The Minnesota Timberwolves knew coming into this season point guard Ricky Rubio would still be recovering from an ACL tear in his left knee.
Not having one of the younger and more dynamic floor generals in the game is obviously a big blow, as Rubio is expected to miss the first six to eight weeks.
If things couldn't get any worse for the Timberwolves, All-Star forward Kevin Love won't be around either for almost two months because of a fracture to his third and fourth metacarpal in his right hand. The injury occurred during a workout and Love released a statement regarding the setback.
"I had a postpractice commitment and decided to work out at my home with my personal trainer before heading to Target Center. While doing various pushups, including knuckle pushups, which are part of my regular workout routine, I hurt my hand. I immediately knew something was wrong and called head athletic trainer Gregg Farnam.
"Although I'm disappointed that this injury happened, I will work extremely hard to stay in shape and return to the court as quickly as possible. We have added a lot of depth to our roster this season, and I have complete confidence in my teammates and coaching staff that they will step up and we will be successful during this time. I'm looking forward to supporting our team and helping out any way I can until I get back on the court."
Love led the team with 26.0 PPG in 55 games and also grabbed a team-best 13.3 rebounds. He has been selected to the NBA All-Star Game in each of the past two seasons and led the league in double-doubles (48), was second in minutes per game (39.0) and rebounds per game.
Missing a pair of starters right off the bat would hurt any team, but it just means that other players have to be ready to step up when their name is called. As Love said in his statement, Minnesota added some new pieces to the squad over the summer and is hoping to end a lengthy playoff drought. The Wolves haven't been to the postseason since 2003-04 and have finished no better than third in the Northwest Division since then.
Second-year forward and second overall draft pick Derrick Williams is a player who can benefit from the absence of Love. Williams played in all 66 games last season and has big expectations for the upcoming campaign. Williams, though, understands how important Love is to this team and that players must contribute in his absence.
"We were a little surprised at first," Williams said of Love's injury. "It's tough, but at the same time we have a lot of players who can do a lot of things. We'll be looking for K-Love and Ricky to come back pretty much at the same time."
Williams continued to reiterate how Love's injury has an immediate impact on the rest of the team. Williams even said he can get better as a player and teammate with Love out, and the chance to step up can only boost his confidence. But at the same time, other players have to contribute and not one man can lead the team.
Well, Love is actually that man and now it's up to some new faces to help out. Brandon Roy hopes a new beginning in the Twin Cities will start right away and has been plagued by knee issues the past few years. Roy, a longtime Portland Trail Blazer, is expected to start with his new team. Russian sharpshooter Andrei Kirilenko joined the Wolves in the offseason, too, and bolsters Minnesota's outside shooting and inside game.
With Michael Beasley and Brad Miller gone, the Timberwolves will rely on Williams, Kirilenko and center Nikola Pekovic in the paint. While Rubio, who averaged 10.6 points, 8.2 assists (fifth in the NBA), 4.2 rebounds and 2.22 steals (third in the NBA) in 41 games a year ago, continues to strengthen his knee, Luke Ridnour will run the floor. Ridnour averaged a career-high 12.1 PPG last season.
Wolves head coach Rick Adelman saw his team lose 13 of 14 down the stretch last season and ultimately miss the playoffs again. When Love and Rubio return they could be a bit rusty, but look for this team to finally end their postseason drought in 2012-13. The Wolves won't win the Northwest and are looking at a seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference.
2011-12 Results: 26-40, fifth in Northwest, Missed playoffs.
ADDITIONS: G Brandon Roy, SF Chase Budinger, F Andrei Kirilenko, F Dante Cunningham, PF Louis Amundson, C Greg Stiemsma, G Alexey Shved
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Luke Ridnour SG- Brandon Roy SF- Andrei Kirilenko PF- Kevin Love C- Nikola Pekovic
KEY RESERVES: PF Derrick Williams, SF Chase Budinger, C Greg Stiemsma, G JJ Barea, F Louis Amundson
FRONTCOURT: With no Love at the power forward spot, Williams' role becomes even more important. The durable Williams was the only T-Wolve to play in all 66 games last season and is an athletic specimen who can block shots and make things happen on the break. Williams said his confidence will gain an edge now that his teammates will be looking for him to contribute right away, and will be a valuable piece off the bench when Love returns.
Kirilenko is a savvy veteran who can lead the team in scoring on some nights, and will have a chance to burn his former Utah Jazz teammates being that Minnesota is in the same division.
Pekovic doesn't bring much flash down low, but is a physical player who can command double teams and open up the outside shot. The Timberwolves need more athleticism in the paint besides Kirilenko.
BACKCOURT: Rubio said he is "dying" to get back on the court and still has a ways to go in his rehabilitation. Rubio started running and said he feels good, but it's a slow process and will take things day by day. Rubio is excited to play with Roy and hopes his knees can hold up for the long haul.
Roy was an elite scorer with Portland until chronic knee issues ended his marriage with the team. Now he has a second chance to prove he still has some gas left in the tank. Roy, of course, is an excellent ball handler with sharp shooting range.
Ridnour filled in admirably when Rubio went down and will run the floor once again until the Spanish star returns in about two months. Ridnour enjoyed a career year in 2011-12 and showed what he can do when given an opportunity.
BENCH: Players like Williams and Ridnour will be coming off the bench when Love and Rubio return, but for now they've been injected into the starting lineup. The Timberwolves have a talented bench with forwards Chase Budinger, Dante Cunningham and Louis Amundson, center Greg Stiemsma and young guard Alexey Shved. With Love on the mend, expect Williams, Cunningham and Amundson to see plenty of action. Rebounding will be key from this bunch because Love's play on the glass is uncanny. Budinger has a good shot from outside and is a solid role player, while Stiemsma will spell Pekovic at times. Budinger also played under Adelman in Houston and will help the transition offense. J.J. Barea and Shved will be at Minnesota's disposal in the backcourt.
COACHING: Injuries plagued Adelman's first stint with the Timberwolves, and it appears that will happen again for the first two months this season. Until Love and Rubio get back healthy, the Wolves will have to get by with some new additions in Roy and Kirilenko. Adelman is on his way to a Hall of Fame career and looks to guide this team back to the prominence it once had when Kevin Garnett ran the show. A proven leader, Adelman can only hope he can maximize the potential of his players come December, when his two biggest stars are expected to return. That's when the "real" work begins.
OUTLOOK: Projected to finish no worse than third or second in the Northwest Division, the Timberwolves can easily grab the seventh or eighth spot in the Western Conference. That being said, Minnesota may have to dig itself out of a hole if the absence of both Love and Rubio hinder the team's success. The nucleus of the squad is still intact and some talented names were added in the offseason. Roy will be out to prove that he is still a reliable option and hasn't lost his scoring touch. Kirilenko, Williams and Budinger must play up to their potential as well. The Timberwolves are used to getting passed over and now it's time for them to take the next step in becoming a formidable foe in the crowded Western Conference.