July 31, 2007: This was the day that the Minnesota Timberwolves stopped being relevant for most NBA fans outside of the state.
Kevin Garnett, the former MVP, 10-time all-star and heart of the embattled young franchise was traded away for a myriad of forgettable players and draft picks. It was a historic day outside of Minnesota too, as it became the largest trade ever for one player (a ridiculous seven-for-one) and propelled the two franchises involved into complete opposite directions.
Since the trade, everyone knows how the Boston Celtics have been to two of the last three NBA Finals, winning one. That end of the trade has been widely publicized. On the other end of the spectrum, the Wolves have been in "rebuilding" mode—three forgettable seasons finishing with a combined 61 wins and three lottery finishes. They were actually painful to watch.
However, something is…different this season. Clearly, at 15-50, they aren’t contending for a title or even a playoff spot. But they are interesting again. They’ve slowly started to regain the interest of the casual basketball fans in the area, and they even have started making the occasional appearance on SportsCenter (and not only in Friday’s Not Top 10 Plays).
So, without any further ado, here are the top five reasons you should be paying attention to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
1. Kevin Love
Obviously he is the biggest reason for optimism amongst the Wolves. At this point, it doesn’t seem like he is ever going to be “The Man” on a championship level team. But let’s be honest, there is only maybe five or six guys who can legitimately say that right now.
Love can be, however, a good second-best or even a great third-best player on a championship-caliber team. He has established himself as an elite rebounder (15.8 rpg) in a league where that is extremely rare, a real inside-outside threat (43 percent from 3, 20.9 ppg overall), and a genuinely fun-to-watch hustle player. Oh, and did I mention he is only 22 years old?
2. Michael Beasley
Started of the season with a bang, and has slowed since due to a few nagging ankle injuries. But, the biggest thing being overlooked here is that he is starting to shed the two stigmas that caused Miami to essentially give him away after only two seasons: “bad boy” and “bust.”
The Bad Boy stigma that was caused by multiple marijuana issues has all but gone away with his seemingly stellar off court behavior in Minnesota. And as far as being a “bust,” he is starting to pull away from that as well.
While averaging 19.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg in his third year might not be what the Heat were expecting when they took him second overall in the 2008 draft, to say he is a bust is an extreme stretch. Again, is he going to be the best player on a championship contender? No. But he could certainly be an outstanding third scoring option for such a team. And by the way, Beasley is also only 22 years old.
3. Wes Johnson
The only rookies anyone has been talking about this year have been have been the Poster Child Blake Griffin and the Human Blur John Wall. But sort of flying under the radar this year with a sneakily solid rookie campaign has been the Timberwolves greenhorn taken fourth in last year’s draft.
Sure, he’s not posting ridiculous numbers or dunking more than a cop at Crispy Crème, but he has become one of the more consistent members of the team. At 9 points and 3 rebounds per game he clearly isn’t going to be mentioned in any Rookie of the Year discussions, but he has also stepped up as the team’s best perimeter defender and provides a great offensive spark at times with his ability to hit threes in bunches.
4. David Kahn
I know, typically Kahn is the subject of a joke when it comes to his decision making. I couldn’t agree more that he completely screwed up the Rubio/Flynn/Curry draft situation. And Darko Milicic is an extremely underwhelming “big signing” for the best free-agent class ever. But what I like is that he isn’t afraid to make a move.
There are too many general managers for subpar teams who sit back and don’t make moves, and really never get better. Let’s be honest: no one expected LeBron or even a guy like Rudy Gay to sign in Minnesota when there were dozens of contenders vying for their services. So rather than sit back like so many other teams and go nowhere, Kahn made some moves.
He managed to get the team’s second best player for practically nothing from Miami. And all season long, in the midst of Carmelo and other major trade talks, Kahn has been willing to throw his name in the mix as a third party.
Granted, each of these may not score the Wolves a superstar, but they are starting to collect assets. Whether these assets eventually grow into valuable pieces of the team or are traded for a star or draft picks, I like that we have them.
5. Ricky Rubio
Ah yes, El Nino. Sure, he was one of three point guards that Kahn drafted in the 2009 draft. But he is by far the biggest piece to the David Kahn puzzle as a GM. It was a major gamble drafting him at the time because of the fact that he might refuse to ever play here. But Kahn seemed to have called his bluff, patiently waiting the two years for him to play out his Spanish contract, and that brings us to the climax of this mini-drama.
By next season, we will know the fate of Rubio and the Timberwolves. He will either be the centerpiece point guard, or one interesting piece of trade bait. I realize the hype has started to die down from where it was pre-draft, but there had to be a reason for people to get that excited for a 17-year-old. Even if he never plays a game in a Timberwolves uniform, Ricky Rubio could be the key to the future for Minnesota.
Like I said, no one, including myself, expects the Timberwolves to contend for a title in this season or the next. But be aware, they ought to be on your radar for the future. Their ascension to contention from the dumps may not be as swift as recent teams like the Bulls or the Thunder, but they one big draft or one big trade can change the fortune of a team that is really just one big move away.