- Injuries are not an excuse in sports. – (SportsNetwork.com) - If there's a team built for the future it's the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves no longer have to worry about what the future holds for All- Star Kevin Love because he was finally traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers and will team up with superstars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Love wants to win NOW and knew it wasn't going to happen in the near future with the Timberwolves, who apparently didn't have a strong enough supporting cast around the former face of the franchise. So the powers-that-be decided to deal Love to the Cavs as part of a deal that landed Minnesota the No. 1 picks in the last two drafts, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.
Minnesota also got veteran power forward Thaddeus Young from Philadelphia and drafted UCLA guard Zach LaVine to add to a core that includes Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. Brewer still feels that Timberwolves are talented enough to move on without Love.
"I feel like we can still compete," Brewer said. "I played on a Denver team that was the third seed and we didn't have a superstar at all. You don't have to have a superstar to be able to compete."
It does help, Corey. But there is plenty of upside and potential with this young nucleus of players. The Wolves will be exciting for sure, but don't expect a playoff run any time soon. Look for about 20 to 25 wins for Minnesota in the return of head coach Flip Saunders. Saunders spent parts of 10 seasons from 1995-2005 as the Wolves' coach and was let go at the start of the 2004-05 campaign.
Saunders, though, returned to the Twin Cities in 2013 as president of basketball operations. He also took a minority ownership stake in the team and is replacing the retired Rick Adelman, who spent three seasons with the T- Wolves.
With plenty of "what-ifs," the Wolves could jell toward the end of the season when the players get used to Saunders' scheme and playing with each other. That being said, while there's plenty of potential, there are too many holes and this franchise will need about two years to finally figure it out.
The T-Wolves have missed the playoffs in each of the last 10 years, and Martin felt the team was qualified for the postseason.
"We had enough veterans to jell the team, but there was just something that happened around February," Martin said. "I couldn't put my hand on it but our team just went in a totally different direction. We dealt with a lot of off- the-court issues."
Of course the Love issue was at the forefront.
"I knew he was going to get out of here. I'll be honest," Brewer said. "But it is what it is. You've just got to adjust. We're young. It's not an excuse not to win. A lot of young teams win. Think about it. Phoenix was young last year and they should've made the playoffs."
Patience will benefit Brewer, who's now one of the top players on the team.
The Wolves went 40-42 and were third in the NBA in scoring with 106.9 ppg. On the flip side, Minnesota was awful on defense and allowed 104.3 ppg. They were 3-20 when failing to score 100 points and it could get worse with Love gone.
2013-14 Results: 40-42, 3rd in Northwest; Missed playoffs
ADDITIONS: HC Flip Saunders, F Thaddeus Young, G Mo Williams, F Andrew Wiggins, F Anthony Bennett, G Zach LaVine
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Ricky Rubio SG- Kevin Martin SF- Corey Brewer PF- Thaddeus Young C - Nikola Pekovic
KEY RESERVES: G Mo Williams, F Andrew Wiggins, F Anthony Bennett, G Zach LaVine, C Gorgui Dieng, F Chase Budinger, G Jose Barea, F Dante Cunningham, C Ronny Turiaf, F Robbie Hummel, F Shabazz Muhammad
FRONTCOURT: Young is not expected to replace the scoring of Love, but he will bring veteran leadership and experience. Young averaged a career-best 17.9 points and 6.0 rebounds in 79 games last season with the Sixers. A seven-year veteran who has played his entire career in Philadelphia, Young has career averages of 13.7 points and 5.5 rebounds.
"I'm not trying to replace 26 (points) and 12 (rebounds)," Young said of the numbers Love left behind. "Twenty-six and 12 hasn't made it to the playoffs. If we can get to the playoffs with me doing 10 to 18 or something like that, I'm great with that. I just want to win basketball games. I'm not trying to come here and be a stat stuffer."
Young is a slasher down low and creates mismatches inside. The left-hander has a smooth scoring touch and his actions will rub off on the younger players. Brewer will be relied on to supply the scoring and posted 12.3 points and 2.6 rebounds last season on a career-high 48.1 percent shooting. His scoring numbers could improve and that will only make this group of unknowns better. Brewer scored a team-best 51 points against Houston last April, making a team- high 19 field goals on 30 tries.
Pekovic posted a career-high 17.4 points and grabbed 8.7 rebounds in 2013-14. However, Pekovic started the first 44 contests before being sidelined for 28 of the final 38 due to bursitis in his right ankle. He is an underrated player who should benefit the most with Love now in Cleveland because he can focus on solely scoring and not having to share the paint.
"I think the loss of Kevin Love, I think there was something somewhere in the air toward the end of the season," Pekovic said. "Still, we had some hope that he would stay. But we tried to make our team younger, and I see a lot of new faces, a lot of younger guys. Just waiting to see how Flip and the rest of the coaching staff are going to put everything together."
BACKCOURT: It will be interesting to see how Rubio runs Saunders' offense this season without having a certain sharpshooter to feed the ball to. Rubio has become one of the premier facilitators in the game and appeared in all 82 contests in 2013-14, posting a career-low 9.5 points to go along with a career-high 8.6 assists. Rubio knows how to pick-pocket as well and his 190 steals broke the franchise record previously held by Tyrone Corbin (175 in 1989-90). Rubio played for host Spain at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, averaging 5.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.1 apg and a tournament-best 3.57 spg.
Rubio is excited to get the season started and is hoping for a large contract. He knows he will be one of the driving forces for the Wolves.
"Kevin (Love) was a superstar last year," Rubio said. "It was his team. Now we have to step up. (Martin), me, have to step up and put this team higher than it has been the last 10 years. We're gonna make it, and I think we're excited to do it. That's it."
Martin wrapped up his first season with the Wolves (10th in the NBA) by starting 68 games and averaging 19.1 ppg. Martin can score 20 points a night and that should happen often this season now that expectations are even higher for him.
BENCH: Talk about some potential talent on this Minnesota bench.
While it's still uncertain what the Wolves will get from Wiggins or Bennett, the sky's the limit without a doubt. Wiggins, who has the chance to become Rookie of the Year in a weak class, didn't dominate as much at Kansas, but was still taken No. 1 overall by the Cavs. He showed flashes of brilliance in the summer league and even displayed his athleticism. Both Wiggins and Bennett are still raw talents and will learn from some of the veterans. Bennett needs to stay healthy after experiencing a knee issue and illness in 2013-14.
Budinger missed a lot of time the last two seasons with injuries, but when healthy, he's a great shooter, going for 36 percent for his career from long range.
Veteran guard Mo Williams and rookie guard LaVine will be at Saunders' disposal, as will center Gorgui Dieng. Dieng has plenty of upside and will spell Pekovic. He averaged 16.0 ppg for Senegal at the FIBA World Cup and hopes that carries over into the new season. LaVine, meanwhile, averaged 15.7 ppg in the Las Vegas Summer League.
Glenn Robinson III, Jose Barea, Dante Cunningham, Robbie Hummel, Ronny Turiaf and Shabazz Muhammad will also come off the bench.
COACHING: Saunders is well aware of what he's getting himself into, but will the basketball mind have the patience for another stint making calls on the sideline? In what's considered a jumbled roster of youth and veterans, Saunders has the support of the Wolves' brass and the job is his to lose.
"After an exhaustive process and several thorough discussions with Flip, we came to the conclusion that he was the stabilizing force needed to lead our team," Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said in a statement. "Flip led us to our most successful seasons; he knows what it takes to win in the NBA as his track record speaks for itself."
It's not going to be peaches and cream at first for the Wolves and it's going to take a lot of time to figure this roster out. The future seems bright and some experts think Minnesota can compete for the playoffs right away. Realistically, things won't coagulate overnight and players need to develop. Saunders has done a good job assembling the roster and getting worthy talent in the Love deal.
OUTLOOK: Getting the Timberwolves back to the playoffs won't happen overnight and they could finish with one of the worst records. Not that they would tank the season for another high pick, the T-Wolves hope to find out if Wiggins, Bennett and LaVine are for real. At least they already know Rubio, Martin, Brewer, Pekovic and Young can compete. Worst case scenario is that Wiggins, Bennett and LaVine are busts, and everything the team had hoped for goes up in smoke. It's time to embrace the youth movement in Minnesota because the playoffs are not a realistic prognostication any time soon.