Ah, what might have been.
The emergence of Kevin Love as a legitimate All-Star and the arrival of Ricky Rubio transformed the Timberwolves from a team with only 15 wins in 2010-11 to a team that was going to challenge for the playoffs last year.
That is until injuries killed their chances.
First came the big injury as Rubio went down with a torn ACL and missed the team's final 25 games. Then, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic went down as well and things really came off the rails as the finished the season 26-40 and wound up back in the lottery. Again.
Reasons to Believe
Emerging Stars - Kevin Love has already proven he is capable of carrying a team on his own ,averaging 26 points and 13.3 rebounds last year. He has the skill set and the personality frachises want to build around. Now he has a running mate in Rubio who has the potential to become an elite point guard. Once these two return to the court things will immediately begin looking up in Minnesota.
Losing Kevin Love to a broken hand hurts the Timberwolves chances early in the season.
Improved Depth - If you want to compete in the NBA you need solid role players and Minnesota did a nice job of improving their depth for this year. Chase Budinger in particular will fit into Rick Adelman's system having played for him before in Houston. Greg Stiemsma is a limited player but should be capable of giving starting centre Nikola Pekovic a breather. The Timberwolves also have solid backcourt depth with Roy, Shved, Rubio, Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea.
From Russia With Love - The T-Wolves added veteran NBA player Andrei Kirilenko and youngster Alexey Shved during the off-season, both of whom impressed for the Russian team during this summer's Olympics. When healthy, AK-47 is one of the most versatile forwards in the game and will contribute in nearly every statistical category. Shved can get hot and provide instant offence from the bench.
Reasons to Doubt
Without Love - Minnesota already knew they would be without Rubio to start the season. Now they won't have Love either after he broke his hand during pre-season training. He is expected to miss the first four-to-six weeks of the regular season. The rest of the Timberwolves will be hard pressed to keep the team from falling to far behind the eight-ball before their stars return.
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Staying Healthy - Derrick Williams was the only Timberwolves player to appear in every game last season. Right now, you've got the Love and Rubio injuries, but you've also got Roy's degenerative knees, Kirilenko's lengthy injury history to worry about. If the parade to the trainer's table continues, the Timberwolves goose will be cooked.
Western Depth - Put this team in the East and they almost assuredly make the playoffs. Unfortunately for Minnesota fans, the West is both talented and deep. The Lakers, Thunder, Clippers and Spurs are virtualy locks for the playoffs. The Grizzlies and Nuggets are also pretty sure bets. Then you have the Mavericks, Jazz, Trail Blazers, Rockets and Warriors also fighting for a spot. That's a pretty big logjam at the bottom that might be tough for the T-Wolves to overcome.
X Factor: Brandon Roy
Before his degenerative knees forced him to retire, Roy was one of the best clutch scorers in the game. Now that he is back, there is cautious optimism that he can be the third big star for the Wolves. But at this point, he is a total wild card. If he can come even close to regaining his old form, the Timberwolves become a very formidable opponent for any team. But there's also the chance that his knees don't hold up and he is forced to the sidelines once more.
What to Expect
The playoffs are the goal this season in Minnesota. Whether that is a realistic goal will be largely determined early in the season. If Roy, Kirilenko and the rest of the Timberwolves can keep the team in the mix while Love and Rubio recover then this team definitely can contend for a low-seed. If they fall too far behind, then this promising young team's season might just be over before it begins.
Tim Chisholm's Offseason Grade
Under Rick Adelman, the Wolves finally know who they are, and they went about retrofitting their roster to play his style of basketball.
Enter Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved, three players with the playmaking chops to excel in Adelman's version of the Princeton Offence.
The club also shed some flotsam in Wes Johnson, Darko Milicic, Martell Webster and, most importantly, Michael Beasley - unreliable relics of a past that they paid richly to forget.