Wolves return, hope blossoms anew
Photo by Rick Leche
During the 14 year Kevin McHale era, we T-Wolves fans have grown accustomed to offseasons ranging from the underwhelming to the appalling. Over the years, the disastrous contracts, bungled drafts and myriad perplexing roster moves congealed into a dense fog of disappointment. Things were so dismal that before the 2007 draft, a good friend of mine worried aloud that McHale might draft either Scottie Pippen or John Mellencamp--and I had to agree that either was possible. But in case you haven't been paying attention, things done changed. David Kahn, the Wolves' new GM may be inscrutable and somewhat charmless, but he's certainly not complacent; this summer and fall he's taken us on a sometimes dazzling, sometimes baffling, on the whole pretty exhilarating ride. Its a weird feeling; something is actually happening.
A selective recap: first, Kahn turned two of McHale's more recent boondoggles, Randy Foye and Mike Miller, into the fifth pick in the draft and thereby began a flirtation with a disturbingly gifted, floppy-haired Spanish teenager (which flirtation, though, is now on indefinite hiatus). He hired Kurt Rambis, victim of one of the more egregious flagrant fouls in NBA history (at the hands of our friend, Mr. McHale), who brings from the Lakers the famed "triangle" offense, the quasi-mystic foundation of Phil Jackson's ten championships in Chicago and L.A. And Kahn signed Ramon Sessions, a chilled-out young point guard who has shown the willingness and ability to play defense, get to the free-throw line and humbly run an offense, three assets that have been sorely missing from his recent predecessors.
That was some of the dazzling stuff--now for the "baffling" category. Kahn, at one point during the draft had no fewer than five point guards on the roster. Also in that category: at different times throughout the offseason, through a blizzard of transactions, Damien Wilkins, Chucky Atkins, Mark Blount (Mark Blount!!! don't worry though, he'll never actually play for the Wolves again, you can go back to sleep), Antonio Daniels, Quentin Richardson, Brian Cardinal, Chuck Person and Randy Breuer have all flown the Wolves flag (wait, probably not those last two). That is a serious crew of aging Cheesecake Factory veterans right there.
Kahn also managed to part ways with many of the oddly matched pieces from McHale's puzzle of a roster. Not just the aforementioned Foye and Miller, but also Craig Smith, Rodney Carney, Sebastian Telfair and Mark Madsen have all moved on to sunnier climes. All of those guys (Telfair and Carney in particular) had their charms, but if Wolves fans were to have any sense of hope or renewal, these moves were unavoidable. Most importantly in this latter regard, Kahn drafted a 5'10" bundle of kinetic energy named Jonny Flynn. He can do this:
Its nice to have a shiny new face around.
So how will all of this turn out? Lets get the ugly part out of the way quickly: the Wolves will lose a thousand games. Maybe two thousand. This is not a prediction, more like a reality of nature, like light or the air. They will do this because they are extremely young and extremely thin on proven NBA talent. They have exactly two players--Sessions and Corey Brewer, who is coming off of ACL surgery and is made of bird bones--who would qualify as above-average NBA defenders. The Wolves did manage to outscore a few teams this preseason, but in doing so they allowed opponents to shoot 48.8% from the floor, worst of any NBA defense. This will surely improve a little, but please don't expect too much.
But despite this and the recent injuries to Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, there is reason to hope. The triangle, mostly because it requires constant reaction and adjustment from all five players on the floor (as opposed to more conventional offenses in which each player has a scripted responsibility), is notoriously difficult to learn. But it also is capable of producing some of the most beautiful, flowing, not to mention efficient, offensive basketball ever played. Whether it can be performed consistently by teams not featuring Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan remains to be seen, but the thought of Flynn, Sessions and Jefferson sharing the ball, moving to open space, slashing to the basket--it makes me happy.
So let me suggest, then, that we put aside for now our concern for wins and losses, and focus on the phenomena: a young team learning to play synergetic, up-tempo basketball; Corey Brewer's ragged, gangly energy; Big Al's seductive baseline spins; Jonny Flynn jumping over people. If we're a little bit patient, we could see something great once in a while.