Confident Timberwolves face a crossroads this summer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Karl-Anthony Towns had just walked off the court to a standing ovation in the season finale of his remarkable rookie season.
The Minnesota Timberwolves center, the overwhelming favorite to win rookie of the year, contemplated where this team is headed. He looked around the locker room at his young teammates that include Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Ricky Rubio and Shabazz Muhammad and made a the kind of confident, bold proclamation that hasn't been heard in these parts in some time.
''We're going to be really good. Really, really good,'' Towns said. ''Frightening, actually. We have every tool needed to be the team we see ourselves being. We have a year of experience under our belt. I think everything is going in the right direction.''
The Wolves won 29 games this season, 13 more than the previous year. They will enter the lottery in May with the fifth-best odds to get the No. 1 pick and will be armed with enough cap space to add a significant veteran player to their promising young core.
Now, all they need is a new president of basketball operations and a new coach. Owner Glen Taylor decided not to retain coach Sam Mitchell and is looking for a clean start with new leadership following the death of Flip Saunders in October.
The search has already begun, with Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks high on the list of candidates. With so much young talent that has already taken some lumps, it should be one of the most attractive jobs available. And it's imperative the Wolves get this decision right.
''We're only getting better,'' Wiggins said. ''It only goes up from here.''
BIGGEST NEED: Shooting, shooting and more shooting. In an era where the 3-point shot has taken over the league, the Wolves were second-to-last in 3-pointers attempted and made. They also need another big man, but adding shooters to help spread the floor has to be the top priority. They could add one in the draft with a pick that is expected to in the top five, or go looking in free agency.
THE GOOD NEWS: Assuming Towns is named the league's top rookie, it will give the Wolves back-to-back rookies of the year. Wiggins won the award last year and the Wolves also saw the 21-year-old LaVine make huge strides in his second season. Add to it a new practice facility and renovations that are about to begin on Target Center, and the long-suffering franchise suddenly has a lot to offer a new coach and prospective free agents.
THE BAD NEWS: Big men Kevin Garnett and Nikola Pekovic are under contract for more than $20 million next season, and neither one of them can be relied upon to give consistent minutes. Garnett's aging legs caused him to miss the final two and a half months of the season. Pekovic has chronic ankle problems that have derailed a once promising career. That's a lot of money and, more importantly, two roster spots that are being occupied by players who are not healthy enough to contribute on a regular basis.
GARNETT'S FUTURE: Garnett, the franchise icon Saunders brought back home in a trade last year, just completed his 21st season. He was a big part of the development of the younger players, serving as a mentor off the court and a tutor during practices. But he did not play for the final two and a half months of the season because of soreness in his knees and legs and it remains to be seen if he will return for the final season and $8 million left on his contract.
Garnett did not play for the final month of last season after being acquired in a trade from Brooklyn. The late Saunders, who knew Garnett as well as anyone in the league, said then that he expected Garnett to continue playing because he did not return to the court for one final goodbye at the end of last season. The same logic could apply this time around, with most in the organization expecting KG to try to play again next year.
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