Wolves Players Reflect On 2011-12

Coming off a 17-win season, forward Anthony Tolliver knew teams around the league expected a certain level of improvement in the Timberwolves organization in 2011-12. Adding veteran coach Rick Adelman, highly touted rookie Ricky Rubio and veteran guard JJ Barea were all moves expected to help Minnesota take the next step.

But from the start, the Wolves realized they had a special team that could do more. And that element of surprise they gave teams across the league—including championship contenders—made Minnesota’s rise into playoff contention through early-March that much sweeter.

“Coming in and actually getting into the playoff hunt, being in eighth place for a little while really got a lot of people’s attention,” Tolliver said. “We were getting a lot of publicity for that, even though we were only the eighth place team in the West. At some point, a few times during the season we were the most talked about team in the NBA. That was a lot of fun to be under the radar and come out of nowhere and kind of compete like we did.”

That’s the type of excitement and anticipation the Timberwolves are bringing into this offseason as they prepare for 2012-13. Minnesota finished 26-40 overall but were above .500 prior to a slew of late-season injuries that ravaged the team’s starting roster, starting with Rubio’s torn ACL in early March.

Rubio continues to rehab his knee, center Nikola Pekovic recently underwent surgery to remove bone spurs from his right ankle and the rest of the Wolves continue to recover from the grind of a shortened season while preparing their bodies for next year.

No question, this group has their eyes set on even more improvement this winter.

“We’ve got to take care of our injuries,” Rubio said. “We have to be in shape, because this season was tough one, a short one. But the next one will have more time to practice, to improve, and I think if we stay healthy we can do a lot of good things.”

Barea, who won the NBA title in 2010-11 with the Dallas Mavericks, said he sees a good thing building in Minnesota. It’s a matter of putting in the necessary work in the offseason to improve the collective whole.

For All-Star forward Kevin Love, a consummate professional who transformed himself last offseason into one of the league’s top scorers, this team is close to taking that next step. He said not only did the team win games against top teams this year, but they found ways to win late in games when the pressure was on.

“Going to work every day with these guys, whether it’s the coaching staff or the players out there on the floor, we had a good camaraderie, a good electric group of guys that are ready to take the next step,” Love said. “I know it’s been a tough year, the battle of attrition that we had with guys going out and getting hurt. But I figure if we keep putting things together, we know what we’re capable of next year and we’ll continue to get better.”

With a core of players in place that not only make the Wolves competitive but also talked about league-wide, the future certainly looks bright for the franchise.

“As long as we continue to get better, use this offseason to position ourselves to make a big run again next season, I think special things can happen for us,” Love said.

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