it. I know that compared to David Kahn, Flip Saunders has been vocal in wanting to use the D-League to help develop players and after the draft, there were some thoughts that maybe Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng could see some time there.

I'm on Rick's side here, along with Flip. Why not send players down for a week or two to get some games in? Baseball (which is a lot like basketball in the fact that there are three plus games per week), has players in the minors all the time. Derek Jeter, Joe Mauer and perhaps the most famous rehab stint ever, Alex Rodriguez. If these guys can go down and play a few games, why can't NBA players?

Jeffers was one of my guys in Training Camp. I loved his intensity. His offense was a bit unorthodox and might not translate to the NBA game, but still, he's a gritty defensive player who you know is always going to give 100 percent. We've seen how valuable that can be with a guy like Robbie Hummel.

If Adelman makes a switch when Budinger and Turiaf get back, even if it's for four-five days (I'm not sure on the minimum here, I would imagine 10 days), I think it's worth it to get a player back in game shape without putting him up against the world's best basketball players, if that makes sense.

I mean, for example, if Derrick Rose is cleared in April and Chicago’s got the No. 5 seed, why not throw Rose to the D-League for a week to regain his confidence and get back in game shape? Who says no?

Zach: Now, I'm no expert -- but I've dabbled into enough about the D-League to know that I disagree with your take. Although it may make logical sense, I don't believe this is a place to send Shabazz Muhammad or Gorgui Dieng.

I like having Dieng on the roster as a safety net for Pek and Turiaf. If one of them were to go down, there's no telling where, when or under what circumstance something that tragic would occur.

(knocks on wood)

Also, I referenced opponents shooting percentage around the rim -- way too high. The Wolves need all the help they can get defending that area. In a shameless bit of self promotion, here’s something I wroteabout Dieng entering the season -- it determines that he's capable of being a presence on the defensive end, which he is.

In the case for sending Shabazz, I don't believe sending a player that needs to focus on distributing the basketball to a league where his teammates, and opponents, are inferior competition. How would that help him get better?

If there's a scenario for someone to be assigned to the Iowa Energy, I hope it's due to a matter of rehabilitation -- not in an effort to develop players. Although I do believe and hope the D-League expands into a more prominent minor league system for the NBA going forward in the future.

Kyle: Okay, I agree with you with the fact that Muhammad and Dieng (after the injury to Turiaf) might not be great candidates to see some time in the D-League, but my argument is more for guys like Budinger and Turiaf. Why not send them down for a game or two and see how they play? It can't hurt any, right? It won't hurt their confidence because they clearly know they are NBA players. This is something they've done for a while.

. Now, let's get crazy here.

What's going on with the Western and Eastern Conference? If we sent the Jazz to the East, would they be a playoff team? If we sent my sister's 8th grade hockey team to the East, could they make the playoffs?

It's been like this for a while, but I've never seen it like this. Granted, I know that an Eastern Conference team has won the last two titles and one could argue that the Heat and Pacers are the two best teams in the league, but from top to bottom, this is outrageous. Is it time to just rank the teams from 1-16 at the end of the year and say screw conferences?

Zach: I see the point on Turiaf and Budinger getting D-League run returning from injury, but if they're going to be participating in starter-like minutes -- I'd rather give them spurts of time with the big fellas if we're easing them back.

If your sister plays sports anything like you, then no -- I don't believe that her team would make the postseason playing in the Eastern Conference. Different sport, age, just too many things going against them.

It's an odd year, certainly. I don't think abolishing conferences is a feasible or likely idea, but, getting rid of divisions -- I'm all for that.

The top 8 teams in each conference should qualify for the playoffs and be ranked by record. No, 'division winner this seed, division winner that seed,' nonsense. It's still very early in the season, things could change, but even if they don't it's more likely things will return toward the way we've seen them in the past, and not continuing to be lopsided like this year.

Kyle: Funny story - My parents once asked my little sister to help carry a couch. She's 13. I'm 23. Something is wrong here.

I agree with the divisions. It just doesn't matter anymore. It's not like the NFL where you're playing an eighth of your games against one team. If there were 20 games in the NBA season, sure, divisions make perfect sense. 82 games, though? I'm not on board.

The Wolves announced early on Wednesday that Chase Budinger has been cleared for practice. Now, I know nothing here, but let's say Chase returns in the second week of January, maybe by January 15 in time for the Kings game. What does his presence mean for the team and do you think Adelman sticks with Brewer as the starting 3?

Zach:
Adelman's going to stick with Brewer because he's earned it, but mostly because he's a better fit with those particular five-players. Love's outlet passing and Brewer's ability to leak-out in transition go hand-in-hand, the starters need his perimeter defending (Budinger isn't nearly as good at that) and putting him in the second-unit with Mbah a Moute would be meaningless because they are virtually the same player.

We talked before about the bench scoring, and how it struggles, so with the chemistry the starting-five already developed in addition to the needs of the second-unit -- Budinger is a perfect fit to come off the bench.

Kyle: I think you're absolutely right.

Before we wrap this baby up, let's chat a bit about the Western Conference.

The Spurs, without their big three, just freaking beat the Warriors in Golden State. What in the narnia is going on here?!!!

Side-note: When can we knock Manu Ginobli out of the "Big 3" title and put Leonard in? Do we have to write a letter to Stern? I want to get on top of this.

The Wolves had a beautiful win over Portland on Wednesday, but when it comes down to it, I'm not sure if Portland is a top-3 team in the West. They don't have a lot of postseason experience and frankly, I don't think they have the defense to win a playoff series. The Thunder might finish with the No. 1 seed, but I still feel like they are one piece (sure would be nice to have James Harden...) away. Trading away Kendrick Perkins and his contract could help that.

If I'm doing my West power rankings in February, this is what it looks like:

1. San Antonio

2. Oklahoma City

3. LA Clippers

4. Portland

4. Houston

6. Golden State

7. Dallas

8. Minnesota

Zach: I'm not too sure I keep the Wolves in the top 8 because the way they've played; have they earned it?

It's not fair to lean heavily on a hometown bias so I'm taking a page out of HBO's Newsroom on this one.

"The Wolves aren't one of the Top 8 teams in the Conference, but they can be."

Golden State, when healthy, is a better team than the Los Angeles Clippers because the Clippers over recent seasons have shown their style of play doesn't work in the playoffs.

I agree, Memphis is gone.

The Spurs don't need a "Big Three" because; Gregg Popovich.

The man is a legend, Kyle. Legend.

Kyle: I wrote that top-8 thing before the loss to the Lakers.

That game wasn't pretty and it's games like that (and Boston... and Washington) this team needs to win if it wants to be taken seriously as a playoff contender. We keep saying the Wolves should win these games, but is there any evidence that they actually should?

Regardless, we are nearing 3,000 words. These people are going to kill us, or they stopped reading after they realized they didn't click on a cheerleader photo gallery.

Thanks again for joining me, Zach. Any final words for the good folks out there?

As always, thanks for reading. Enjoy your holidays.

Zach: The Timberwolves aren't a top-8 team; but they can be.

Until they begin matching the effort we've seen in the first quarter, throughout the entire game, they're going to remain a .500 or worse team.

Kevin Love said it best in a recent tweet, no more excuses -- they need to find a way to get over the hump.

Adelman has hinted his squad feels entitled to win, or at least they play like it; but they're not winning.

The optimism of this fanbase will always be faithful, but the pessimism may always zero out the balance if the Wolves don't become a threat -year in and year out- in the west.

The Lakers game was darn near a travesty; Los Angeles didn't even have Kobe Bryant.

I keep hearing "well when Turiaf/Budinger come back? Well, these games without them count too, i just hope when they do come back -- it's not too late.

I have no more to say Kyle, thank you for having me participate. If you ever need a night off feel free to let me know. I'd be happy to sit-in for you from time to time.