2013-14 outlook: Minn. Timberwolves
What's in store for the Minnesota Timberwolves? Our panel of five looks back at the offseason moves (and nonmoves) and forward to what lies ahead in the 2013-14 season.
1. What grade would you give the Timberwolves' offseason?
Zach Harper, A Wolf Among Wolves: B-. The Wolves addressed pressing needs on offense this offseason by securing a group of wing players who fit into Rick Adelman's system. But the defense is a huge concern and could require winning a lot of 112-109 games this season.
Brett Koremenos, HoopSpeak: B-. Free agents Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer filled some needs, in theory. The problem is Martin's contract (four years, $28 million) isn't a bargain and Brewer has some serious warts as a player. As far as their draft picks go, Gorgui Dieng will add some much-needed athleticism to their front line, but Shabazz Muhammad could wind up out of the league early if he doesn't put everything together.
Steve McPherson, A Wolf Among Wolves: B. They may have overreacted to their awful 3-point shooting last season, but it's better to go all-in on offense than doing a little of this and a little of that. If they can overcome Chase Budinger's injury to start the season, then reconfiguring their depth was a success.
Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: B-. New team president Flip Saunders achieved the most important goals -- bringing back Nikola Pekovic and adding shooting with Martin (and a re-signed Budinger). But the Timberwolves struggled with the smaller details, guaranteeing Pekovic and Martin a lot of money at older ages and getting little immediate -- and possibly long-term -- help from the draft.
Jack Winter, Warriors World: C+. Minnesota began and ended its offseason ideally: hiring Saunders as team president and locking up Nikola Pekovic long-term. It's the in-between that concerns. Losing Andrei Kirilenko was beyond the Wolves' control, but that doesn't excuse their ill-advised plans to replace him. Martin is overpaid, Brewer's defensive impact is overrated and Muhammad is a major question mark.
2. What's the biggest question facing the Timberwolves in 2013-14?
Harper: Defense. Pekovic is quietly one of the more solid help defenders at center, even though he doesn't block shots. But how can he and Kevin Love coexist as the anchors of a cohesive, adequate defense?
Koremenos: Can they defend? Health is a big concern, but it seems implausible they will get derailed by injuries the same way they did last season. Assuming their roster is relatively healthy, it will be interesting to see if this defense can even come close to approach the top 15 in efficiency.
McPherson: How are they going to defend? At training camp, Adelman said efficient offense can help some on defense "because you don't have to get stops all the time," but he also said consistency on defense was the key and that they didn't have it yet. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Pelton: Health. Minnesota lost more games to injury than any team in the NBA last season, and the second-most games of any team in the past four seasons. That's sure to get better this season, but Budinger's knee surgery was an ominous start.
Winter: Can this team stop anybody? The revamped wing rotation is a collection of porous and flawed defenders, and Minny lacks the back-line enforcer to make up for it. If Ricky Rubio performs at an all-league level and Love recommits himself, the Timberwolves could manage a defensive unit that's merely below-average. Maybe.
3. Who's the Timberwolves' most intriguing player?
Harper: Kevin Martin. It wasn't that long ago that Martin was one of the best scorers in the NBA. He's finished in the top 10 in scoring twice in his career. How he reacclimates to the Adelman system and provides more scoring on one end than he gives up on the other could make him an impact player.
Koremenos: Ricky Rubio. We know he is a wizard when it comes to passing, but now with some additional, healthy talent around him, it will be interesting to see exactly how valuable that one extraordinary skill makes him.
McPherson: Corey Brewer. The Wolves have enough offensive options to spread the weight around, but leadership on defense is going to fall largely on Brewer's skinny, skinny shoulders. If the Wolves manage to be better than a train wreck on defense, Brewer will be a big reason why.
Pelton: Ricky Rubio. After taking a couple of months to shake off the rust following a ruptured ACL, Rubio picked up where he left off as a rookie during the second half of last season. Now, how much better can he get after an offseason spent improving rather than rehabbing, particularly as a shooter?
Winter: Ricky Rubio. Fully healthy and surrounded by offensive weapons, Minny's third-year point guard faces a sort of make-or-break season. Will he finally develop as a shooter and finisher? Is he the defensive ace we've come to expect? Rubio will shoulder more responsibility than ever this season on both ends of the floor; this team's fortunes aren't tethered more tightly to any other player on the roster.
4. What's one bold prediction about the Timberwolves?
Harper: There were 26 three-man combinations last season that played at least 1,600 minutes together. Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic missed making that list by almost 1,600 minutes. They'll break 1,600 minutes together next season.
Koremenos: Love gets traded by midseason. If the Wolves stumble out of the gate, there's a chance that Love will get moved while the team still has some leverage in trade negotiations. By waiting until the summer, when Love has only one guaranteed year left on his deal, Minnesota may not get as much in return since teams know an unhappy Love could opt out and become a free agent.
McPherson: Derrick Williams puts it all together, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds and becoming one of the best small forwards in the NBA. At which point we discover a hidden, incentive-based clause secretly added by David Kahn that locks him into a five-year max contract.
Pelton: Ricky Rubio will lead the NBA in steals and make the all-defensive first team.
Winter: 2013-14 will be Williams' last season in Minnesota. The second overall pick of the 2011 draft just isn't a good fit for the Timberwolves. Williams will prove untenable on the perimeter and is blocked by Adelman favorite Dante Cunningham as a backup to Love. With his contract a team option for next season, he'll be playing elsewhere soon enough.
5. Prediction time: How far will the Timberwolves go this season?
Harper: If I predict them to make the playoffs as the eighth seed, what's the worst that could happen? I'm wrong? I'm wrong all the time and if they actually come through, it will be a lot of fun. Wolves make the playoffs and win one game in the first round.
Koremenos: The eighth and final playoff spot in the West. If their key pieces remain healthy for the vast majority of the season, Minnesota will definitely be a factor in the playoff race. It may not stop anybody, but this team should score enough to earn a playoff berth.
McPherson: With what could very well be a top-10 (if not top-five) offense and a likely bottom-10 defense, I expect Minnesota to finally make the playoffs as an eighth seed and likely be bounced -- by, let's say, the Spurs. Wolves fans will take it.
Pelton: They'll reach the playoffs for the first time since Latrell Sprewell was feeding his family with Wolves money and Kevin Garnett supposedly couldn't win the big one. The Love-Pekovic-Rubio core will be enough to win a game or two before bowing out to one of the West's powerhouses.
Winter: First round of the playoffs. Minnesota will emerge from the West's loaded middle class to claim a playoff berth, then fall easy prey to the conference elite. The Wolves not only lack the two-way balance befitting great teams, but seem one more foundational piece away from legitimate contention, too.