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Minnesota Timberwolves Preview –

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min.gifMinnesota Timberwolves –
Last Year's Record: 30-52 (T-3rd in Northwest)
Key additions: Corey Brewer (No. 7 Draft Pick), Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, Juwan Howard, Greg Buckner.
Key losses: Kevin Garnett, Trenton Hassell, Mike James, Troy Hudson.

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

It’s no secret to any NBA fan that the Kevin Garnett trade was the biggest and most significant move during any Wolves offseason in recent memory. Sure, they also dumped some salary in the Mike James-Juwan Howard and Trenton Hassell-Greg Buckner trades, but these minor moves are massively overshadowed by the Garnett trade to the Boston Celtics. The Wolves got a small bounty of five players and two draft picks in return for KG, but will they be enough to replace the future Hall Of Famer’s MVP-calliber statistics and on-court leadership?  The early verdict is that we got some very gifted youngsters such as Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, and Big Al Jefferson. These guys are all either loaded with potential (Green, Sebastion Telfair), glimpses of steady and consistent play (Gomes), or destined for future greatness (Jefferson.)
Corey Brewer was the Wolves first round draft pick (#7 overall) from the University of Florda. Brewer, a versatile small forward/shooting guard was lauded as a superb perimeter defender and active rebounder, who is also capable of slashing to the hoop and providing the intangibles that teams need to be successful.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

The T-Wolves no longer have the "Big Ticket" around to guide them and fill up the stat sheets every night, but they are loaded with a young and very talented core group of players. While the team is very young and relatively inexperienced, there is good reason to believe that this core group of players will be able to grow and learn together, providing the basis for contention many years into the future. As most fans are aware, this transformation will not happen overnight, maybe not this season, or perhaps even the season after.  Fans will need to be patient and hope our youth can grow together to eventually realize their complete potential. The necessary skill-sets and opportunities will certainly be there for this group, but it’s what they do with them that will determine the outcome.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

In a sense, the Wolves biggest stength is also it’s biggest weakness. Mainly, that our squad is composed of mostly young players with little NBA experience. Also, our roster is overloaded with players, (many at the same positions), and some tough decisions are going to need to be made to determine who stays and who goes.

The sooner the young squad is able to establish team chemistry and build upon an identity, the better off the prospects for the future will become. Without good core chemistry, things could head south in a hurry. Nothing destroys a team more quickly than squabbling and infighting amongst the players. The burden of developing good team chemistry is placed squarely upon the coaching staff and veteran leaders of this team. Can Coach Randy Wittman take charge and reign in his players when the occasion presents itself?  Will he be able to command everyone’s respect in times of difficulty?  These are questions that are going to need to be answered sooner, rather than later. Once something like team chemistry begins to spiral out of control, it is very difficult to right that sinking ship.

Another aspect that is a problem and therefore technically a weakness: Roster Construction. The Wolves currently have 17 players associated with this club that have the ability to play in the NBA, albeit with varying degrees of skill. Regardless, the roster must be trimmed down to 15 players by October 31st. From there, an "active roster" of 12 players must be determined. The difficulty does not end there. No NBA team plays all twelve players significant minutes every game. This is why a set rotation and minute allocation must be determined. The season could implode if some youngsters play 30 minutes one night, but only 5, or zero, the next. Without clear-cut roles and expectations, the players could be lost quicker than one can imagine. As it stands without Garnett, Ricky Davis is the de facto "alpha male" of this squad. He is a veteran that has proven he can "get buckets" in the NBA. Another question that remains to be answered is whether or not Davis is mature enough to lead a team of youngsters and display unwavering leadership. The Wolves will eventually need to have young core players step up and assume leadership roles, to help guide this team next season and beyond.

4. What are the goals for this team?

Winning is always the ultimate goal of every club, but as reasonable fans, I don’t think it’s healthy to have championship aspirations in the near future. In my mind, the goals are for this team to play hard and give 100% effort each and every game. I’m not saying that the playoffs are out of the question, but to consider the upcoming NBA season successful for the Minnesota Timberwolves, many things will need to go favorably for the home team, and they will need to catch as many lucky breaks as they can. Above all others, three distinct goals stand out as season-long keys to success:  1) Developing good team chemistry, 2) Establishing a pecking order and set rotation, and 3) The ability of Jefferson and Foye to be able to manage increasing leadership responsibilities off the court, as well as improving their numbers on the court.

Who knows, maybe the young Wolves will catch some lucky breaks and win a few more games than people expect. The 8th playoff seed certainly isn’t out of the question. Any team that is willing to bring the intensity every game and wants it enough, certainly has a chance to nab a low playoff spot. If the Wolves made the playoffs this season, they would certainly exceed all expectations.

5. With the departure of Garnett, who will emerge to lead this young club into the future?

Point guard Randy Foye and pivot Big Al Jefferson appear to be early candidates for young team leaders of this club. The four-year college star Randy Foye has displayed heady maturity last season, playing point guard. All indications show that Foye is ready to assume even more leadership on the court running the offense, as well as off. Big Al appears to be another player wise beyond his years, and someone that the other players will eventually be able to look towards as a leader of this young club. Being that Jefferson jumped into the NBA from high-school, he doesn’t have quite as much experience as Foye. However, last season he clearly displayed his ability to mix it up with the big men, as well as take charge and bang down low. Both these guys give 110% while exhibiting an incredible amount of desire and hustle. Being leaders of this club means that they will need to continue to "walk the walk" as well as help their teammates develop into the best players, and people, that they can be. It is not just about becoming leaders during the games. These two young men will need to also lead their brethren off the court as well. Both players are model citizens who give back to the community. Setting and continuing to follow this type of an example will go a long way towards commanding the respect and attention of their teammates.

Predicted Record: 21-61

I’ve picked this record because valued forum member "WhiskeyDizzy" has devised and authored a complex Regression Analysis Win-Loss Predictions Article, which attempts to formulate a given team’s win-loss totals for the upcoming season, following the trade of an All-Star NBA player.

In comparision, his Regression Analysis has also predicted that the Celtics will finish 48-34. (In fairness, after that article was published, he adjusted the Analysis further and the new predicted Celtics record is 51-31, by taking into account at what point during the season/off-season the players were traded.)  

For those of you that are not familiar with regression analysis, these results are NOT steadfast and concrete predictions. However, it is actually quite interesting. I advise all of you to check out his article, you may find it to be pretty fascinating.

I agree with the results. Under certain circumstances,  I could see the Wolves winning around 21 games. You never know how things will turn out, as there are a lot of variables that go into an entire NBA season. While I wouldn’t be happy with us winning only 21 games, it is certainly possible. I could also see us winning around 25-26 games (or more) this season. Let’s hope for the best.