OVER THE last four seasons the Timberwolves have been both bad and boring. True, there was a low-grade drama in Kevin Garnett's final seasons—Would he go off on management? Would he be traded?—but there wasn't much cause for howling in Minnesota.
Things are different now. This isn't to say that the T-Wolves will suddenly join the conference elite, but they officially lost that must-not-see tag when they acquired Kevin Love from the Grizzlies in a blockbuster draft-night trade for O.J. Mayo.
Love commands attention. The high-profile college: UCLA, which he led to the NCAA finals last April. The high-profile lineage: His father, Stan, played in the NBA for four years in the 1970s; his aunt, Kathleen McCartney Hearst, won the 1982 Ironman; and his uncle Mike is one of the original Beach Boys. And the massive profile: He looks roly-poly at 6'10" and 270 pounds, but he's an outstanding athlete.
Predictably, Love hasn't exactly disappeared into the North Country landscape. He accidentally popped Mark Madsen in the mouth in a scrimmage, forcing Mad Dog to get a root canal and 12 stitches in his chin. Love told reporters that he was interviewing chefs to prepare him meals that will keep his weight down but he "can't be eating cardboard every day." And he revealed a few modest goals—to earn All-Rookie honors or "maybe even Rookie of the Year."
What pleases the T-Wolves the most, though, is that in the preseason he played like a Rookie of the Year, with averages of 8.3 points on 51.2% shooting and 5.5 rebounds. And remember: He only has to be the second-best Kevin in the history of the franchise.
A rival scout on the T-WOLVES: Mike Miller can put the ball on the floor if you play him tough on the jumper. He's a little bit full of himself—but that's why he's good. Even during the bad years in Memphis he kept himself in good shape. He's a workaholic, a perfectionist in his shooting.... Now that Al Jefferson has pieces around him he'll show that he can pass out of the post. He has a great basketball IQ, and if he feels pressure from the weak side and has someone to finish on the perimeter, he'll get the ball there.... They have faith in Randy Foye as a point guard, though I see him as more of a Ben Gordon type. He can penetrate and kick, and he has a strong scorer's mentality with the ability to get to the rim.... I'm changing my opinion of Foye's backup, Sebastian Telfair. He came in as a high school superstar, but he's out of the limelight now, and that's good for him. He's learning to see the floor better, and he can really push the rock. He just needs to chill out and realize he is one of many good guards in the league.
No team has more trouble closing out opponents than the Timberwolves, who lost a league-high 16 games in which they led or were tied after the third quarter. Their 13 such losses in 2006--07 also led the league.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
KEVIN LOVE (R)
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: G Rashad McCants, F-G Corey Brewer, G Sebastian Telfair, F Rodney Carney*, F Craig Smith
(R) Rookie (college stats)
Record: 22--60 (T-13th in West)
Points scored: 95.6 (26th in NBA)
Points allowed: 102.4 (21st)
Coach: Randy Wittman (third season with T-Wolves)
LOVE AND LEARN A skilled passer and ball handler, Love is going to have a tough time defending quicker power forwards.
MIKE HABERMANN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES