Timberwolvesâ€™ roster doesnâ€™t need overhaul
MINNEAPOLIS – It should have been a simple question: Can this team, when healthy, make a playoff run next season?
It sounded simple. Coach Rick Adelman's answer was simple, at least: "Oh, for sure, we can make a run for playoffs, I honestly feel that way."
And wouldn't it be nice if it just ended there?
But it doesn't, and if you've followed these Minnesota Timberwolves for even a hot second this season, you know that. You know that they're just now emerging from the cavalcade of disasters and distractions that dotted the season, that this was supposed to be the year they snapped that streak of missing the playoffs, that they were building for this, this, and only this.
Now this has become that, that season that didn't pan out, that season that spun so far out of control, and yet again the Timberwolves are back – not quite to square one, but not far from it, either.
First and foremost, it would be remiss to fail to acknowledge that Minnesota put significant work and funds into building its roster last summer. It wooed Andrei Kirilenko back from Russia, took a gamble on a formerly great shooting guard in Brandon Roy and swung a trade for Chase Budinger, an Adelman favorite from Houston who's the perfect fit for the coach's system. There were other moves, too, but those were the headliners, and they were supposed to pay off this year.
They didn't. Of course, Kirilenko played well despite a few nagging injuries, and he showed that if he's past his prime, it's not by too much. Roy's knees, though, proved nothing more than a pipe dream, and in a less-expected twist, Budinger tore his left meniscus on Nov. 10, sidelining him until March 21. The new pieces fell, along with Kevin Love, and even when Ricky Rubio returned on Dec. 15, there was no system, no order, no go-to method.
And now, the time is yet again up.
That's the thing about the NBA; consistency is so fleeting – consistency of play, and in this case, consistency of roster. The one flaw in the Timberwolves' approach last offseason was that they didn't count on this implosion – how could they have? – and so they went for bigger names and shorter terms in their acquisitions. Kirilenko has a player option, worth $10.2 million for next season. Roy is gone, injured and without guaranteed money. Budinger – hardly a big name but a valuable piece – is an unrestricted free agent.
Those are just the acquisitions. There's also the Nikola Pekovic situation, whereby the big man becomes a restricted free agent this offseason and by virtue of his size, skill and most of all position, a hot commodity on the NBA market. Even bigger than that are the questions of whether Adelman himself will return, whether president of basketball operations David Kahn's contract will be extended, whether owner Glen Taylor will sell the team in the near future.
The Timberwolves are, from the second the clock expired on Wednesday's game in San Antonio, an organization very much in flux.
It's a different kind of flux than in recent years, though, one in which there's an awareness of what pieces the team finds valuable and a chance to retain them. The biggest need that cannot be filled from within through retention and re-signing is that of a properly sized shooting guard, but other than that, it's more a matter of convincing people to stay. Some will be convinced, and others won't, most likely, because that's just how things work. From here on out, though, it'll be something of a domino effect.
Adelman says his decision to return won't be based on Taylor selling the team (which also seems to be unlikely to occur in the very near-term) or Kahn returning. He's coached teams that have been sold before, Adelman said, and that kind of managerial flux doesn't seem to faze him. At this point, he's a big enough name and has been a key decision-maker enough times that management listens, and it's hard to imagine anyone taking over would be quashing Adelman's wishes.
So first, then, will come the coach's decision, absent what happens at the top. It'll take a few weeks, he said, for him to discern whether he'll return for his third year in Minnesota, and that decision hinges almost solely upon his wife, Mary Kay, and her health. The couple will visit local doctors in the near term to help learn more about caring for Mary Kay's seizures, and they'll also work to find a medical team in Portland, their hometown, so she can make the transition smoothly. If all goes well, it's at least somewhat likely Adelman returns, but right now, he's not tipping his hand.
"I've tried not to go one way or the other," Adelman said. "You still have to approach it like you're going to be back. You have to approach it that way, and I think that's how I'm probably going to approach it until we get to a point where something comes up differently."
Whether the coach stays will undoubtedly have an effect on which players choose to stick around. Love was resolute Saturday in saying that he's going to sit down and convince Adelman to stay if it's at all possible, and it's for more than just his coaching skills. Guys flock to him. They stick with him. If Adelman leaves, Budinger said, that will seriously alter his professed desire to return to Minnesota. It'll likely have an effect on Pekovic, too, and Kirilenko, who know and trust the coach's system. There will be other factors at play with those two, though, and it'll come down to money in the end, but it's crucial not to underestimate the power of Adelman as both a coach and a figurehead.
The coaching situation will be solved in the near term, as well as the decision on Kahn's position. If Kahn isn't renewed, the hiring process to replace him could drag on, and in that case having Adelman around would be even more important. The coach has always been active in offseason proceedings, and he said that even with this year's uncertainty, he's entering the summer with the mindset that he needs to help determine what the team needs and work to acquire it.
When asked about those offseason needs, Adelman has had no shortage of words. Whereas last year the talk centered on a culture change, when only two players, Love and Rubio, were untouchable and the rest was vague, in 2013 in Minneapolis, the questions, at least, are more concrete.
"It's a matter of can the people you have here today grow," Adelman said. "And that's probably the key. We have to look at these guys and say who's going to grow, who is not."
Then, the questions began: Who do you want? What type of team do you want? Who plays well together? Who plays with Kevin and Pek and Ricky if they're all there? Who is going to fit in?
A three-player core, with just one needing to be re-signed and all under the age of 28 – that's not a bad thing. The culture change has come, gone and stuck. The mindset is the right one, and the system, however nascent and fleeting, has at least been touched upon.
The Timberwolves learned this season, through the most dangerously tempting and utterly disappointing of glimpses, that they may have built this thing right. At least, they think they did, however small the sample size. They learned that they could build from close to scratch again, but that they don't have to, and now they wait for the bad luck to expire.
It may just have run out, and in a few weeks time, that'll be clear. The coaching decision will be made, and the dominoes will begin to fall. The narrative will shift back to what can be, rather than what could have been, and this time around, there's a much clearer picture.
Perhaps someday soon, the questions will be simple again.
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