The pressure is on the Timberwolves, and it's being applied not just by fans frustrated with an eight-year playoff drought. After a 26--40 finish last season, franchise centerpiece and two-time All-Star Kevin Love publicly implored much-maligned G.M. David Kahn to improve the roster. The message from Love got through, though Kahn took some questionable risks, bringing small forward Andrei Kirilenko back from Russia on a two-year, $20 million deal and bringing guard Brandon Roy out of retirement for $10.4 million over two years after his knees failed him in Portland.
Whether the team is still playing in late April will depend on how quickly Love (who broke his right hand last week) and sensational second-year point guard Ricky Rubio (who tore his left ACL last March) return. After starting 21--20 last year, Minnesota lost 20 of 25 without Rubio. Both are expected back by December at the earliest—not too late, they hope, for the playoff push.
COACH: Rick Adelman (2nd season with T-Wolves)
2011--12 RECORD: 26--40 (5th in Northwest)
OFFENSE: 97.9 ppg (10th)
DEFENSE: 100.1 ppg (25th)
PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 28.7 ppg (3rd)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
New acquisition *2010--11
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE TIMBERWOLVES
The difference between having Ricky Rubio and not having him is huge. I honestly think he'll be better than Steve Nash. Just dribbling down the floor, if his man is sealed, he makes eye contact with his guy—and if Rubio has any advantage, any angle, he's able to find that guy and it's two points.... Up until last year I thought Kevin Love was overrated. I saw him as one of those guys who would dive in the backcourt to try to steal a pass so he wouldn't have to run back on defense. But he can do it all. He shoots the three, and his post game is good. He can play pick-and-roll, and he can spot up. He is a great offensive rebounder.... Nikola Pekovic looks like he has the shortest arms you've ever seen. But he's a strong dude who plays his butt off.... Luke Ridnour is a great backup who is probably one of the top 30 point guards in the league.... You've got to love Brandon Roy as a leader for a team that's trying to get to the playoffs. But I would be shocked if he is able to make a major impact. Every player needs that burst of athleticism, and I don't know how Roy can get that back after retiring because of his knees.
Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea hold the fort at point guard until Rubio returns, and the T-Wolves sneak into the playoffs.
The team is out of contention when Rubio and Love come back, and a frustrated Love hints at his exodus in 2015.
Percentage of games in the past two seasons in which Kevin Love has had a double double. In the past 25 years the only player with a similar two-year stretch was Kevin Garnett (85.4% in 2003--04 and '04--05).