The Timberwolves Top 5 Offseason Objectives

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations David Kahn joked as he entered Friday’s season-ending press conference about the severely different paths the team took during the 2011-12 campaign. Would the media like to talk about the first two-thirds of the season, he asked, or the final six weeks of the year?

That distinct divide is the difference between the Timberwolves taking the leap into playoff consideration and fading down the stretch. The Wolves, who heading into March 9 were in the thick of the postseason race, turned a 17-win season a year ago into palpable excitement each night and a true ad campaign around the Twin Cities and the state: Everybody is talking about the Wolves.

But injuries halted all the progress, and the Timberwolves got an opportunity to evaluate which pieces would be good complements to their core group of forward Kevin Love and guard Ricky Rubio moving forward. Kahn said beyond those two players, any possibility to make the team better is on the table and all potential moves will be explored.

“We have to get better around our core group,” coach Rick Adelman said. “I’ve said it before you can improve through three areas. You can improve through the draft; now we have a first round pick. Then free agency, obviously, and trades, and the other area is improving your own young people and get better and see how you can help us.”

If the Timberwolves have a successful offseason in those three areas, Minnesota likely will be right back in the thick of the playoff race next season. When at full strength this winter, the Wolves were a team that opposing clubs knew wouldn’t be an easy matchup. Even on the final night of the regular season, ravaged by injuries and a 5-20 finish since Rubio’s injury on March 9, Denver coach George Karl said the Wolves are in position to take that next step next year.

“They have a lot of pieces. They’ll probably have to make some maneuvering to balance their roster out in whatever way they think is best for them,” Karl said. “If Rubio comes back healthy, they’ll be in a good place. They made good steps forward. Most of their roster is really young and really energetic.”

Heading into the offseason, here are the top five focal points for the Timberwolves offseason that will put them in position to succeed in 2012-13.

  • Regain team health: It all starts with health, particularly with Rubio and Love. Adelman said if anyone has the determination and the drive to make a full, speedy recovery at his age from an ACL tear, it’s Rubio. And he’s right. Rubio is scheduled to get his crutches off soon and will dive further into his leg rehabilitation then, but in the meantime he is working on his upper body strength daily. His attitude he brought to the court is showing in the weight room. But the bottom line is Rubio’s health is crucial to the team’s success, and the 6-9 month target for full recovery places him in the September to December range.

    Love, who suffered a concussion on April 11, was cleared to play the final two games of the year but did not for precautionary measures. Love became one of the hardest players to contain offensively this season. He was the league’s fourth leading scorer and second leading rebounder, led the league in double-doubles, proved he can make the game-winning shot and became a constant 3-point threat. Love lost 25 pounds in the offseason and made yet another step in his development one year after being the NBA’s Most Improved Player. Now, Wolves player development coach Shawn Respert said Love’s main goal needs to be motivating his teammates to improve. He has reached a level in his game where he is arguably the best power forward in the game. Now, he needs to elevate his teammates’ games, and that begins with offseason workouts.

    Guard JJ Barea missed 25 games, guard Luke Ridnour missed 13 games and forward Michael Beasley and guard Martell Webster each missed 19 games. When healthy, the Wolves proved to be a formidable club. Health will be an important part of their chances next season.

  • Rookies taking the next step: Forward Derrick Williams and guard Malcolm Lee each showed they have the athletic ability to play in the NBA—Williams’ early-season alley-oop slams made for constant highlight reel material, and Lee’s defensive ability makes him a viable combo guard in the league. Now, the two need to take the next step in their development. Williams showed flashes of the aggressiveness he used to dominate the Pac 10 in college, but after Love’s concussion Williams lost his spot in the starting lineup to Anthony Randolph in the final two weeks of the year. He needs to improve his jump shooting, work on his defense and continue to improve his finishing at the rim.

    Lee’s main objective is getting familiar with the offense. He picked it up as he went along, but he missed more than half of the regular season after knee surgery and simply needs time to adjust to the speed of the game. But in the final month with extra playing time after Rubio and Luke Ridnour’s injuries, Lee showed his quickness and his ability to make tough passes.

  • Big offseason for Pek: Center Nikola Pekovic entered the year virtually as an unknown around the NBA. He finished the season as a viable Most Improved Player candidate and a bruising force in the paint that opposing clubs needed to gameplan against. Pekovic got his opportunity to play in mid-January, and by February he was right alongside Love and Rubio in being responsible for the Wolves success (he averaged 16.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game in February, 17.4 points and 8.6 boards in March). Pekovic will have surgery on May 15 to remove bone spurs on his right ankle, and he said he’ll spend time rehabbing both in the U.S. and in Montenegro. With a full recovery, he is in position to be a force around the basket for years to come. “Pekovic and Kevin Love is a dynamic duo. They sky’s the limit for that team,” Indiana center Roy Hibbert said over All-Star Weekend.

  • Taking advantage of their first round pick: The Timberwolves earned the 18th overall draft pick in June 28th’s NBA Draft thanks to Utah’s playoff berth. This year’s draft is viewed as being deep in talent, giving Minnesota an opportunity to use the pick itself or package the pick in a trade. Kahn said either option is on the table. The Wolves’ two main concerns this offseason are balancing their team and adding talent at the shooting guard and small forward positions. “It’s another arrow in the quiver,” Kahn said. “It’s one more thing you can have to either use to take a player or to package in a trade. It’s as simple as that.”

  • Decisions on free agents: Minnesota will need to make a decision on what to do with the free agents on their roster. Forwards Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph are restricted free agents, while forward Anthony Tolliver is an unrestricted free agent. Beasley started the year as a starter but moved to a reserve role after an early-season injury. He finished the year with 11.5 points per game and a 44.5 percent shooting percentage. Randolph earned the starting power forward spot from Derrick Williams after Love’s late-season injury and made the most of his opportunity. He scored in double figures in five of the final eight games and had two double-doubles and 22 blocks during that span. Tolliver proved to be a worthy role player who brought energy both on the bench and on the court. When he went weeks without seeing much playing time, he kept himself ready and stepped in whenever the coaching staff called his name. Tolliver plans to spend the offseason working out in the Twin Cities.

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