Posted at 2:19 PM on April 16, 2009
by Chris Dall
Last night's ugly 97-90 loss to Sacramento was another ignomious loss in what was one of the more disappointing seasons in Timberwolves history. While I didn't have the same rosy expectations that some (i.e. Kevin McHale) had, I was surprised at how quickly things went south for the team, and how utterly incompetent and disinterested they looked at times. Yes, they were killed by injuries, but that doesn't explain some of the lousy basketball Wolves fans were treated to this year.
But, alas, like the President said recently about our economy, I do see glimmers of hope for this franchise. The three draft picks held by the team mean there will be an infusion of talent, be it via the draft or through trades with other teams. And with Kevin McHale no longer in charge of personnel, there's hope that the team will make the right decisions.
But since we don't know yet the shape of that talent, let's take a look at the positives and negatives of the current team.
I wish there more to write, but unfortunately, even the team's biggest asset comes with some negatives. Before he went down with a knee injury, Al Jefferson was becoming a dominant offensive force, and looked to be an anchor for years to come. No, he didn't play much defense, and his passing needed work, but he could be counted on for 20-25 points a game and 10-12 rebounds, and there aren't a lot of those players around. He'll be back, but the ACL injury he suffered in January brings into question whether he can be the same player he was before. If he isn't, the Wolves are in trouble.
Kevin Love started the season with a lot of questions, and has answered many of them. He may not be the most athletic player, but he's a tenacious rebounder, knows the game, and has a knack for making plays. If he becomes less flabby and more muscular, and can develop a consistent mid-range jumper, he will be a solid player for this team. Many will still wish the Wolves had held on to O.J. Mayo, but Love has shown he belongs.
No one else on this team deserves their own paragraph. Randy Foye can be a great scorer at times, but is maddeningly inconsistent. I'll have more about him in a moment. Ryan Gomes and Sebastian Telfair are nice complementary players, but are backups on playoff teams. Mike Miller has proven to have a more multi-faceted game than many expected, but still needs to shoot more to really help this team. Players like Craig Smith, Rodney Carney, and Jason Collins are, at best, deep bench guys.
Where to start? Defense, or lack thereof. Randy Whittman preached defense throughout training camp, but apparently he and the players were on a different page. When you don't try to stop teams inside, and your guards are too small to stop other team's guards, you won't get very far. But effort is also part of it. And while I won't say a lack of defensive effort was the main reason why this team was so bad, if they had played a shred of it they might have won 30 games. If the Wolves are going to improve, they have be more committed to stopping other teams. Getting a real center could help.
Another major problem, it seems to me, is that the Wolves have no consistent second or third offensive option. I keep hoping that Randy Foye will become the outside complement to Jefferson's inside game, but at this point I'm not sure that's going to happen. Since he's not a point guard, and he's too small to defend other two-guards, I think his future is as a sixth man. Miller could be a viable third option, but that would mean he'd have to shoot the ball, and for some odd reason he seems opposed to that. The Wolves need a dynamic offensive player, bad.
You can't talk about the future of the Timberwolves without talking about the future of Kevin McHale. Back in January, when the team was playing well, I was inclined to think that McHale had found his proper role with this team. But given the way team performed after Jefferson went down, his own ambivalence toward coaching, and his role in this organization's futility, I think it's time for McHale to go away. And I think most would agree.
That leaves Glen Taylor, who has finally gotten some religion and realized that he needs to have one person (maybe even a person from outside the organization) running the show. Hiring a general manager from a winning organization could go a long way toward building a more prosperous future. But if Taylor goes with Fred Hoiberg or Jim Stack, two guys he knows and is comfortable with, my fear is that the future will hold more of the same.
It's not saying much, but the coming offseason should be far more entertaining than this past season.