Just when Timberwolves fans finally had something to really get excited about, along came the NBA lockout. That delayed the season by nearly two months and placed the team in a precarious position as the opening game fast approaches.
With coach Rick Adelman and rookies Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio just arrived, the Wolves will have just two weeks to get to know each other and prepare for a shortened 66-game season in which their young legs might be willing but their familiarity with each other will be suspect.
“If any team needs a full training camp together, it’s us,” Wolves forward Kevin Love said.
Coach Kurt Rambis is gone, finally fired in July after a protracted situation in which his future remained in doubt for months.
After an almost equally involved dance, Wolves president of basketball operations David Kahn finally hired Adelman in September after interviewing six other candidates — Don Nelson, Larry Brown, Mike Woodson, Sam Mitchell,Terry Porter and Bernie Bickerstaff.
Adelman’s hiring completed a grand-slam summer in which Kahn signed Rubio after a two-year wait, drafted Williams second overall in June and then landed a coach almost nobody thought would come to Minnesota at age 65 to coach a team that won 17 games last season.
Adelman said he is intrigued by the team’s young talent and likened the situation to what he called two gratifying final seasons in Houston, where the Rockets lost Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady and Adelman molded a collection of mostly young role players into winners.
“The more I thought about it, the more I thought this could be a good situation,” Adelman said. “Nothing is given in this business. You never know what’s going to be out there. I always felt the next job I got after Houston was probably going to be my last one.
“The more I thought about it, the more I thought this was as good an opportunity right now as I could get. I still wanted to coach. I’d like to try to build something here. I just feel I can do this. I felt like it was a great challenge.”
Adelman admits he will need “help,” so he has former Phoenix and Milwaukee coach Terry Porter, who played for him in Portland, as an assistant coach and also will bring with him Jack Sikma and T.R. Dunn from his Rockets staff. He also has two of his sons on hand — R.J. will assume a player-personnel job in the front office and David will coach — and former Portland assistant Bill Bayno will be on his staff as well.
NBA Team Report – Minnesota Timberwolves – NOTES, QUOTES
–The Wolves have moved two steps forward toward getting star forward Kevin Love to commit to stay with the franchise.
The NBA’s new labor agreement will allow them to sign him before to a five-year extension and offer more than 7 percent raises while other teams are limited to signing him later to a four-year deal with 4 percent raises.
The hiring of longtime family friend Rick Adelman didn’t hurt, either.
When asked if Adelman’s presence will impact his decision about signing a contract extension, Love says, “Absolutely.”
“I always said one of the things we’d have to have is a great coach,” Love said. “Now, we’ve got a great coach.”
Adelman watched nearly every game Love played his senior year of high school because Adelman’s son, Patrick, played on the same Lake Oswego, Ore., team.
“We’ve always had a good relationship,” Love said. “Looking back to high school, I always asked myself, ‘What does Rick think I need to improve?’ I kept asking him for advice whenever I had the chance to talk to him. I always thought it’d be very interesting and intriguing to play under such a well-respected coach who I know well, who has been there and done that.
“He adds credibility to our team. I think he’s intrigued by how far he might be able to take a team that is really young but has got a lot of talent. I want to see that, too.”
–Ricky Rubio prepared for his first NBA season by coming to America early despite the lockout.
He arrived in Los Angeles in October and spent several weeks there, discovering his way both on the busy freeway system and in the NBA game. He worked out twice daily and played pickup games with a rotating collection of the league’s stars, from Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Shawn Marion and Danny Granger.
“The best thing I can do is come here, play with the guys who are playing in the NBA and be ready when the league starts,” he said. “The best thing I can do is see them play. In the end, it’s basketball, you know? But it’s different thanEurope.
“I needed to come here so I can feel and I can see and I can watch how to play.”
–F/G Martell Webster underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disk and is out indefinitely.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “Ready to be a Wolves player. So happy right now. My dream comes true on a Xmas day. Thanks Santa.” — Ricky Rubio’s tweet the day after players and owners agreed to a legal settlement and the foundation of a new labor agreement.
NBA Team Report – Minnesota Timberwolves – ROSTER REPORT
With an unbalanced roster tipped heavy with natural power forwards and small forwards, the Wolves head toward this abbreviated training camp and season with two main needs. They must find either through free agency or a trade: 1. A ballhandling shooting guard, which neither Wes Johnson nor Martell Johnson is. Watch whether the Wolves make a bid for Brandon Roy in the modified waiver system if Portland indeed releases him through the new labor agreement’s amnesty provision. 2. A tall, athletic center, and isn’t everybody looking for one of those? Last season suggested that Darko Milicic isn’t a starting center. Anthony Randolph can play some center some night, but not every night. Tyson Chandler or DeAndre Jordan is that kind of guy, but both are longshots at best.
Analysis: Rubio has finally arrived after a two-year wait and despite the questions about him should be an immediate upgrade at point guard, even if the Wolves’ plan to bring him along slowly might mean Ridnour begins the season as starter. Johnson looks like the starter at shooting guard if only because the Wolves already are committed to playing Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams at small forward, but like all the other candidates there (Webster, Ellington) he hasn’t shown the ballhandling skills needed to thrive.
Analysis: Love is headed to training camp slimmed down and in the best shape of his career after last season’s breakthrough, All-Star 30-30 season. New coach Rick Adelman will have to figure out where and when to play Beasley and Williams — perhaps both natural power forwards who will play a lot at small forward because of Love’s presence at the power forward spot — and how much they can play together. And there’s Randolph, who because of the numbers game could see some — or a lot — of time at center despite his thin frame.
Analysis: Last season proved one thing: Milicic, despite the team’s $16 million-plus investment in him, probably is the best backup center in the league. Still, he’s a 7-footer who blocks shots, so his starting job might be secure for now. Or at least until Adelman finds out how much he can get away with playing Love or Randolph there. The team added Miller, a rare veteran on the roster and a guy who knows Adelman’s system well from seasons spent with him in Sacramento and Houston.